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2015 06-06 Clean Business

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I gave a presentation to the 2015 International Clean Conference on our use of Clean Language and Systemic Modelling at Amphora

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2015 06-06 Clean Business

  1. 1. Clean Business Simon Coles CEO and co-founder, Amphora Research Systems simon.coles@amphora-research.com
  2. 2. This Presentation Will be on my web site on Monday Provided under Creative Commons “Attribution Share Alike” http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/ (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”)
  3. 3. Clean in Business • About me • My problem • My journey • What we do now • The Impact • Anecdotes 3
  4. 4. About Me • Co-founder and CEO of Amphora Research Systems • I realised that building the company was more interesting than running it • Now • 50% time on Amphora • 50% time on helping other people do what I did • Just started. Not sure what will happen • Better than taking up golf 4
  5. 5. My Company • Niche software company focusing on Record Keeping software for R&D Scientists • Privately held, bootstrapped (no external finance) • Over 12 years old, profitable, no debt • Customers all over the world, mostly in North America and Europe • One of the few (the only?) surviving early vendors in this space 5
  6. 6. My job, as a CEO/Founder • Codify the “special sauce” that led to the company’s founding, in way that others can do it • Construct a company that can execute the special sauce sustainably and profitably • Create a culture which creates more “sauce” • Build a life for myself, which includes an environment I’m excited to work in 6
  7. 7. The Results • This isn’t my normal style, but for completeness… • Revenue per employee well above industry norms • Cashflow stable for the foreseeable future • I don’t really have to do much except manage the culture • Sick days almost non-existent - apparently a key morale indicator • Most people who have left want to come back 7
  8. 8. Clean in Business • About me • My problem • My journey • What we do now • The Impact • Anecdotes 8
  9. 9. My Problem • Too many entrepreneurs aren’t • They just build themselves a job • Rather than a company • “Work on the business not in the Business” - “The E- Myth” and others • So many people end up trapped • Worse than being an employee • All your assets in a job • You die a little bit every time you walk in the door 9
  10. 10. More Problems • My business is software • We don’t have many “things” • It is all about people, how we work together, and how we interact with the world • Success criteria • Employee engagement • Collaboration • Productivity • Creativity • Sales • Passion 10
  11. 11. http://ThePsychicCEO.com “Apprenticeship Patterns” by Dave Hoover and Adewale Oshineye “Software development is composed of two primary activities: learning and communication.” 11
  12. 12. Question to Ponder • There’s plenty of conventional wisdom about optimising thing-based companies • (Lean, Six Sigma, accounting, ERP, etc.) • I’ve had sustained almost aggressive criticism from business coaches for spending what I have on optimising my people-based business • The business world is so screwed up! • There’s sustainable competitive advantage… 12
  13. 13. Clean in Business • About me • My problem • My journey • What we do now • The Impact • Anecdotes 13
  14. 14. The Journey • I was working at New Information Paradigms (NIP) • One of the team involved in Caitlin Walker's first Clean in Business project • There are videos around of a very young me! • At the time I was running a division which became Amphora 14
  15. 15. I’m in Chapter 3… (I’m almost famous!) • The NIP work is written up in Caitlin’s book • In it, I developed a metaphor for our product • Really helped us identify the adoption and architectural issues inherent in this new market • Useful both internally and also for external discussions • Still relevant to us 15 From “Contempt to Curiosity” by Caitlin Walker
  16. 16. Many Years Later • Many years later, I'm running Amphora • Needed to get other people to do what I did in the sales process • I’d realised I’d been doing Clean all along • Clean for the Sales people 16
  17. 17. Kept Going • Clean was hugely useful in the sales process • Started to be used elsewhere • Then we got into Neuro Profiling/Diversity • Just because it was interesting • Turned out to be really interesting 17
