“Hi, I am John. As technical lead within my company, I am responsible for making the right technical choices that should be implemented by all our development teams. One of the main goals of our senior management is to ensure that our solutions will be of higher quality. Two years ago, we had two production outages and a security breach, which has cost the company a lot of money. Afterwards, it appeared that this was caused by some major flaws in the software design and implementation that did not follow the architectural guidelines. As a solution, I have written a new software architecture document with rules and guidelines to which the teams need to comply.
It came to my attention that not all teams want to comply because they do not agree with my approach and have not been involved. The thing is that we have always worked like this in our company and I think management wants it to be done in this way. I can’t change anything about it.
The teams do not want to write good software, so I have to check everything myself. The problem is that I don’t have the time to monitor all teams to check off the guidelines that I have given them. It is really necessary because obviously, the teams don’t have the required knowledge. Given the chance, they will work around my plans, because they don’t see the added value (talking about a lack of knowledge…). They have asked me to help them out with some issues, but I don’t understand why I should and why it is all so difficult. I could do it myself, but that is not my job. Besides, as I said, I don’t have the time for it. Then, one of our more experienced guys offered to help me out. Very nice of him, but what’s in it for me? It will probably also take ages to get him up to speed, assuming that this can be done.
During some of the discussions, the teams told me about DevOps and how that could help me solve some of my problems. I don’t know a lot about it, but it seems that it requires a lot of effort to achieve the same thing. I also think it’s a hype that’s not worth investing time in because it will not give us the benefits we hope for. Besides that, I can’t go to management and propose these kinds of changes. If they want me to change the company, they would have made me a manager instead of a technical lead. Oops, looking at the time, sorry, I have to leave
you and run to my next meeting now.”
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Fear and Mindset
That was John. And we bet it sounds slightly familiar. But what is he actually saying, and why? To understand that, it is important to gain a little more understanding of how someone thinks and acts. No, you don’t have to be a psychologist with deep insights into human behavior, but some basic understanding would greatly benefit our goal of growing a DevOps mindset.
The first thing that should be realized is that not everyone is as open, transparent and cooperative as we would like them to be. In many cases, this can be traced back to a primary human emotion: fear. In our modern time, fear is a strong motivator to do the wrong things. In dangerous situations, fear is a good thing. It helps us to stay focused and gives us “superpowers”, but in a normal work-related surrounding, fear is poison. If you can’t relax, trust people, be open and transparent, your behavior changes and with your behavior, the behavior of others as well.
There are a number of different fears that can be recognized:
- The fear of losing your job
- The fear of being embarrassed
- The fear of feeling inferior
The question to answer is: why do people have these fears, and how do these fears reflect in their behavior? This really touches on psychology and how we as humans behave in different situations. For example, when you take a good look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and map these fears to this hierarchy, it starts to make sense.
Maslow described the human needs in his five-stage model. The phases describe what motivates us to grow. When a phase is met, you grow to the next phase to eventually end up in the fifth phase. Within the first four phases we are motivated because our needs are unmet. And the longer it takes to meet them, the more motivated we become. When the need is met, the motivation decreases. The fifth phase works the other way around. The fifth phase describes a longing for growth or fulfilled being. It is hard to get into the fifth phase because progress is often
disrupted by a failure to meet lower-level needs. And quite often, the failure is coming from within, caused by actions based on fear.
A job is, on many occasions, a direct implementation of the first phase. It provides food, drinks, and shelter. Fear of losing your job is exposed in many ways. People that keep their opinion to themselves, or people who just do what they are told to do, regardless of whether they agree. But also people who deliberately block others from doing the right thing because it might do them harm. Egocentric behavior can also be caused by this fear.
Another element is that nobody wants to be alone. Humans are social beings. We want to belong to a group. This starts when we are kids. It doesn’t matter whether we want to belong to the popular, the alternative, or the geeks, but we want to belong. If we belong to a group, we do not want to be kicked out. If we say the wrong things or propose a strange solution, what might they think? Will we still belong? These examples refer to the fear of feeling embarrassed and the opinion of others.
When we climb up to the fourth phase, esteem, the behavior starts to shift towards status, respect, and recognition. Once there, the fear of feeling inferior is looming. Doing things that do not fit our status might harm us. For example, a CEO might think that cleaning out the
dishwasher or helping out to install a new PC is not appropriate. While the Maslow hierarchy describes real human needs and the fears describe the protective behavior that comes with it, the question should be asked whether the behavior that people expose contributes to achieving a
company’s goals. In our modern society with educated generations, the exposed behavior is usually not the way to fight the fear. So why are people behaving the way they do, even if it is not constructive?
