episode 178

Podcast Ep. 178: Socio-Economic Approach to Management(SEAM) with Sarah Skillman and Mary Demain

episode 178
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Episode Description

This week, Dan Neumann is joined by two external guests today: Sarah Skillman and Mary Demain, both SEAM experts and Agile practitioners.

In this episode, Dan, Sarah, and Mary are talking about SEAM (Socio-Economic Approach to Management) and how leadership is the key to Agility. Sarah and Mary share their extensive knowledge and experience working with SEAM, helping organizations identify the dysfunctions that are causing problems in their systems, and guiding them towards more efficient ways of operating, considering the social and financial aspects involved as both crucial and interconnected.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Key Takeaways

  • What is SEAM and how is it different from other approaches?
    • SEAM is a different way to lead and manage organizations.
    • Other approaches follow paradigms that are more than 100 years old.
    • “Socio-economic” means that these aspects are considered as a priority, neither of them exists without the other.
    • SEAM works starting from the management system and follows with the other sectors of the organization. The process begins by identifying the hidden causes and what needs to be improved.
  • SEAM focuses on outcomes and cost savings.
    • Sarah shares an example of a company that was wasting a lot of time and effort without knowing they could negotiate the process and obtain more benefit for the company and its people.
    • Remember that people want to help and collaborate; they just need an opportunity.
    • SEAM pays attention to cultural norms.
  • How does SEAM approach culture change and transformation?
    • SEAM aims to remove the dysfunctions that slow people down in a company.
    • SEAM is an approach, not a quick fix.
  • What is the liminal space?
    • The liminal space is where people are when they are changing from one place to another. It is certainly an uncomfortable place to be, but also inevitable when intended to grow, since it is where human potential is realized.
    • People first experience the liminal space individually and then do it collectively.
  • SEAM starts at the top since only leaders can model the behavior they want to see in others.
  • Every person is part of a system. How does SEAM help people appreciate the complexity of the system?
    • Agility is a wholeness to change and SEAM is a whole system changed.
    • Every time you change the system, dysfunctions are created, and for every dysfunction, there is a cause.
    • Six tasks every company has to tackle:
      • Working conditions.
      • Work organization.
      • Time management
      • Collaborate, communicate, and cooperate.
      • Integrative training.
      • Implementation of strategy.
    • During the SEAM process, people are asked about what is not going well in each of these areas, and later the root causes are identified. After this first stage, the future is assessed while looking for possible solutions to those dysfunctions.
  • Sarah and Mary address the “frozen middle.”
    • Everybody involved in the organizational change needs to know about the purpose of that change.
    • Interventions, training, and coaching are parts of the SEAM process.

Mentioned in this Episode

Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and may not be completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar.]

Intro (00:03):

Welcome to agile coach’s corner by agile thought the podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work band PA the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host coach band agile expert. Dan Newman.

Dan Neumann (00:17):

Welcome to this episode of the agile coach’s corner podcast. I’m your host Dan Newman. And today I have the treat of having two external guests with me and a topic that I am not an expert in. So this is going to be fun. I have, uh, Sarah Skillman and Mary domain joining me. So, first of all, I’ll I’ll say thank you for joining and then we’ll get into your, your bios a little bit. So Sarah, Mary, thank you very much, uh, for taking some time today.

Mary Demain (00:42):

Oh, thanks for having us on day today, Dan.

Sarah Skillman (00:45):

Of course. Thanks Dan. It’s great to be here

Dan Neumann (00:48):

And I’m happy to have you, so this, uh, we talk about continuous learning journeys at the end of the podcast a lot, and this is a chance. The whole episode for me will be a learning journey, cuz we’re going to be talking about something called seam, which is a so co economic approach to management. And we’ll be talking about how leadership is the key to agility. So Mary you’re a principal consultant with se socioeconomic approach to management, uh, an agile practitioner, I think for like, uh, 20 years you say and enterprise coach. Yeah. And you, you are, uh, a board member of the se Institute and put a link to your LinkedIn profile so people can see all the other awesomeness about Mary domain.

Mary Demain (01:27):

<laugh> thanks for glad to be here today

Dan Neumann (01:31):

For sure. And then Sarah, uh, Sarah Skillman, you are also a principal consultant with se uh, extensive experience and whole system change, changing agile transition, sorry, coaching agile transitions. You’ve got a master’s degree in org development and you are a member on the sea Institute. So also we’ll put a link to, uh, your LinkedIn profile in the show notes at agile thought.com/podcast.

