Polygraph vs. Agile

After the jogging session with my wife today, we stopped at the nice spot near the lake for a freshly squeezed orange juice to regain some energy. The inevitable routine is to check the app on my iPhone how running went. Not particularly well today. But the weather was perfect for a workout.

Lie-Detector-TestTaking the moments of muscle relax, I grabbed the newspapers (so unusual act in the era of new mobile technology). Skimming through the pages, I stopped at the article writing about the company that was performing the polygraph testing (a lie detector) on its employees. The purpose of the testing was to check the employees’ loyalty and how much  are they responsible in handling the company’s properties. The story happens in Croatia and the whole article can be found here.

After the first shock (yeah, I was deeply surprised), I tried to analyse the leadership “performance” in this case and evaluate it with the values we promote in the agile community.

Starting with LEGAL law – I surfed the net to find some sources. In some countries employer use of lie detector tests is limited by the Employee Polygraph Protection Act. It seems – not in this case.

TRUST – more than obvious, trust was not built between the management and workers. And, to my understanding with a number of assumptions I could unfold, there is a strong CULTURE of control – typical for Taylorism in the beginning of the 20th century where high level of managerial control over employee work practices was existed. The command and control culture (see the post about culture) is usually leftover from manufacturing practices in the last century and inability of management to learn and consequently to engage and motivate people.

TRANSPARENCY – if there is a need to check and control employees on polygraph, it means that the whole system is obscure, where information need to be extracted and verified in order to make decisions on a higher level. It further means, that there is a lack of transparency and obviousness which is a prerequisite for every successful and efficient process. Even further, it means that the HIRING process in the company is inconsistent, non-existing or wrong. Why would you hire incompetent people or people you don’t trust?

So, the whole GOVERNANCE is suffering because of the bunch of wasteful management activities being focused on tracking people, instead of creating the environment of visual management. The good example of visual management origins from the concept of JIDOKA – which is sometimes called autonomation, i.e. automation with human touch/intelligence. It gives machines the ability to distinguish good parts from bad autonomously, without being monitored by human. This eliminates the need for people to continuously watch machines. The same principle is valid for the relationship between management and employees. According to Daniel Pink and his great book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us“, the things that creates MOTIVATION are purpose, autonomy, mastery. In this case, it seems that it was easier for management to INVEST a couple of thousand bucks into the polygraph machine, rather than build the high performing environment highlighting the real purpose, educating people and giving them empowerment to perform. It’s an investment shortcut… hm!

The management should go to the polygraph test in this case, to check whether they care for the best company’s properties – people.  No polygraph is needed to detect the lack of contemporary management practices and basics of human psychology to lead 21st century workplace.

Here is the illustration showing distinction between management and leadership:

Managers Leaders fire

A Blog Guide to Go And See

invisible-manAre you familiar with the comics’ hero “Invisible Man”?
The more invisible he is, the more powerful he appears to be – as well as the perception around him.
He can appear at any moment” – people would whisper, carefully looking around. He is the (hidden) authority that everyone respects.

A fair share of management appears to be like hero(s) – perhaps visible to their peers and superiors, present in difficult situations/escalations, solving problems and… quite distant and invisible to the people they lead. Since managers determine people’s salaries, they are respected and represent the formal authority to make decisions. Their absence from the place where daily work is done seems to emphasize their just described reputation. This is a bit of an issue for a manager – how to keep authority and respect by being visible?



Once a manager is there, attends daily team’s stand-up meetings, hears what people say, what impediments they have, she/he could take those moments to understand better and find out how to add value.

There are few additional reasons why a manager needs to be at gemba (the real place – where work is done):

  • Manager should demonstrate a real interest, thus respect towards the work done by the people she/he leads. That creates mutual understanding and trust.
  • It eliminates the need for unnecessary reporting and steering forums being the time eaters and wasters (see the related post about waste).
  • Since, teams may be sometimes blind towards own work, managers, which are supposed to be the coaches, are there to help them to discover their blind spots, by finding the root causes for the problems they have.
  • Managers should make sure that a new energy is added to the team activities. There is no point to control how teams do the work, but to check how to help out.

The last point is essential. If people closest to the process, which execute value added actions are supervised and told what and how to do the job, then they lose ownership upon the actions and intrinsic motivation to continuously make improvements. The energy, once manager leaves, is simply sucked out, following the law of entropy – gradual decline into the steady, low engagement state.

The managers’ role is to make work easier for the teams, not for themselves. That is true respect. The managers are paid for it, and no one promised them an easy job.

A warmly recommended reading goes to 2 books:

I would appreciate to share a piece of your experience by commenting to this blog!
Thank You!

The Real Cause of Empowerment – Chemistry

The Real Cause of Empowerment – Chemistry

In 2010 I’ve been flying with my colleague from our international leadership team meeting. We started to chat and she told me the story about her daughter studying in Switzerland far from home being in situation on her own. She found the apartment with other 4 students that were quite diverse set of individuals by gender and nationality. After the initial period of adjustment, there was supposed to be some order in the apartment regarding the facility sharing, cleaning, cooking etc. Quite interesting setup they made for cooking. It was like this:

– Every day other person cooks (roles are shared)
– They agreed upon a menu that week (delivered product)
– Every Sunday they make a list of supplies for cooking that week (product backlog – planning meeting)
– They have made some analysis and decided to buy a large amount of supplies to get discount and also delivery directly to home (improvement, optimize the whole)
– A meal should be liked by everyone (daily retrospective)
– Improvements in cooking skills over time have improved (continuous learning and improvement)

They have no “managers” (like mom and dad), they have no steering and they are the customers creating requirements and customer consuming the product. What a nice loop and example of a self-organized agile team.

EmpoweredBeing part of management I was once introduced with the term “empowerment within borders“. If we think a bit deeper about it and its origin, it discloses the message to preserve the decision making, authority and structures… (and positions). It tells that borders are clear and determined, there are rules and people shall know them and follow. Those borders can be easily narrowed if something bad happens, or eventually widened if something very good happens. To my humble notice, it is the same like saying – please think ‘out of the box‘ within this box.

If we consider it in terms of innovations that come (exclusively) from people’s creativity and thinking – we expect from our organization and people to generate ideas, to think of new business models and add on a value for services and products. So we say – please do it – and by the way, here are your borders…

Recent research indicates some interesting results. In some animal species like apes, there is a hierarchy starting from the alpha male having the biggest power in the community. Results show that this power is connected to the two hormones: testosterone and cortisol. While the former is responsible for reduced fear, willingness to compete and take risks, the last is connected to the level of stress. Alpha males were having high testosterone and low cortisol level, while other males that were lower in the hierarchy were showing a higher level of cortisol and reduced testosterone.

If we assume, as researchers suggest, that those results are equivalent to the humans’, we may bluntly conclude that dis-empowered employees do have a higher cortisol level, thus exposed to the unnecessary level of stress.

Sending them to courses like “how to handle stress” or similar is then a short term measure and a fairly wasted investment if we don’t remove the real cause of their hormone dis-balance.
Who would imagine that leaders are actually biochemists!

You may also want to take a look at the following posts:

Empirical People Control
Are You Trying to Tell Me I Should Serve