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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
  2. 2. This Presentation Will be on my web site on Monday Provided under Creative Commons “Attribution Share Alike” (“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. “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 • 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