Sarah Skillman (01:54):

Thanks Dan.

Dan Neumann (01:56):

So for the, for those who, um, know nothing about socioeconomic approach to management, what’s, what’s kind of the elevators beach and um, how is it, how’s it different than other approaches to org change?

Sarah Skillman (02:09):

Well, it’s a, a different way to lead and manage organizations, um, and what we term simply to steer the organization and, uh, what makes it different is a of, uh, even management schools, um, really teach on the foundation of tailorism and some, some of the management paradigms that are over a hundred years old and what’s different about sea is the socioeconomic. And you notice there’s a dash, uh, between socio and economic and it’s one word. And as we start to work with leaders in the management system, it’s really, as you’re making, um, these key strategic decisions, are you looking at the socio side as well as the economic side? And the key here is that neither side of this coin, we refer to it as two sides of the same coin. Neither side of the coin can exist alone. So if you make a purely economic decision, it’s highly possible, well that you’re going to severely impact people. Um, we would refer to those as heartless decisions or heartless processes that you might see, we’re trying to get to the bottom line versus taking care of people. Um, and we start to work with managers in executives when we start at the CEO and, uh, week level, but really looking at those, um, as two sides of the same coin, that’s the easiest metaphor that people are able to understand.

Mary Demain (03:50):

And we were, um, completely enamored with seeing a few years back because as agile coaches, we’ve seen this big gap in the industry, three where, um, you know, you’re, you’re working with teams, then all of a sudden they hit the frozen middle layer and the managers are going well, what do you want me to do? And a lot of times there’s no good answer other than servant leadership. And so we thought that this was an Absolut God sent to us because it actually addressed one of the big gaps that agile coaches have and have it’s been there for a long time.

Dan Neumann (04:30):

I just wanted to touch on that, that frozen middle part, you know, the grassroots agile adoptions bump into that thing in the middle. Um, when the executives have, have said, we’re going with agile, get on board, they hit the managers and they’re like, eh, the executive team’s gonna roll outta here in the next two or three years anyway. So what do I care? I can wait this thing out. <laugh> and, and so it gets stuck sometimes for sure. Yeah. Sorry, Sarah, I stepped on you.

Sarah Skillman (04:53):

Mm-hmm <affirmative> yeah. Well, and that’s what I was gonna bring up is one of the things that makes seem different is we, uh, work with the management system and we start to speak to everyone in the system and we identify what we refer to as hidden costs, which are those things that don’t show up on the balance sheet. And it sometimes can be that catalyst that we’re looking for or, um, or that there is something that needs to be improved. Everything is not normal. Um, and, and sometimes that helps, um, tip people towards using, um, agility.

Mary Demain (05:38):

And we’ve had a lot of great experiences in, in doing our interventions. We talk to everybody that’s in that system and we start at the top. And so when we talk to people, we ask them, what’s not working as well as it could. And they already know they have the ideas. Um, and then we ask them, how can they quantify some of those costs? And then we have ways to help them to unfreeze and, um, get past that, um, idea that they have to change. It, it’s, it’s a change that’s happening with them instead of to them. And sometimes agile transformations or agile work seems like you’re doing things to people and to the teams. And they nev you know, they never really bought into it in the first place. So, um, you know, people have told us that, you know, it’s the first time that their voice is been heard in seven years, you know? And so there’s a, there’s a lot of things that are in the current system that isn’t working well. And we really work hard to uncover those

Dan Neumann (06:48):

As I was kind of reviewing some of the things about sea and getting ready for this podcast. One of the interesting facets, a lot of, of interesting facets, one of them in particular that jumped out to me was that, that intentional measurement, because we see with agile teams, what do we measure if your scrum team, you measure velocity and that’s about it in Kaban, you might do pick throughput, et cetera, et cetera. But I think what you are describing with sea is focusing more on the outcomes that can be achieved and then reducing and eliminating waste. And I was kind of curious if you had some tips for listeners, what are you looking at when you start talking about waste removal from a system or cost savings? Cause we’re not for profit or we’re, we’re mostly not, not for profits, right? And even they have to be good stewards of the finances they have. Mm-hmm <affirmative> so waste is a big deal.

