Book Notes: The Open Organization (Jim Whitehurst)

My list of unorganized notes from The Open Organization, by Jim Whitehurst (Red Hat CEO):

  • The best ideas win regardless of who they come from.
  • Encourage and expect open, frank, and passionate debate. Let them know I expect them to tell me if my idea is junk.
  • Bottom-up culture
  • Worry less about whether or not things are done precisely as I would choose. Be hands-off enough to allow people to direct themselves and make decisions.
  • Have thick skin and allow extensive and relentless feedback.
  • Help employees see the higher purpose for their work. That sense of purpose is the best intrinsic motivator.
  • Purpose: removing technical roadblocks and providing innovative solutions that allow clients to improve the world more effectively and quickly.
  • A manager’s task is to create a work environment that inspires exceptional contribution and that merits an outpouring of passion, imagination, and initiative.
  • Allow and spark emotion.
  • Hire motivated people and inspire them, rather than skilled people and motivate them.
  • When interviewing, ask questions that show how *curious* they are about things. What projects (software or otherwise) are you proud of? What are your hobbies?
  • Have mailing lists and other means of public communication to recognize and reinforce passion. Acknowledge good work and encourage open/blunt communication.
  • But keep the passion fires in check — heated arguments tend to tune out facts and merits, becoming destructive.
  • If employees take psychological ownership, even average employees can perform at high levels. They need to be engaged with and understand the strategy (what and how).
  • Don’t sugar-coat bad news.
  • People want context, whats, and whys.
  • Be accessible, answer questions, admit mistakes, and say you’re sorry. Builds credibility and authority.
  • Engaged employees require you to explain your decisions.
  • Meritocracy != democracy. Everyone has a chance to be heard, but everyone’s opinion is not equal. Individuals that have shown themselves to be leaders in a topic are the ones with clout and decision making power, regardless of position in the org chart.
  • Meritocracy leaders are chosen by peers and defined by sustained contributions.
    Instead of brainstorming and “no bad ideas”, debating ideas tends to create the most new ideas.
  • Hold one on ones, but allow employees to set the agenda ahead of time. Don’t set it yourself, making assumptions about what’s important.
  • Always include team in decision making. It’s not a democracy — ultimately, decisions are yours. But it’s a way to get fresh opinions and provide satisfaction.
  • Don’t be afraid to describe incomplete plans. The ambiguity is a great time to facilitate engagement.
  • Articulate higher-level goals, but don’t feel like you have to spell out implementation. Let skilled employees (help) fill in the details
  • Leadership is the art of getting things done through other people
  • Allow prototyping/experimentation that fails fast, rather than spending so much time analyzing and designing up front. In the end, takes less time.
  • Have enough confidence to admit you don’t have all the answers!

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