16 April 2022
September 2021 Ziryan Salayi, one of the Scrum Facilitators, casually asked me if I might be interested in exploring a new opportunity at Scrum Facilitators. I remember the moment very well. The weather was, for Dutch standards, pretty OK, and we had been talking about some work situation, me excitedly telling him about it, and him nodding approval. We were in the habit of having a walk every few months, and I had come to see him as my mentor. It is so important to have someone to talk to, in order to keep your Agile sanity as you deal with the water-scrum-fall madness that is often typical of the day to day work.
The question was subtle, but the implications for me were huge. I was of course very honoured by his invitation. Something I had as a long term target for myself, to join the ranks of what I consider to be one of the leading Agile groups of people in The Netherlands! But it also forced a very difficult decision upon me.
At the time, I was working for a big organisation in the middle of an Agile transition, and after a year of hard work, I had managed to gather a whole group of Agile enthusiasts around me. I felt like we were on the verge of actually getting the Agile transition going, beyond all the designing, planning and talking these things usually seem to stall at.
The moment was upon us, the “official” Agile transition was being kickstarted. Having done the work unofficially for at least a year, everyone expected me to become one of the Agile Coaches. For me, this was not only a step up career-wise, but I hoped it would give me the clout to actually make things happen.
As I said, a difficult decision. Either jump ship and pursue my dream or finish what I'd started, with the risk that the opportunity might not come along again.
Happily, in the spirit of that great Lean practice of delaying tough decisions till the last responsible moment, I took my time. Eventually, the conundrum solved itself: after having put me through a gruelling assessment and two interviews, my organisation decided that I was not suited for the job. Bye-bye Agile Transition and hello Scrum Facilitators!
The first step in joining SF Professionals was a Meet & Greet. SF Professionals is a new initiative, a daughter company of Scrum Facilitators. Together with 8 other candidates we were invited to a cool brainstorm office, rented especially for the occasion. In a morning of fun and relaxed workshops, using liberating structures (of course), SF Professionals basically gave us full transparency into their way of working, their finances, their vision for the company, the link with Scrum Facilitators, anything you would like to know. They had their first hire there to tell us how he experienced working for SF Professionals. They had their accountant with the books, ready to explain everything from cash flows to income bottom lines.
For the last activity, we had a Fishbowl retrospective in which we the participants discussed the Meet & Greet, while SF Professionals looked on, taking notes and asking clarifying questions.
To end the Meet & Greet, the SF Professionals people gathered in the centre of the room, again in a Fishbowl setting, and discussed what they thought about the day and about us attendees, while we sat around them and looked on. It was awkward. But in a good way. A group of idealists, considering candidates for their company and trying to balance transparency with proper boss-hood.
Once you got over the awkwardness, you realised it was actually endearing. Pioneers in a brave new Agile world, finding their way through uncharted territory.
We finished off in a restaurant where SF Professionals treated us to some awesome dim sum. What a day!
For us the participants, it was informative, but above all, fun! And I'm sure for most of us it also felt unreal. How could such an informal approach, in which it was mainly SF Professionals giving and revealing, be their recruitment process? Surely CVs and such would be the next step?
Days later Ziryan sent me their 'contract'. A two-sided A4 with a number of empty fields and an invitation to fill it in, in whichever way I saw fit. Here's a copy:
I did, sent it back, and a few days later we had a virtual meeting to discuss details. My salary wishes were high, which is something I've learnt to do in normal circumstances: start high so you have enough room to bargain down to something that will still be acceptable in the end. SF Professionals, with complete transparency, showed me the impact my salary would have on their finances, presenting a perfectly reasonable argument. No games. No hidden agendas. I was ready to sell my soul to the devil at that moment to just be allowed to be part of such a brilliant organisation, no, what am I saying, movement!
Because really, that is the way it feels, a movement, a revolution in the way we work. I got hired without ever showing a CV. There was no interview, no putting me under pressure to see how I would handle it, no use cases nor any kind of hoop to jump through. We signed the contract. Yes, that two-sided A4. That really is my contract! And that was it, from that moment on I was part of the family.
We talk a lot about a new kind of working, how Agile is changing everything. The four day week, focus on results, an open mindset. Individuals above processes. But often that is where it stops, just talk. In reality, all the old fashioned recruitment tools remain firmly in place.
SF Professionals, Ziryan Salayi, Jasper Alblas and Chee-Hong Hsia, are not just talking. In fact, they actually talk very little about it. As they say, talk is cheap. They don't need to, they are living it.
To me, this feels like finally arriving home after a long career of looking for a company I could really believe in. Check my CV on Linkedin, you will notice I have never managed to stay at a company longer than 3 years. And that is not due to a lack of loyalty on my part. For me, work has always been fun, a joy in that each and every morning I wake up with the challenge of my work in my mind, a daily puzzle that is more game and pleasure than old fashioned work. I have literally had solutions to programming problems and facilitation challenges come to me in dreams!
However, for me, it is also very clear that this commitment deserves recognition. Loyalty must go both ways. Unfortunately, I've found that distrust seems to form the basis for any professional relationship.
Employees are often just numbers, resources, as they say. You may have the feeling that you are developing a personal relationship with your boss, but in the end, the hierarchical relationship usually prevails. What I see as such an important part of my work, a relationship based on trust seems to be nothing more than a distracting side-effect of what is basically seen as a business transaction. Financial or organisational priorities are far more important, usually completely disconnected from any social cost.
Nothing makes this clearer to me than the fact that companies seem to be completely lost about how to humanise the work floor, to use Gunther Verheyen's expression. The perfect example of this: I have had chocolates and thank you notes for my great work sent to my home at great expense, by some anonymous person I've never met, while at the same time I was being blatantly ignored by my superiors about problems I was trying to address in the work situation. The fact that companies seem unable to tell the difference between appreciation and a bribe should be disturbing and insulting, were it not that it makes it so painfully clear how desperately lost we have become.
At SF Professionals I have finally found a company that believes wholeheartedly and without reservations in us as people, as creative, independent and powerful minds, to be cherished and appreciated. I have come home, not just to a place where I can find trust and loyalty, but a place where I feel my wildest dreams and Agile ideals seem achievable.
I now get to take part in the next Meet & Greet, as one of the recruits! My moment to share my enthusiasm and the ideals of SFProfessionals with future colleagues, and show them how work could and should be! Future bearers of our Agile ideals! Will I see you there?