Mary Demain (07:43):

Um, one of the teams that we worked with, they, um, had worked on a process that was for regulations and we found out that they were just, they forgot that they could negotiate. And so what happened was they were being told to Institute a process that actually was costing them a lot of time and effort. And it cost them about a half a million over 90 days with the number of people. And once they, once they ref reviewed that process, they understood how much it’s costing the them. Um, then it was just some coaching with them to, to go through how to negotiate for their needs. And they were able to, and that particular process to their benefit and to the benefit of the company, you know, every company wants to reduce expenses. And we know that, um, from the work that SIM has done over the last 40 years, that in Europe and not so much here in the United States, but what they were finding was that 20 to 40% of everybody’s time is wasted on doing things that are non-value add and the things that are wasting.

Dan Neumann (09:02):

Yeah. I could see that for sure. A as you were talking through that, you mentioned the team not having an awareness that they could negotiate the process. And sometimes, you know, I, I think of situations are for run into that this, the process is handed down and somebody goes, mm-hmm <affirmative> well, I guess this is what we’re doing. Leaders. Sometimes I hope would expect some feedback on the process, but you know, if there’s no pushback and there’s no invitation for that feedback, you just end up with bad processes. So is that where you start talking to of those middle manager types about how to create feedback loops and foster negotiation?

Sarah Skillman (09:40):

Yeah. As we work with this particular example that Mary’s brought up, we actually met with the, the group weekly for, um, coaching. They came up with the solutions and they also went to, um, the right people to have that neg, we helped them prepare for it. Um, we, we work with them on interest space negotiations. So in that just real quickly, you just lay out your interest front, like none of this, hiding it behind the scenes. And I don’t wanna tell you my number, cuz you’re just gonna raise the number, but just let, how to lay those things out. And, um, they actually were surprised that they could reach out. They were also expecting that they, we would need to go to the, well, how do we go to the middle managers? How do we go here and there? And I said, well, do you have a standing meeting with this other group on this effort already?

Sarah Skillman (10:36):

Well, yeah, we do. We’ll just bring it up. And then we could start to bring the right people in the room to have a full conversation with everyone that’s involved. And that’s one of the things about seeing too that I’ve found is people have somehow, um, I’ll say trapped that might be strong trapped them. So in the silos when you can actually move through them just by, I mean, people want to help people want to collaborate. And particularly the organization we were working with very strong culture and mission. And so it, it was one of those places where they’re, you know, at the, at the customer’s best interest was always right. Um, forefront. So, um, that made it easier for them to start.

Mary Demain (11:27):

And Dan, you mentioned about sometimes we just jump right into the metrics and the measurements and we forget about the culture behind those things. And so what Sarah’s bringing up is they, that part of that culture was just normalized that they were just gonna take the orders, just do it. They’re Nike, you know? Um, but they didn’t have, um, that was just, that was what was told to them. And so that’s what they thought was gonna be valued. And so that’s another part of scene that’s really valuable is we do pay attention to those culture norms and we are able to address some of those things through our coaching.

Dan Neumann (12:11):

That’s that’s interesting. And I, well, as I was thinking through the cultural parts, I went and grabbed an oldie, but a goody book, it’s the re-engineering alternative, um, by a guy named William Schneider and re-engineering in his term is a fancy word for turning people over forced turnover, right? Fire, those people hire new ones, right. And he’s like, there’s an alternative. And he breaks cultures down into fourth things, control collaboration, competence, and, uh, cultivation. And I feel like a lot of times in agile coaching, you put my air quotes out here. It’s like, oh, we’re gonna have to change the culture from this to that. And in his thinking is generally, how do you leverage the culture? So if there are control culture, how do you leverage that? Mm-hmm <affirmative> for good role versus bad control. Right. Right. And, and so I’m kinda curious how culture and some of those cultural norms shift or don’t shift are embraced. How does seem, maybe handle that?

Sarah Skillman (13:05):

Well, as Mary mentioned, first of all, as, um, the inter we we’re intervener researchers when we start, um, these interventions. So we’re, we know that we’re the instrument. So, um, and just us being there also has already changed the system a bit. Right. So we had questions when we first met with one group, are you the bobs from the office? Like, what are you doing here? <laugh> and it’s like, they, they almost couldn’t believe some of them probably still didn’t. But one of the keys to seeing is that people are the only source of value in the company. And without people, we don’t make profits, we don’t deliver value. People are at the heart of it. And so no, our goal is not to reduce people. We’re not coming in with fancy words for mm-hmm <affirmative>, uh, layoffs. No, that is not our goal. It’s to enable you to work on the innovative things that matter, um, by removing the dysfunctions that are slowing you down and from a culture perspective and an OD, uh, perspective, we go, the, it is an approach.

