We have the pleasure of re-posting Mike Edward’s latest blog post here. We like Mike and think you will too.

Imagine you are a manager of a department, and you just fired someone who was speaking out against the process they were asked to follow.  I’m sure it was justified as they just didn’t seem like a cultural fit to your image of the department. Instead of being a good corporate citizen and following the process, they were questioning it and perhaps even refusing to follow some part of it as they didn’t think it added value. Seems reasonable and you as a manager are truly above average and doing a good job.  Pat on the back for all.

Just when you’re basking in your glory someone points out “you just fired your most responsible employee!”

On Monday Chris Chapman and I participated in the Gatineau Ottawa Agile Tour (GOAT’14). We brought Deming’s Red Bead Experiment as the core of a session focused on showing participants real transformation starts with management. The experiment itself is a beautiful demonstration of how to run a team …. in all the wrong ways!

The experiment is focused around the White Bead Corporation who produces pristine white beads untouched by human hands. Willing workers must come up to a bucket with red & white beads, and using a paddle we provide draw 50 white beads at a time. Red beads are defects. We use all types of management tools to try and get our willing workers to produce 50 white beads at a time (which is almost statistically impossible). We try all types of ways to motivate them from posters, to coercing, to financial incentives, and more.

The most profound spot of the session on Monday happened when one of the willing workers approached the bucket of beads, paused, then turned around and said “this is a waste of my time”. She went on to tell us how the process makes it nearly impossible to succeed, and we were wasting her time when it came to producing white beads with a sufficient level of quality. Chris and I looked at each other with a look of “COOL!”, although we’ve never seen such a response in the past this was the ideal situation.

Chris, who played the role of supervisor, did the only thing reasonable at that point … he fired her! After all she wasn’t following our process without question, and obviously wasn’t a fit with the culture of the White Bead Corporation. Seems reasonable doesn’t it?

Christopher Avery’s observation during the debrief was spot on … We fired our most responsible employee!

Let’s turn to the real world for a moment to see if I can think of similar situations:

  • A manager demands mega overtime to get an already desperately troubled project completed on time. The response from a developer is he cannot continue to give up his life. The manager reminds the developer he knows where the door is. So the developer uses the door and quits on the spot.
  • A tester sees the imposed processes do nothing to improve the outcomes they are after. After questioning the processes over a period of time she is labeled as a trouble maker and does not advance in her career. She stays but stops speaking up and does what she feels is right without making it visible to the team
  • A project manager has management support to start working with new approaches such as Lean and Agile. Despite early successes, once it becomes apparent the department needed to challenge “the way it’s always been”, the project manager is shuffled aside and is no longer allowed to work on anything of significance. Eventually the Project Manager gets demoralized and bored and resigns

For me, culture is how groups of people deliver value. A culture that never changes and is never challenged becomes stale and will eventually go moldy. It seems to me there too many cases where those who resist the culture, or continually suggest changes to the culture are considered trouble makers. Much like Chris did in the Red Bead Experiment the most responsible people seem to be eventually shuffled out of too many companies one way or the other.

In my studies within The Leadership Gift ProgramTM I have learned there are different levels to a problem:


The closer you are to the bottom of the list the easier something is to address. The longer you leave something stewing the further up this scale you will find yourself. Problems are always the most difficult to solve.

So take the case of employees who are speaking up about a sacred cow … er, I mean process. They are choosing to act in a responsible manner by voicing a consideration. With time if they are not heard or continually told to just do it, the consideration will become a concern. You can see where this is heading in that it will transition to an issue and eventually peak at being a problem. Now the manager’s job is much tougher and it seems easy to find examples where getting rid of the employee is a common solution.


When a team member voices a concern about your culture, processes, overtime, or whatever … they are likely acting from a position of responsibility. Before you respond, consider the position you will approach them from.  If someone is voicing something about your processes will you:

  • Tell them there’s no choice given it’s imposed by another department? (Blame)
  • Write off their comments as the person is new to the department? (Justify)
  • Explain the process is necessary given poor results in the past? (Shame)
  • Do you find yourself saying there is no choice just do it? (Obligation)

What if you operated from a position of Responsibility? What would that look like? You might explore where their comments are coming from. You might explore why they think a problem exists. You might find a way to improve the culture of your department!

You might even end up working with the best people in the best department ever!

Mike - Headshot

Mike is a member of The Leadership Gift Program and professional coach working with people and teams as they design an effective work & personal life. In his 27 year career Mike has held many positions in IT & business across numerous industry sectors. He has led many great teams and always tried to inspire them to be their best. Five years ago Mike altered his career path and started to increasingly take a coaching stance to feed a passion to help others increase their effectiveness.