Fixed and Growth Mindset
In 2006 the psychologist Carol Dweck published a book called “Mindset”, which covered decades of research on achievement and success. Dweck describes two types of mindset a person can have and what influence this has on their behavior: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
|Fixed Mindset||Growth Mindset|
|Goal||Looking smart||Learning & improving|
|View of effort||Negative||Positive|
|Challenge-seeking||Avoids challenges||Seeks challenges|
|Change represented as||Threat||Challenge|
|Response to setbacks||Helpless||Resilient|
|Response to criticism||Defensive||Learning-oriented|
|Views others’ success||As threats||As lessons & inspiration|
|Attributes wrong-doing to||Fixed traits||Situations & motivations|
|Response to wrong-doing||Punish, retaliate||Educate, compromise|
|Upon life challenges||Higher depression||Higher resilience|
Source: Mindset Works
In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success without effort. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.
The story of John and theoretic insights combined
Chances are that John will not achieve the goals he intends to. Knowing the theoretic explanation of mindset and fears, let’s see what is preventing John from being successful. A few fears and a clearly fixed mindset are preventing this.
John regards the success of others, though it could contribute to his goals, as a threat instead of an opportunity. The leadership and courage that his colleague is displaying by offering to help out isn’t appreciated, which will prevent people from acting like this in the future. He regards any effort in trying a different approach, DevOps in this case, as fruitless upfront. In addition, he looks at the teams as being incapable of doing their jobs instead of seeing room for them to adapt and learn based on shared goals. These are all symptoms of a fixed
mindset. His focus is on looking smart instead of the desire to learn. A continuous improvement mindset isn’t stimulated.
Having the teams look up to him as an authority to get his plans done seems important to him. Admitting that he doesn’t know a lot about the proposed improvements is not an option. His fear is that he will be embarrassed by the fact that he himself also has a lack of knowledge in a certain area. He is also refusing to help them out for the same reason and also because he might think of it as something that is below his stature. Saying that it is not his job could be his fear of doing something that he regards as inferior to his responsibilities.
The result is that there is no open discussion about what can be improved together with the teams at all. Looking at his approach to achieving his goals, he is accepting the status quo. He thinks that management wants it done in this way, so he can’t change anything about it. The point is that he doesn’t know for sure, and he avoids having a conversation with management and the teams about it. Moreover, the fear of losing his job also contributes to not proposing any changes. How is this related to DevOps?
Everything that we described above is generic. It can be applied to any person in basically any situation, so what relation do these fears and mindsets have with DevOps? When an organization wants to make the transformation to a DevOps organization, the first things that come to mind
are technology-based: create pipelines, automate scripts, bring people together, monitor, etc. But only implementing the technology and putting people in the same room is not a guarantee for success.
DevOps is also enforcing a huge change to people. People will have to do other jobs than they were used to. They need to work with people they have never worked with before. They have to learn new technology and adopt new practices. And in many cases, they will lose their current job to be replaced by another totally different one. The natural resistance to these changes has everything to do with mindset and fears.
For a successful DevOps transformation, we need to give a lot of attention to this aspect. How do we help people to make the shift? The first step is to start nurturing a Growth Mindset. We can do this by praising behavior instead of results. Encourage learning from both success and failures and focus on improvement instead of blame.
Organizations and their management play a big part in this by creating a safe environment for people to practice this. When people feel safe and do not fear for their jobs, they can move on to the next phase of overcoming the fear of embarrassment. By stimulating people to just ask questions if they do not understand, even if it feels like a dumb question, or make suggestions on things that are usually out of your league, they start to notice that their fear of embarrassment is not realistic. Usually, others praise you for raising a question or making a suggestion that others can build on. You need to ask a lot of questions and make a lot of suggestions to put things in motion.
People who work in a group should treat each other as equals even if they are not in the same organizational hierarchy. Reward people for doing the work that should be done, even if it is not in their job description, focusing on the greater good and team goals instead of individual goals. This also will gain respect and status, albeit in another sense.
When looking back at John’s introduction and his reasoning, it is clear that John could be more successful. His fears and mindset play an important role in his chance for success. And it does not only affect him, it affects others as well. When implementing DevOps, consider that, besides all the great automation and technology, people are involved and need to be on board in order to make it work. Technology is not enough. It is using the technology that makes the difference. This is why growing a DevOps Mindset without fear is key to your success!
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