Sarah Skillman (14:24):

So we do follow, you know, the 40 years of, um, research and learnings that are shared, um, with all of the intervener researchers, mostly in Europe to, uh, um, help them see that this is a, an approach and it is not, um, a quick fix. So we lay out upfront that the first, um, 30 days we’re doing interviews with people in the system. After that 30 days we share something that’s called a mirror effect. And what this does is we take direct quotes from the group and they actually hear what’s going on in their culture from each, each other, cuz we’re using their words. And so now the organization’s awareness is raised. Their awareness is raised their hearing and seeing cuz we, we speak to it and show, um, in a presentation, their culture. And um, because we do focus on, what’s not working as well as it could.

Sarah Skillman (15:35):

Um, some of the comments we’ll get early on is, wow, we we’re bad. Or, and that’s, that’s not it at all. You’re absolutely normal. Every organization is going through something like this. And um, we then purposely do not take any action for another 30 day. That’s when Mary and I are working on an expert opinion that digs even deeper to find the root causes of some of the dysfunctions that were uncovered. And that is very uncomfortable in achievement oriented cultures. Like what do you mean we need to fix it now, but you’re just fixing a symptom.

Dan Neumann (16:12):

Yeah. You mentioned a couple for things that, um, and I wanna tie back to one of the earlier things you said you had mentioned kind of coming in with C level support, uh, which seems mm-hmm, <affirmative> uh, like a really important factor in what you’re describing. And another one then is patience, right? To allow the 30 days to collect information, let alone 30 days to be like, wait, wait, wait, where the consultants go, what are they doing? Why am I, you know? And so those couple things seem like these where you’ve built support mm-hmm <affirmative> for a particular process that includes patients.

Sarah Skillman (16:45):


Mary Demain (16:45):

Right, right. And people have to that’s the luminal space, you know, people have to be, they have to sit in that space for little bit to recognize and to think about what is going on. Um, sometimes when we interview teams, it’s the first time that they’ve talked to their teammates and they have no idea how their teammates feel about certain processes that are going on or their working relationships and it’s eyeopening because, um, some people have been there for a while and they have different assumptions and of beliefs about how work should be done and others are newer and they come in and, you know, there’s, you know, there’s that uncomfortable space. And once, you know, you mirror their information back, like Sarah said, in the mirror of fact, they start to have a bigger understanding of the world that they’re a part of.

Dan Neumann (17:44):

You’ve used a phrase there, Mary, that, um, admittedly, I’d go reach for my dictionary if I hadn’t kind of looked up liminal ahead of this call, but is it, can you talk about the liminal space and what that, what that means?

Mary Demain (17:55):

Yeah. The liminal spaces where people are in the process of changing from one paradigm to another. And so that’s that that’s that uncomfortable space, but you have to be in that space to grow and that’s where your human potential is realized. Um, and so that’s why that holding that space for people to think is pretty critical for the change to happen later from one paradigm to the other.

Sarah Skillman (18:27):

So people, so people experiencing it individually, then they start to experience collectively. And as we go through more and more groups, uh, more and more people are experiencing it, um, as elite. And so the culture, um, starts to shift and the, the, the whole is then going through a paradigm shift. And, um, we, as we’re coaching, we stress that it’s normal to feel uncomfortable. Um, and the great news is now you’re aware now you can do something about it. And, um, there’s a lot of hope in that, right. Um, we’ve we heard a lot of people describe themselves as firefighters and, um, really, uh, like related to dependencies across teams and I’m the, you know, the manager and I’m gonna remove it. And, um, there was like this, that, that that’s my job. Well, yes. And <affirmative> do they need to exist? Mm-hmm <affirmative> like, what are we doing about really changing the whole system? Because they were firefighting and addressing symptoms. We’re helping peel back to find out what’s the root cause of all these symptoms. And then we can take stronger action.

Dan Neumann (19:48):

Firefighter analogy is well timed. I just, I was that actually I recorded one before this it’ll probably air after it because I wanna make sure that we get this message out ahead of it. But the firefighters who are just interested in putting out fires, they’re actually kind of a problem. Cause they’ll tend to start their own fires to put ’em out. Um, but firefighting a lot about preventing fires in the first place. And so I think it’s interesting as you talk that little adrenaline, but my job is to go solve everybody’s problem is a huge

Mary Demain (20:18):

Right. Huge problem.