  18. 18. A Note on Part Timers • There’s a lot of talent out there that also has family responsibilities • Advertise a job with flexibly school hours working and you get them queuing at the door • Works well for us as we’re very international • It isn’t just about the hours • Understand the stresses and strains, encourage discussion about family issues in the culture • Watch for confidence issues, “Baby brain” for returnees • Ensure they aren’t disenfranchised (easy with today’s gadgets) • Having a Clean Culture really helps resolve any issues caused by part time work 18
  19. 19. Clean in Business • About me • My problem • My journey • What we do now • The Impact • Anecdotes 19
  20. 20. What we do now • 4-legged stool of sustaining activities • All mutually reinforcing • Will focus on the 3 Clean-related ones 20
  21. 21. 4-Legged Stool • Clean Language • Neurodiversity • Life Coaching (now Clean-based) • The Essence Foundation Course 21
  22. 22. Essence Foundation • Not really part of the Clean world • 3-day weekend in London (and other cities) • Nice introduction to self improvement • Can be transformative for people • Very useful when everyone in the company has been through the same process • Helps people become • Comfortable in their own skin • Much more open • More aware and respectful of others’ internal world • http://essence-foundation.com/ 22
  23. 23. Life Coaching • Been doing it for about 6 years now • Before we re-introduced Clean • Helped us bring Clean-based initiatives in • Available to everyone • Confidential, any subject • Hugely useful, but unquantifiable! • Have recently switched to Clean coaching • With Marian Way • Seems to be more powerful than normal coaching • Using Clean in this context has benefits elsewhere 23
  24. 24. Neuroprofiling • We started to get interested in how people’s brains work • Turns out this is fascinating, and hugely important • Working with Caitlin and colleagues we • Gave everyone an IQ test and produced a profile • Used that to explore how individuals can work at their best • And how the rest of us can help 24
  25. 25. Neuroprofiling • Turns out that everyone is different, especially when you have different professions • Hugely helpful for everyone • Raises awareness when talking with external parties as well • Significant impact in software design, documentation etc. • Helps us be more productive, and more harmonious 25
  26. 26. Neuroprofiling • It is very common to have conversations about our various strengths and weaknesses • We can spot it in other’s too • Tellingly, there’s a real push to profile new starters as quickly as possible (from both sides) 26
  27. 27. Unexpected Stuff • When you are using your brain in the way that is most natural you have a lot more fun • Asking someone to do something in their “Neuro sweet spot” is like asking them to be paid to do their hobby • It’s no burden to swap activities between people • e.g. • Some people love organising stuff, get real pleasure out of bringing order to chaos • Some people really enjoy reading and summarising • Some people love finding the one number that’s out of whack in a spreadsheet of financial detail 27
  28. 28. Q: Risk of people being typecast • When we Neuroprofiled people, was there a risk of them then being defined by their profile, and restricted in what roles/tasks they perform? • Answer: Not really • Everyone is in the right jobs, they are all well qualified and performing well • This is about understanding ourselves and each other better • The Neuroprofile doesn’t really tell you what someone’s real-world capability is, more how they use their brain to get it • With this knowledge, we can easily help them be more effective and happy with small little changes • If you want to know what someone is capable of… look at what they do in the real world! 28
  29. 29. Q: Example outcomes of Neuroprofiling • Don’t give X big spreadsheets of lots of numbers • Can easily understand the concepts, it is the presentation which makes it hard • Split into 3 less dense spreadsheets is much more digestible • Don’t expect X to research and summarise large blocks of text. Y is much better at that (and enjoys it). • X’s Verbal is so high he really can talk, think 3 steps ahead, and resolve the technical issue - at the same time. But don’t ask him to read notes while doing it. • Y really needs to pre-plan things because they can’t think on their feet so well, but that means they are very insightful about strategy etc. 29
  30. 30. Caution • If you’re starting all this from scratch I’d do Neuroprofiling last • It needs Clean as an exploration tool • It needs a Clean culture to ensure people are treated with respect and curiosity 30
  31. 31. Clean at Amphora • What we mean by Clean • How we explicitly use Clean • Everyday examples 31
  32. 32. What we mean by “Clean” • We do Systemic Modelling - we’re about groups and teams and common endeavours • Sometimes Symbolic is relevant but we’re careful to delineate • Even a little bit of Clean is good • Just respectful communication • Sometimes we use structured tools • "When you're working at your best..." • "For this to go just as you'd like, you'd be..." • Infused into the culture 32
