5 Tips for Building Trust

In 5 Tips for Building Trust | Globoforce Blog, Darcy Jacobsen suggests the following steps for building trust within your organization:
  1. Encourage multilateral communications and dialogue  among peers and between employees and leaders. Offer workers a shared sense of ownership in company goals and mission—encouraging employees’ sense of voice, position, significance and purpose.
  2. Establish strong company values that employees can understand and know how to practice—increasing their sense of belonging, purpose and security.
  3. Set challenging but achievable goals—to increase employees’ sense of challenge, learning and autonomy.
  4. Shift the focus from hierarchy to community—connecting employees to one another in ways that empower them and increase their sense of belonging, connection and security.
  5. Ensure that you are adequately recognizing and rewarding individual and team achievements as they relate to shared values and goals. Make sure those rewardsrespect individualism and include choice. This will increase employees’ sense of fairness, purpose, recognition, belonging, and choice.
These all seem self-evident to me.
“A man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts.” - Harold Macmillan
As I look at the list, I agree with all of the statements. I don't think it's a comprehensive recipe, but it's solid advice. The sequencing of the list jumps out at me as a tad off. I'm not sure Darcy is suggesting things be done in this order, but enumeration implies some form of priority or sequence. Assuming there is a priority to this list, I'd put strong company values first, followed by shifting focus from hierarchy to community. These two are the foundation of the remaining three items.

I encourage you to read Darcy's article. And please share your thoughts by commenting on this post.

Jungle Gyms, Not Ladders

I've worked for essentially two types of companies - those that have clearly defined job ladders and those that don't.

A clearly defined job ladder provides people a clear picture of what they need to accomplish and what skills they need to display in order to move into a new role. A clearly defined job ladder provides a baseline for performance appraisals. Everyone in the organization knows what is expected of people in each role. Are you displaying these attributes with a level of proficiency requisite for the role, or are you not? Job ladders make the expectations of progress and the opportunity for advancement clear and consistent.

Given the choice between no structure for advancement or job ladders, I'll choose job ladders any day. And given the choice between losing my eyesight or having tunnel vision, I'll choose tunnel vision any day. Neither of the options is actually appealing.

Lean In

In "Lean In", Sheryl Sandberg uses the Ladder versus Jungle Gym metaphor to describe people's overall career path. She talks about moving from company to company, gaining different perspectives and learning along the way.

In ascending a ladder, there is a single straight path. Each step clearly defined, you move in sequenced progression with no exploration and no alternatives. Run into an obstacle? You're stuck or you move the entire ladder and start over. Someone else on the ladder? You'd best be highest on the ladder, or you've got an ass of a view.

On a jungle gym, there are infinite paths. You can ascend as you choose. You can stay at the same level and move side to side, exploring the full 360 perspective from this height. You can move diagonally. You can ascend in a straight line to the top. Run into an obstacle? No problem. Move around it. Someone else on the jungle gym? No worries, there's room for several of us and we can adjust around each other as we explore.

Jungle Gyms

Built by you

There is occasion where the few, like Sheryl, are provided the opportunity to move laterally or even diagonally within a single organization. But for most of us, the progression is more akin to a series of ladders lined up side by side. You have to jump from one to the other, risking a fall with each leap. Most organizations provide ladders, if anything at all. You have to take fear-filled leaps to build your own personal jungle gym.

Built by companies

I propose companies dump ladders and replace them with jungle gyms. This is a concept. I suspect it is wrought with issues, but I know for certain that job ladders are wrought with issues.

So let's build a jungle gym.

Roles => Competencies

First, look at all of the roles in the organization and think about the competencies and attributes each requires. Make the list comprehensive. What is specific to the role? What is more general? Technical, clinical, and interpersonal. Leave nothing out. Do this for every role in the company.

Competencies => Skills

For each of these competencies, think about what they look like on a growth continuum. What skills does a junior java developer have? What about a master java developer?

Okay, now you have a huge list of skills that map to competencies. First, you'll find that there is a good deal of commonality. You probably want most developers to be skilled in Object Orientation, regardless of language. You probably want all people to have communication skills. Think about those skills that are not really context specific and move them into their own areas. Object Oriented should move out from under the language competencies into it's own, for example.

What you should have a list of competencies that fit one or more of the formal roles within the organization. Each competency should be replete with skills one portrays on their path to mastery.


The jungle gym

Now ditch the job ladders and formal roles. Pay everyone in the company the same base salary. For each of the skills an individual can display and utilize, increase their pay by a set, published amount. Everyone in the company has the opportunity to grow their skills along whatever path they choose. You can stay in a specific vertical and grow your skills and income. You can go shallow across a broad spectrum and grow your skills and income.  You can move vertically, horizontally, diagonally, or whatever direction you choose.