Mary Demain (20:19):

Right. Interesting. And in corporate America today, a lot of people are, they’re kind of zombies. They’re just going to work and they’re staying busy and the organization values busyness, but that becomes problematic because like we’re talking about people need space to think, and if they can’t think they can’t change. And so, um, our research has shown that, um, a lot of people are saying that they’re, they’re giving up their personal time. They’re sacrificing their friends and families for work. And we’re asking is the sacrifice worth it? You know, when you go to work, you’re providing your skills, your talents to the organization. You’re not giving away your time, but they felt like they were giving their time to the organization. So more time was gonna be better. So, um, but without freeing up people’s time and agile transformation is actually adding more work onto people’s daily activities. They have to think about those things. And don’t have time to think about it. Your agile transformation doesn’t get off on the right foot.

Dan Neumann (21:34):

No, that makes sense. I, I kinda was thinking about what you said. So reflecting back in our, our conversation thus far, I hear a lot of principal based things, uh, right. Principal’s mindset, et cetera. I think of the trap that a, a lot of organizations fall into. Well, if we grab, you know, pick one of the agile frameworks, okay, we stand up and we do this and you know, you genuflect at the white board, everything will be fine. They get stuck in the mechanics of doing mm-hmm <affirmative> the stuff. Exactly. They want the recipe. Um, so I’m kind of curious when you talk about, um, freeing up time for doing things in some of these principle based, it, it feels like it’s a little chicken and egg problem from a, an availability, how much time do you have? Um, and at the same time, the notion that we have to do something, so I imagine somebody listening, this might be going well. Yeah. But what do we do? Like I, okay, great. We wanna do stuff with the manager, but what do we, what do we do? I’m kind of curious how you address that.

Mary Demain (22:33):

Well, that’s why we start at the top because only leaders can model the behavior that they, they want to see. And so they go through it first, they have to free up their time. They have to remove their dysfunctions. And then they actually coach and teach the teams that are part of their organization. Um, you know, with our guidance, we, you know, we coach them through that. But that’s the difference with, with this is that they are actually modeling the behavior that they wanna see and they go through it, they experience it. They can tell that it doesn’t hurt. <laugh>, you know, they can relay what they’ve learned through the whole process. And then that just helps, um, the teams become more comfortable with their own, um, paradigm shift

Sarah Skillman (23:19):

Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And as far as what do they do, there’s a lot for them to do that. We, um, uh, partner with them, um, help them, you know, it’s their inter uh, we say intervention and in sea, let’s just, we can say transformation, it’s their transformation, not ours. Right. And so we help them, um, make things as safe as possible for people. It just depends on, again, that culture, if there’s a culture fear in an organization, it takes, you know, just different approaches, but really helping that leader say, I’m on board with this, I’ve done it. Here’s what I’ve learned. Modeling. As Mary said, um, the behaviors, um, very difficult, even when they hear from their teams, not to, again, mm-hmm, <affirmative> that patients to not take action that comes up a lot. We also ha team has, uh, six management tools that we actually do separate working sessions with the management team.

Sarah Skillman (24:22):

We start with something called a time management tool. And it does, it’s not really anything, very fancy, but I’ll tell you, we, in many of our interviews, you can tell that they absolutely do not know where their time is going. And so this is just something, again, raising awareness within, um, and only they can share it with us if they want to, or have questions, but it’s only for them it’s tool just for them to reflect on where their time is going. And is that where your time is most valuable used? Are you spending time on your highest priorities? Really? That’s what we start with. But then there are others that are connected to what we find, or that person finds in the time management

Narrator (25:08):

Have a topic you want us to tackle, send an email to podcast, agile thought.com or tweet it with a hashtag agile thought podcast.

Dan Neumann (25:19):

That’s interesting. And I wanted to amplify when you said, you know, it’s their transformation. We, um, we had one client who was just real excited about what we were doing and it’s like, yeah, we’re doing things, but you’re getting the benefit because you’re taking what we’re sharing and you are doing the thing with it. Whereas others seem like just having some consultants floating around the building is gonna lead to some dramatic outcome. And it’s not, I mean,

Mary Demain (25:46):

Right. And I think you touched on a, um, a key point to Dan is that people, every person is part of the system. It’s a complex adaptive system. And, um, if you don’t recognize that, then, um, you, aren’t going to make the change, the change isn’t gonna happen to help those people to make their work lives better. So, um, recognizing that is pretty key.