  33. 33. Explicit use of Clean • Anything where we need to be curious • General rule is anyone can ask anything about anything as long as it is phrased as a Clean question • This is a surprisingly powerful ground rule • Keeps us curious (rather than in contempt) • Excellent team working 33
  34. 34. Clean Setup • “If this was to go just as you’d like…” • Before any activity which involves more than one person • Sales meetings • Interviews • External meetings • Really helps bring out a common understanding of expectations, roles, etc. 34
  35. 35. Sales • Sorting out sales is the key to growth and profitability • We typically are in a complex sale (buying team needs to form) • Selling something the prospect hasn’t bought before (we’re solving a latent problem) • Sales needs to guide prospects, rather than convince • Help them understand their problem and company • “Soft” sales approach • We manage the business for the long term • If we do the right thing by prospects and our customers they’ll reward us • This is a hard skill set and attitude to hire • But it is paying off now, huge amount of referral activity 35
  36. 36. Clean in Sales • I’ve always naturally used Clean in sales • Did Clean before I every really did sales • Didn’t know how to sell, so just talked to them • Really very effective • BUT only if your business culture supports it • Most sales cultures are manipulative 36
  37. 37. Clean in Sales • Train all the sales people in Clean • Will sprinkle it in to the sales conversation, emails, etc. • We’ve also modelled me to understand what I do in demos 37
  38. 38. Recruitment • Recruitment is the hardest thing we do • We’re not only trying to pick the right people • Also trying to set the foundation for success going forward • Clean • Is a tool during the interviews • Is something we want to make sure they are happy with • We try and do everything in the Interview process that might cause concern later 38
  39. 39. Recruitment Process • Recruitment Consultant - screen • First Interview - looking for attitude/values • Second Interview - looking to simulate skills • Onboarding 39
  40. 40. Recruitment Consultant • We've finally found an excellent Recruitment Consultant • They actually meet us, and the candidates • "I've met someone who would be really great for you" • Generally this industry is a cesspit - Austin Clark are awesome • We’ll interview anyone they recommend 40
  41. 41. First Interview • 1 hour, with 2 of us • We are looking for reasons to have them back for a 2nd interview • And we’re also trying to put off people who won’t fit • This is about the person and their attitude towards life (not skills) • CV is sort of useful as a talking point ish • We’ve had complaints - this is a feature, not a bug • Clean Components • Start out with • “Why?” • “If this interview would to go just as you’d like, it would be like what” • Sprinkle Clean in as required - ~25% Clean Questions 41
  42. 42. Second Interview • Looking to realistically test skills and attitudes • Half a day • Variety of exercises tailored to the job, and also the candidate - what are we concerned about and need to check? • Want to set the foundation for a successful job • Apparently our 2nd interviews are rather unconventional 42
  43. 43. Second Interview • Always done in the main office, and everyone has a role (even if not visible) • We’ll ask them “When you’re working at your best” if not asked before • We’ll give them a 5 minute introduction to Clean • They will then ask someone “Amphora is like what?” • Plus some other job-specific exercises 43
  44. 44. Q: Example of Clean Interactions • Sales issue being discussed, a techie joins in the conversation with a clean question which leads to a new product resolving the sales issue • Techies are excellent debuggers! • Clean gives them a voice • Manager makes an “opaque” decision which no one understands • Instead of allowing the confusion to continue, Clean Questions deployed to challenge/clarify in a non-threatening way • Turns out manager was unconsciously using a variety of additional considerations in the decision 44
  45. 45. The Branding Project • We hired a lady with proper marketing experience • Realised we needed a rebrand • Got a proper grown up agency in • Did it the traditional way and got nowhere, results were terrible • Had Caitlin in for an emergency metaphor session • Got more done in 45 minutes than 1 day with the traditional approach • I still re-watch that video to re-centre myself 45
  46. 46. Clean in Business • About me • My problem • My journey • What we do now • The Impact • Anecdotes 46
