I came across something a while ago that stated that most organisational problems are due to poorly designed systems rather than issues with people. “What a load of bollocks,” I thought, “of course, people are the problem”. Humans are complicated. We are sophisticated, emotionally wired beings with desires and wants — we are not robots. Human mistakes and problems occur because our emotional brain can override the rational brain at the best of times. And ultimately humans are the ones who build the systems in the first place.
But how many of us have been frustrated with poorly designed processes and systems? Quality assurance and consistency may be compromised without a well-designed system. Performance and limitations are highly dependent on what the system allows us to do in any organisation. A well-built system can improve efficiency, saves time, and harmonise communication, team culture, and user experience across the company’s services. It is more often convenient for leaders and system designers to say that problems and bottlenecks are due to employees, rather than examining the systems. And if we continue to punish people for those slips and mistakes, we will stop hearing about them until the problem becomes too big to hide. As W. Edwards Deming would say “A bad system will beat a good person every time.”
At Blackmill, we usually say: it is almost always the systems. We try to assume positive intent, and if the systems are poorly designed, then they allow for mistakes to happen. Instead we can look at human errors as an opportunity to learn about the system and how it can be improved.
Have you encountered situations where a system enabled mistakes to happen? And what did it teach you?
Just like that and we’re approaching EOFY (for Aussies) which means tax time! Book yourself (or your engineering manager) a ticket and join us for our Leading Engineering Teams Workshop this May. There’s no better time to sharpen your skills and refine your capabilities to lead your team through change and uncertainty. Become an effective engineering leader. Secure your spot at https://blackmill.co/workshops/leading-engineering-teams
If you are a seasoned leader and are facing the same challenges at work but don’t know how to resolve them or move things forward, then the Community of Practice is for you. We have created a space where leaders can come together, and feel safe to work on real problems. A place where leaders can reflect on their setbacks, share their challenges and experiences, and explore best practices and new possibilities. Be amongst a supportive group of peers that you can learn from and turn to for future challenges and opportunities. Only eight spots are available (one person per company) for our June cohort. For more info or to book your ticket, head over to https://blackmill.co/do/community-of-practice
This month, we dive into why it is important to onboard your new hires well. We will discuss an onboarding process you will be able to adapt to your company to ensure new hires feel welcomed from the start. Because onboarded employees stay on board. Register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/onboarded-employees-stay-on-board-tickets-565880522877?aff=ebdsoporgprofile
We have created a downloadable PDF that can help! We suggest practical ideas you can try today to help nurture a culture that is welcoming, respectful, collaborative, and productive.
I’m the CEO and founder of Multitudes – we provide analytics and automated recommendations to build happier, higher-performing software engineering teams. I love the work I do, for lots of reasons – first and foremost, I like the people I work with. They all have that magical combination of being both highly competent and also caring people who are values-aligned. I also care deeply about solving the problem we’re working on – how can we make it easier for teams to spot issues, celebrate wins, and work together to get better? And how can we help them build equity and inclusion into their practices along the way?
This has changed over time – the uncertainty of building a startup used to be the hardest part (I’m always thinking in terms of the next milestone and the amount of runway we have left). But meditation has helped me be able to sit with that – and all of life is uncertain anyway, it’s just that startups put that uncertainty a bit more in-your-face. These days though, the biggest challenge is being laser-focused on what matters and letting go of the rest. I have high standards for all that I do, so I’ve been practicing when to unleash that – on the stuff that really matters – and when to let it go, and accept “good enough.”
Equity and fairness at work. We have so many big problems in the world, and so much talent across all the people in the world – it’s simply a waste to under-value people, and not give them space to shine. And for those who are curious about equity versus equality, this is my favourite explainer: Image (from the Center for Story-based Strategy)
We had a major feature release earlier this year – Multitudes now provides ethical, data-driven recommendations for teams to improve well-being, collaboration, and performance (more on our blog). This moves our product beyond a dashboard to be more like a coach. This has been a vision of mine from the start – to surface key insights for teams, rather than giving them lots of graphs to work through on their own. I’m delighted to have this out in the wild, and I’m so impressed with our team’s collective effort to get here.
Hiring for a skillset over a values set. I’ve only done this once – at the time, we really needed to fill a role, so I flexed on our usual values criteria to hire someone who had strong expertise. What I learned was that no matter how competent someone is, if they’re not aligned on values, they won’t prioritise the same things when making decisions – and that has a far bigger cost than the time cost of getting a values-aligned person up to speed on a new skill.
For me, it’s all about the basics: I’m at my best when I sleep enough (8-9 hours), eat nourishing meals, and exercise and meditate regularly. For the periods when that isn’t going as well as I’d like, then the two things that help me most are mindfulness and community; mindfulness for me to be able to recognise my own stress and sit with it rather than putting it on others, and a community of friends, family, and a coach that help me work through the hard stuff.
As long as the problem is changing, you’re making progress. Someone told me this early on in the startup journey, and I go back to it regularly – there’s always an issue to solve, so it’s validating to remember that as long as the problem has changed, that’s still a win. A second big one: Find your community. No one does big things on their own. Find your people, the ones whose values you align with, and make time to connect with them.
Make it equitable. Easier said than done – but ultimately, I’d like to live in a world where no one gets worse opportunities or faces judgment for their identity. In that world, equity would be the default, a habit that we all have already. As one example, we wouldn’t have to worry about whether we’ve made a product in an accessible, inclusive way, because all of our practices would be oriented to that as a rule.
With our product – supporting teams through the whole cycle of taking action, from setting a goal to getting insights and then tracking progress. We’re working to further customise our recommendations and give teams action nudges, support, and links to external resources to get them through the whole journey to reaching their goals. Personal life – finding more balance! I’d like to more often have the basics of good sleep, good nutrition, and good exercise and meditation.
This is an easy summer dish that I learned from a friend when I lived in Jordan.
This should serve a couple people.
Thank you for showing an interest in our newsletter and we hope that you enjoyed the read. Feel free to contact us if you have any feedback, a burning question, or just a recipe that you would like to share.
Until next time, keep learning!
Everyone at Blackmill