Dan Neumann (26:12):

Yeah. I, yeah. Complex adaptive system was the phrase I was looking for earlier today. And it just, wasn’t coming to mind like the system’s thinking yes. And I’m curious, people are like, oh, if we just do the one thing, if we just fix roles and responsibilities, everything’s gonna, and well, no, you’re gonna fiddle with the roles and something’s gonna tweak in the process and you’re gonna reorg people. So is there, you know, an experiment template or how do you foster inspect and adapt because it is as a complex adaptive system, you’re gonna see the cause and effect in hindsight, mm-hmm, <affirmative> not necessarily before a change is made. So how do you help people appreciate the complexity?

Mary Demain (26:52):

That’s funny that you bring up just, if we could just do one thing and Sarah and I just, I, I was laughing because she was just asked that like yesterday, well, if we just do one thing, you know, what would that be next month? It’s like, and, and as, as coaches, you already know that agility is a holistic change and steam is a whole system’s change too. So it’s that the feedback is already built in by talking to everybody in the system. And they actually work on the things to improve the system and free of their time. So that is the feedback loop of making sure that you’re actually reducing dysfunctions and removing them is anytime you make a structural change or behavior change in the system, it’s gonna create DYS. They have to have this awareness. Um, and a lot of times companies or leaders will change the org structures like you said. Um, but they’re tinkering with those things and, and the structures and the behaviors want to balance themselves out. So anytime you tinker with those, you are gonna create a dysfunction. And for every dysfunction you’re gonna have a hidden cost.

Dan Neumann (28:14):

That’s interesting. Could you, for people like me who are maybe struggling to wrap their brain around what a dysfunction might look like, I like we see ’em where like that’s messed up. Like we’ve all seen dysfunctions, but when you use the term, could you maybe help me under stand a little bit specifically? What one of those might look

Mary Demain (28:28):

Like? Every company has to do six things. Well, and, um, the six things are the working conditions, the work organization, time management, what we call the three CS, collaborate, communicate, and cooperate. We have to do I to training well, and you have to have the implementation of the strategy that’s done well. So when we ask people what’s not working well in those six different areas, they have a lot of ideas. They, they can articulate. Well, I can’t see myself connected to the strategy. Well, why don’t you see yourself in the strategy? And they can explain why

Dan Neumann (29:12):

That’s interesting. Yeah. Like, like I don’t even know what the strategy is. Exactly. Let alone, you know, how to connect to it as, as a potential. Okay. That’s helpful for sure.

Sarah Skillman (29:20):

Yeah. And, and, and working conditions, for example, before, uh, the pandemic, we were working with the working organization that was really big and they were having trouble just finding a conference room to meet together. Right. And so they were traveling to a completely different building, the whole team of 12, um, just to find a place to collaborate. And so then we start working with them on, well, what’s going on with your work, your working conditions, have you ever considered, having to walk for 20 minutes is actually dysfunctional, right. It’s not normal. <laugh> um, are there other things to do? And then we could start to quantify what that dysfunction costs mm-hmm <affirmative>. And, um, so you could say that was wasted time. So for hidden costs, we’ll categorize them to you as, um, wasted time wasted money overpaying. Oh, a good example of where we uncovered overpaying is the VP went to every meeting, the product owner went to because they were afraid the product owner didn’t have context.

Sarah Skillman (30:27):

Okay. So then you’re, you’re overpaying every meeting, right. To make a decision. And so then we have to dig to what the real root cause of that was. That’s a whole nother session probably, but, um, that’s an example of a dysfunction that then has a overpaying, um, hidden cost. Um, then in the fourth category is MIS productivity. And the fifth that has come up recently, um, is not developing potential. And so one of the things about seem that I also really, really appreciate is it’s future focused. So we spend some time on what’s right now, not working, or maybe in the last 30 days, things that you’ve experienced, that aren’t working as well as they could to get a real understanding of what’s going on in the system, but we start to move towards, well, what are your goals? What’s the strategy? Um, what do you, what are the things that are happening externally?

Sarah Skillman (31:27):

What needs to change internally? And do you have this competencies on your team? Do you actually achieve that strategy? And they we’ve in one with one client in particular that was eye opening to them. They hadn’t considered that they were about to go through hiring and they hadn’t quite considered the mix of their team in this way that we it’s another tool that we use to help them with that. Um, it’s very visual. And, um, it, it was, oh, we have to change our job posting. So, um, there’s a lot of different things that can happen and they’re in the driver’s seat, right? If they, they choose, uh, what they want to work on, maybe that was the most important to them at the time, cuz they were about to make hiring decisions, right. It may not have been the thing with the biggest hidden cost, but it was important, right. To take care of for the future

Dan Neumann (32:30):

Super investing. And you’re talking about developing potential. I’m assuming both the human potential as well as the organization’s potential from a product standpoint. But of course the two are absolutely hand in glove. Right.