Mike is a founding board member of Leanintuit, a team of Agile Coaches helping to improve our world. Mike is studying to become a Co-Active Coach with CTI Coaching Institute. Mike speaks and teaches many times each year at conferences and other professional events internationally. Mike shares his thoughts regularly through his blog and enjoys hearing of others experiences.


Attention decision makers — For business Partnerwerks provides a unique and proven model for igniting ownership and self-direction. See Partnerwerks approach to sustainable change with measurable results enterprise-wide.

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We are proud to welcome guest-blogger Cathy Laffan back to the blog! In her last post, Slow Down to Grow, she wrote about slowing down to allow yourself to grow. This week she considers how taking risks can lead to growth.



When the opportunity to take a risk arises do you take the risk or shy away from it?  Do you see risks as a chance to grow or fail?

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power cylce

When reacting to problems people choose from two mental paths, each an identifiable pattern. One path we call The Control Cycle. The other is The Power Cycle.

The more common reaction to problems is the need to feel in control, but The Control Cycle addresses only the anxiety caused by a problem, not the problem itself. The Power Cycle is the choice to be and act above the line and confront the Continue reading

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We planned a post introducing The Power Cycle for today, but Mike Edward’s piece from his blog is a fantastic transition. This is a great example of the transition from Control to Power.


Last week Chris Chapman and I did a presentation in Waterloo at the PMI-CTT Annual Symposium. For the past 5 years I have done numerous presentations at conferences and other professional events each year. Things have always gone well (although I’ve looked back at some of my earliest presentations and I’ve come a long way). My reviews have always been good, and doing this work brings me a great deal of fulfillment.

After the presentation in Waterloo I think Chris described it best when he said “it’s as if we farted and they Continue reading

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Guest Post by Mark Roberts

Christopher Avery here. With pleasure I welcome Mark Roberts again to this blog. Mark is in management in a security services company in London, England. He shares a love for responsible leadership. Read more about Mark at the end of this post. Enjoy.

Last Friday evening, I was relaxing and looking back at the week that had just passed.

As I reflected on my actions and attitudes towards others, I was thinking about the way I acted within my working environment and how and why the week could have been better.

I suddenly realized that although I may be full of advice for others — with my best intentions at heart — I steer toward compliance with regards to my advice.

Eureka, it suddenly hit me: “The Control Cycle.” I’ve been leading from a place of control over others instead of looking at the real problems. I was the problem. Continue reading

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The Control Cycle

When reacting to problems people choose from two paths. One path we call The Control Cycle. The other is The Power Cycle. The more common reaction is the need to feel in control. This need comes from angst or similar below-the-line feelings in The Responsibility Process, and being from below the line they lead us to act below the line.

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I work with a lot of executive leadership and large organizations on culture change issues, and I often hear the question, “Should we go agile?” or “We’re thinking about going agile. What do you think, is agile for us?”

My usual response is that I don’t think that’s the right question — because agile is not a noun, it’s not a thing.

The right question is, “Am I exposed to change, complexity, and uncertainty in my business, my department, my function, my team? Am I exposed to people on my team not stepping up?” Continue reading

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Guest Post by Mike Edwards

Thank you Mike Edwards for allowing us to re-blog this post from  www.mikeeedwards.ca

I was out running this morning enjoying a beautiful fall morning run. I was thinking about the number of great wins I’ve celebrated in the last few months and how fortunate I’ve been. I have renewed clarity regarding my career goals, I am feeling aligned with myself, I continue on my path for health & fitness, and so much more! Continue reading

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The final step to clean up a broken agreement after you have made amends is to recommit to the relationship.

How do you do that? By telling the other party (who has received your acknowledgment, apology, and amends) exactly how you intend to treat the relationship in the future.

What does this do? If you are sincere in making this recommitment, you will reduce the likelihood of repeating the past mistake or mistakes similar to them.

Recommitment also allows your partners to restore their faith in you.

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So I made a mistake

How companies respond to their mistakes demonstrates their Responsibility culture.

Target’s stock was slaughtered after their credit card data breach last year. In May Ebay waited two weeks to report it’s database of personal information on 145 million active buyers had been hacked, and this weekend Kmart reported it’s payment systems have been compromised since September.

Yet Home Depot just had a huge breach and responded very effectively, giving everyone who might have been affected a year’s worth of free credit security monitoring (likely a great business development partnership for the supplier of that service, eh?).

So imagine my desire for a responsible and effective clean-up when I accidentally spammed 800 people in my database. Continue reading

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