Category: Virtues

Predicting Human Behaviour

Aristotle

Time to read: 3 mins

After working with agile frameworks for the last nine years, one can become complacent of the values and principles of agile.  You can believe that you know it all; have seen every scenario, can adduce all the pros and cons and have the panacea to every issue that could arise.

I recently found myself in this situation and went back to revise the core values and principles of agile. One of those core principles is trust.  The fifth principle states:

“Build projects around motivated individuals.

Give them the environment and support they need

and trust them to get the job done”

We often review work practices and procedures to gain more efficiency.  In agile, this is referred to as the empirical process review.  Values and principles differ from processes and procedures. I thought about the values and principles that we all hold and the impacts they have in the workplace.

During my final semester at university, I took the subject Business Ethics for a Digital Society.  All of us went into that class with our own pre-conceived ideas and biases.   I wondered how much value I would get out of the class and how this subject aligned with the rest on my degree.

After completing the class, I saw the decisions that were made at work through a different lens.  One thing that all of us as students agreed upon was this.  Despite your background, upbringing or beliefs; ethics, morals and human virtues (no matter how they are derived) would influence a person’s decision making and how they act. 

On the surface, ethics is hard to measure in business. Unlike a profit and lost statement where numbers are calculated or a burndown chart that visualises progress, we only see the effects of poor ethics in the news headlines.  Such as the 2008 global financial crisis and the Royal Commission into the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services industry in 2019.

So what are human virtues exactly? Here are some examples..

Acceptance | Caring | Compassion | Confidence | Consideration | Contentment | Cooperation | Courage | Determination | Enthusiasm Fairness | Flexibility | Forgiveness | Friendliness | Generosity | Graciousness | Gratitude | Helpfulness | Honesty | Honour | Humility | Justice | Joyfulness | Kindness | Love | Loyalty | Modesty |Optimistic | Orderliness | Passionate | Patience | Perseverance | Tenacity | Tolerance | Truthfulness | Understanding | Wisdom | Wonder

Maybe those implicated in the news headlines we just mentioned were lacking some virtues (Fairness, Honesty, Truthfulness)?

Virtues are a predictor of human behaviour. When they are absent, the only guides left are the instructions set out by the business and the examples of people around us.

When things fail, we often go back and retrace the steps that were followed. We identify gaps, add more steps, and provide further clarification. All of this is done to make a process leaner and less prone to error. 

While controlling the processes may lead you to a better outcome, it’s more effective when you have the right people with the right behaviours. They need not be high performers but they should be trustworthy, ethical, morally aligned with you and the team and display human virtues that are desirable.  These types of attributes dictate how we behave.

Reflecting on my ethics class, I now love and appreciate this definition of what a virtue is.

“Virtues are the essence of our character and character does indeed determine destiny” 

Looking back at the fifth principle of agile. There is no mention of processes. Instead, it points out: motivated individual, environment, support and trust. These attributes are analogous to the list of human virtues mentioned earlier.

Machines follow instructions. To change its behaviour, you change the set of instructions and the outcome is different.  

Humans are a little different, we build character up over a lifetime.  Good virtues are difficult to obtain and even harder to maintain.  We should cherish the virtues that we do have and strive for the one that we don’t.  

Over the long term what I have experience is that human virtues of individuals and teams are a better predictor of outcomes than any set of instructions that you can put in place.