Mary Demain (32:42):

And the, the key thing here too, is that these are things that are not showing up on the balance sheet. So that’s why there are hidden costs because nobody’s really paying attention to those things right now. And um, so if you’re looking at your balance sheet and say, oh, everything looks great, but the socio side of this equation isn’t working well, it’s a hidden cost to the organization and we’ve, um, uncovered about 84,000 per person annually in hidden costs in this particular organization. So you can do simple math, 84 K per person is a lot, um, you know, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, that could be half of somebody’s job just managing with and through these dysfunctions and there’s a cost. So managers need to be aware of that.

Dan Neumann (33:39):

So Sarah and Mary I’ve appreciated our time. And I think we have one more, um, kinda loose end to circle back on. You’ve talked about hidden costs and dysfunctions. And uh, early on you mentioned getting that invite from the C-suite in and the challenge of that frozen middle of managers. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. So with getting the mirror effect, going in this supportive leaders, modeling behavior and collecting, um, hidden costs and dysfunctions, what, how do you help that, that frozen middle that you’d alluded to earlier?

Mary Demain (34:13):

Right, right. Um, one of the things that, um, we’re seeing as Sarah mentioned, the time management tool is that when managers start looking at where they’re spending their time, it’s probably not in the areas where they should be. Um, a lot of times managers are not trained to be managers. And so they assume that they’re just gonna pick up the work that they always did that got them to that position. They don’t realize that they have to switch it now and they have to start the organization. And when we talk about steering, we’re talking about aligning people and resources to the highest priorities. And as an Angelist, you know, when you talk about backlog refinement, that’s what the backlog refinement is meant for is to make sure that everyone is steering towards those priorities. So, um, and Sarah, is there anything else you wanna add there too, or,

Sarah Skillman (35:10):

Well, the tool, the tool, the other tools that we haven’t had a chance to dig into, they actually, as we go through them, show you what it would be like to steer and help you frame up what that is and get helps you get your thoughts collected, actually see what, um, you’re really, uh, need to focus on. And, um, and we through coaching help there. So with steam, we do an intervention, we do training and we’re also coaching. And so we make sure that we’re doing all three, um, in OD, um, consultants. Sometimes we just come in in the past, not now, but you might just do an intervention and do some, or you might just come in and do some training, but it, um, there’s an analogy out the, of the three little pigs. Um, you might have a straw house, um, but we’re trying to work for a solid foundation and that’s why it does take a little, it, it takes longer, but we’re upfront at the beginning, as we mentioned before, um, the time that it takes to make this happen,

Dan Neumann (36:15):

For sure. Yeah. And you know, managers, a lot of times they’re promoted, not because of their management skills or their leadership because they’re the best technician. And now they, the organization expects them to sprinkle their technician around and right. That’s just not their forte. So, um, exactly teaching them to steer, um, steer being a verb, right. Steerings a ver you gotta be steering the ship somewhere. So makes sense. This is wonderful. You’d mentioned other tools and things like that, which website would people go to to maybe learn a little bit more, obviously they’ll have your LinkedIn profiles, they know how to connect with you, but, um, is there a website folks could go to, to learn more about se

Mary Demain (36:53):

Think, go to the se Institute and there are, um, articles and, um, there’s also a book called socioeconomic approach to management and it act, the book actually describes, um, all the tools in detail. And, um, one of the things that people have noticed is that sometimes the tools look familiar or they’re, they’re, they look simple, it as Agileists, we all know the simplest things are the hardest things to, to, um, understand. And so, um, there’s a lot of differences in the philosophy around those tools and, um, the book is a great place to start for for that information.

Dan Neumann (37:36):

That’s wonderful. So I really wanna appreciate both of you taking time to share with me selfishly, cause I get to ask my questions, but then with our listeners as well, who I’m sure are getting good value out of this time as well. So, uh, Mary, could I ask you to start us with some closing thoughts?