I'm not going to get into the literally hundreds of ways you can determine if someone portrays a particular set of skills. In my opinion, it should be based on group evaluation. In one model, we talked about a pay increase for every (x) skill points. That way, the evaluation was not necessarily tied directly to compensation. But I've not yet found an environment brave enough to try something this radical.

Common counter arguments

People will focus on whatever is easiest

I think we're not giving people enough credit. And if they do go for what's "easy", they have to employ the skills to get the compensation, so it's still to everyone's benefit.

People will focus on whatever they want

I think people already do this. They work on passion projects on evenings and weekends. They then seek other environments that foster their chosen growth path.

People will focus on increasing their compensation

So... people will focus on increasing their value to the organization? Gee, that's too bad.

What do you think?

I've had this in my head for years. This is the first I've put it to paper. It's not fully formed and I've never tried it. This is a concept. I suspect it is wrought with issues, but I know for certain that job ladders are wrought with issues.

Seriously, what do you think?

SCNA 2010 - Training Software Professionals; just what the doctor ordered

This is an old talk (2010), but Matt Polito made it available on YouTube today and I wanted to share. My intent was to encourage discussion.  I hope it has.

Here's the corresponding slide deck.

Forever Forward, Reprise

It is with absolute jubilation and optimism that I announce March 7, 2014 is my last day at the Groupon Chicago office.

I've been part of Groupon for just over a year now. I remember chatting with H about companies he could help me connect to as he surreptitiously mentioned Groupon (over and over again). I remember interviewing with "Cheese Sandwich Guy"; a dude in a t-shirt that diagramed the architecture of a cheese sandwich. I recall wondering if I'd enjoy working with him. As it turned out, he was my new boss. And, yes, I do sincerely enjoy working with him.

The journey has been valuable and has left an indelible mark on me. I've learned about people, teams, leadership, mentoring, and collaboration. I've loved working with the folks in the Chicago office. I've made some close friends, brought some old friends closer, and for the first time in my life, I've made a deliberate effort to keep in touch with people.

If I've not done well keeping in touch with you, don't hesitate to let me know. I'm still working on it.

On October 12, 2012, I wrote a post announcing my departure from LeanDog and my new opportunity at Groupon. Today, I can hardly contain myself as I announce my next adventure.

No, I'm not leaving Groupon (that would be foolish). I have taken on a new role as Groupon's Global Director of Engineering Culture. This is not only a new role for me, this is a new role for Groupon. So we'll learn as we go.

I've a fantastic team member in Connie-Lynne Villani who takes on engineering orientation, education, and diversity along with public outreach. I will be focused on engineering standards, branding, and engagement.

And those newly-exercised skills keeping in touch with friends will be put to good use. As part of this new role, Jennifer and I will relocate to the Palo Alto California area.

I am incredibly fortunate to have a companion like Jennifer by my side. Together, we've raised two wonderful children. Together, we've navigated numerous challenges. And together, we take the next step.

I don't know precisely where this path leads. I simply cannot see that far ahead. But I know two things with certainty; I will never be alone in my journey and the only direction is forward.

Fist to Five

Introduction and Use

Quick Check

Fist to Five (a.k.a. Fist of Five) is a simple tool for measuring level of agreement in a team. Often, this is far more expedient than discourse, even among those in agreement. Secondarily, it helps to overcome “silence means consent” for teams where this may be an issue. This is not a replacement for discussion, merely a way of getting a quick check to determine if more discussion is actually warranted.

Clear, binary options

The Fist to Five process works best for clear, binary choices. “Should we use git?”,works just fine. It is a relatively clear mostly yes or no question. “Which do you prefer - git, mercurial, or SVN?”, doesn’t work well. Too many options. “Would you like cake?” is also not a great option. One option, but too vague. “Would you like chocolate cake with strawberry frosting?” is better.

How To


For any simple question, such as the ones described as appropriate above, ask the team for a Fist to Five vote. Everyone raises a fist above their head (preferably their own fist). At the count of 3, everyone reveals their vote. Based on the votes, it is usually easy to tell if the item is accepted, rejected, or more discussion is warranted.

All 3 and above, the proposal is passed. Move on.
All 2 or below, the proposal is dead. Move on.
A mix of votes from fist to 5, the proposal needs more discussion. Carry on.


A vote is a hand gesture that indicates your current level of support for the topic.


“I Disagree. I require changes before I can agree.”


“This needs more discussion. I have change suggestions.”


“I desire more discussion. I have minor concerns.”


“I am not in total agreement. I can support this.”


“I think this is a good idea. I will work for it.”


“I think this is a great idea. I would like to lead the effort.”