Stop the Compliment Culture!
I observed that in the current corporate world suddenly everything has become absolutely excellent! Everyone is great! Simple updates are suddenly cheered as an ‘outstanding job’! Sprint demos end with cheering! As a result, the valuation of the compliment is getting under pressure and is being devaluated. It is time for intervention by the Compliment Culture Watchdog!
Maybe it is me, but this over-excited behaviour just does not feel right and brings a certain level of risk. Like with kids — or with a lover — one has to extremely careful when, how and to who to give compliments. It is an art by itself.
Note, I’m not suggesting that giving compliments is wrong, it just needs careful consideration. Be aware, when not done right compliments can have a counter-effective effect.
Compliments as anti-pattern by your agile coach!
In many companies in transformation, ex-project managers get repurposed in no time to Agile coaches or Scrum Masters. Just look at the LinkedIn profile of some of your ex-project manager colleagues and see how many suddenly have rebranded themselves as experienced Agile coach or Scrum Master.
As a result, we suddenly have find ourselves surrounded by inexperienced Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches on the work floor. The most difficult tasks for these functions are to ask difficult questions, push the team and identify issues that need to be unblocked.
They have a strong supporting role and need to keep the team energized. In lack of real coaching skills and domain knowledge, it is easy to compliment as no one will ever blame you for being complimentary. As a result the chats in Microsoft Teams sessions suddenly fill up with ‘Excellent’, ‘Incredible’, or ‘Great Job’.
Unfortunately, this is the worst thing that can happen to your transformation. Your Agile coaches are the engine of your transformation, should be your most experienced resources, and be the most critical ones to continuously push the envelope of the inexperienced agile organisation.
In my Dutch Calvinistic culture we are very stingy when it comes to giving compliments. Not just with compliments by the way, we are stingy in general. It is not in our culture to go overboard. Something really has to reach an exorbitant level of incredibility for a Dutch person to give a compliment. I think it is a very northern European habit with some countries even worse than the Dutch. I mention no names….. In these northern European countries lack of criticism is already the biggest compliment one can get.
Where in the Japanese culture they are very careful in giving compliments, the American culture is the complete opposite. Everything is Great. Even America is GREAT Again…:-)
In other cultures, the compliment is the least to expect from someone. Not giving the compliment is almost an insult.
So in a multicultural organisation one should be very considerate with giving compliments. The best is to find a middle-of-the-road approach and dose your daily number of compliments.
Watch out for the backfire of your ‘compliment’
One of the most annoying compliments is if you hear someone respond to each and every question. “Excellent Question!”
The theory says that no questions are stupid, but replying to every question “That is an excellent question” can reflect badly. In any audience, you will have some that are novice but also a few that are real experts. While it can help the ego of the one asking the question to hear he/she asked an Excellent question the expert in the audience clearly understand it is not.
There are other ways to acknowledge the question. One could use ‘Thanks for asking this…..’.
When to do and when not to do
As with so many things it all boils down to when to do it and when not.
Encouraging compliments are very appropriate when talking to novice colleagues that are in the process of establishing a skill. For them, it is a word of encouragement.
However, your expert colleagues would much more appreciate well-worded criticism that would help them to further progress. Easier said than done. For them, it is equally important who gives the compliment. The ability to express positive criticism requires domain knowledge and only works if you have established yourself as a domain expert. If not stay neutral and thank them for their contributions, and just be honest you do not have the know-how to judge their work.
As nobody will compliment me for this incredibly well-written article. I will allow myself a compliment. Well done van Rietschoten! Thanks!