Mary Demain (37:52):

Yeah. Yeah. I think I wanted to share with everybody that seem Andes this old management system that prevents managers from being better managers, um, you know, training classes alone, can’t provide that coaching and that’s what steam provides. Um, and if you’re looking to gain effectiveness with agility, then a new management system or a new mindset will need to be in place to get the benefits and the value of agility. Um, also that sea is a catalyst for agility. It’s transformative learning and it’s a way to succeed with any whole system change. The third thing is that sea actually shows people what, you know, everybody is accepted as normal in our corporate world or our corporate lives. Um, some of those things are not normal any longer. So we, we need to undo some of that destructive nature and embrace a new lifestyle.

Mary Demain (38:52):

And the fourth thing, um, that I’d like to share with, with everybody is, is that we need to unleash human potential as the only source of value. And Sarah mentioned that at the very beginning, um, there’s a quote from Simon Sinek. He says that a hundred percent of employees are people, a hundred percent of customers are people, a hundred percent of the investors are people. If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business <affirmative>. And that’s what seam is trying to do is make sure that we, um, actually treat people with respect and the respect that they deserve

Dan Neumann (39:26):

For sure. And I wanna appreciate that anytime you guys used resources today, you are actually talking about resources, not people, so, yay. That was exciting.

Mary Demain (39:35):

Exactly. Yes.

Dan Neumann (39:37):

So and Sarah.

Mary Demain (39:39):

Exactly. Right. Thanks.

Dan Neumann (39:41):

<laugh> yeah. How about you?

Sarah Skillman (39:44):

Well, for me, I’d like to talk a little bit more about how this, uh, experiencing this and working with, uh, management systems as a seem principle consultant, um <affirmative> and having been an agile coach, what it’s done for me personally, it, um, has given me the words and the tools to help managers, um, versus I’ve I’ve done, uh, agile mindset for leaders. It’s a couple of hours and then, you know, there’s still off like be a servant leader and do this and do that. But this is just so much, um, rewarding. I’ve learned so much about myself as well. Cuz Mary mentioned we’re people too. Right? And so we have our, we have our own biases and some of the experiences, um, that we’ve in previously. So we are more aware now of those things that we are also bringing in, uh, to the system.

Sarah Skillman (40:46):

And we, we partner Mary and I very closely to say, is this my bias showing up? Like, I’m I heard this, I’m going to put this in the expert opinion, but is this Sarah coming through or are we really focused on the client? And so that is one thing we’re very aware of that we’ve learned so much. Um, I, I do still my experience previously, um, working with, um, big consulting firms, it’s sort of overwhelming. Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, there’s these templates that come to you and all this data and this and that. And we sort of take a more, it, it takes more time, but we talk to everyone in the system. It’s not a data. Uh, I heard, uh, recently someone was sharing, Hey, they just asked us to brainstorm ideas. And then the next thing you knew a week later, they came back with, here are all my problems and here’s what you should do about it. He goes, I thought this was a brainstorm, so right. Um, we’re very clear. It takes time. We’ve made plenty of mistake, like anyone mm-hmm <affirmative>. Um, but it builds relationships, the humility also, you know, the transparency of yeah. That didn’t work as well. And it’s building that partnership with the client. Right. Um, but for me personally, it’s been so rewarding and so much growth within myself.

Mary Demain (42:13):

Yeah. I can second that too. It’s been very rewarding work and I hope that, um, other, um, agile coaches that are looking for the next path in their life, um, might want to reach out to us and, um, talk about opportunities. Um, Sarah and I, and one other person are only three that are of the principal consultants that are trained in the United States. And, um, so we’re looking for more people to join us and, uh, learn more about what it’s like to be an intervener researcher.

Dan Neumann (42:50):

Very cool. And it’s always nicer to work with people than, you know, for lying. Solo has been my experience. So mm-hmm, <affirmative>, it sounds quite interesting. So I really wanna again, appreciate, uh, both of you taking some time and sharing with me and sharing with the listeners.

Sarah Skillman (43:05):

Thank you, Dan.

Mary Demain (43:06):

Well, thanks for the invite, Dan. We really appreciate you, um, asking us to talk today.

Dan Neumann (43:11):

Abby too. Thanks again.

Outro (43:14):

This has been the agile coaches corner podcast brought to you by agile thought. The views, opinions and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of agile thought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips for this episode and other episodes@agilethought.com slash podcast.


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  • “People are the only source of value in a company.” — Mary Domain
  • “The liminal space is where people are when they are changing from one place to another, certainly an uncomfortable place to be but certainly inevitable when intended to grow, since it is where human potential is realized.” — Sarah Skillman
  • “The simplest things are the hardest to understand.” — Mary Domain

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