  47. 47. The Impact • Culture • Collaboration • Sales • Strategic competitive advantage • Scale limitations? 47
  48. 48. Culture • Huge amount of mutual respect • Very enquiring, thoughtful culture • People are open about personal issues which might be affecting them, and understanding of others • Customers like us, which in turn increases morale and makes my job as a manager easier 48
  49. 49. Culture • Systemic Modelling prevents bitching • I’m sure Clean experts can bitch Cleanly • We can’t :-) • People will point out when norms have been violated, they’re quite attached to it • Generally • If you’ve got the right people • If there’s some disagreement, that’s interesting • Hidden in the disagreement is a valuable insight 49
  50. 50. Collaboration • Lots of cross-discipline collaboration • Even between roles where you wouldn’t expect it • We can make lots of tradeoffs • Sales problem solved with a technical fix • Accounting issue resolved by a change in sales practice • This happens all the time, very quickly • Lots and lots of discussions in the moment • Very few “meetings” 50
  51. 51. Sales • Very problematic working with “Experienced” sales people • But that’s OK because that skill set is declining in effectiveness rapidly • Prospects and customers really like working with us • We get good customers - which makes supporting them a pleasure - which makes running our support department fun 51
  52. 52. Culture Beats Strategy • Culture is the only long term competitive advantage • It isn’t the technology you have, it is how you take that to the world • Our competitors can’t compete effectively because they can’t copy our culture • Clean underpins our culture 52
  53. 53. All in one Room • We used to have remote staff • We don’t any more • Don’t need them (thanks to The Internet) • We get huge amounts from everyone being in the same place • We do encourage remote working for work/life balance reasons 53
  54. 54. Scale • Having us all in one room won’t scale to large numbers • But that’s OK because we don’t need to • Organisational design is for maximum 20 people • That’s all we needed to exceed our wildest dreams • So we just need to find the right 20 people, and help them succeed 54
  55. 55. Clean in Business • About me • My problem • My journey • What we do now • The Impact • Anecdotes 55
  56. 56. Interesting Stuff • External Consultants • Families • Some can’t handle it 56
  57. 57. External Consultants • Won't use Clean, even when pre-warned/required • This has happened more than 4 times already • As a result • Annoys everyone • Get the wrong outcomes very slowly • Fear this is unsolvable, so I'm starting my own • Problem is most consultants have a business model built on manipulation 57
  58. 58. Last Week • Some tricky issues with an external consultant • Showed how hard it was to work with someone who hasn’t been Clean trained • I intervened to ask the consultant some Clean questions to break the dynamic • Consultant was expecting me to be in command mode and was rather put off when I wasn’t • Interesting that’s the most tension we’ve had in the office for years and years 58
  59. 59. Families • Helped our family relationships • e.g. your wife isn’t being obstinate, that’s how her brain works (and vice versa!) • Helped us be better parents • More insight into how people learn • More openness in allowing children to explore how their brains work • Clean questioning is excellent for talking with Children 59
  60. 60. Some Can’t Handle it • Clean creates a transparent, collaborative, healthy culture • The 3 other legs of the stool support that • Some people have ways of getting on in the world which can’t work in a Clean culture • For some people the cultural gap between work and home expectations causes friction 60
  61. 61. Summary • Clean helped us clarify the product • Clean helped us sell the product • Clean helps us work together • Neurodiversity helps us understand each other • Neurodiversity helps us get the best from ourselves and each other • Regular Coaching settles everyone and helps resolve issues before they become issues 61
  62. 62. Summary • If you want a miserable workplace, avoid Clean • If you want a happy, empowered, joyful workplace - give everyone the gift of Clean Questioning • If your company’s success is based on Knowledge Worker productivity • You’ll have a lot more fun • You’ll probably make more money as well 62
  63. 63. Take Home • I have tried lots of things to improve my business • Ideas, consultants, advisors • Most have been a waste of time • Clean has been by far the most impactful and cost effective of them all • Plus, it has improved all our lives generally • More than happy to tell other people this 63

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