In This Video

Dr. Dave:

Hello and welcome to the KnolShare with Dr. Dave Podcast. I am Dr. Dave Cornelius, your host. My conversation today is with Allison Pollard. Allison and I met several years ago at an Agile Coach Camp in Southern California and we’ve been connecting in the Agile community ever since. So Allison, how are you today?

Allison:

I’m great. I’m great.

Dr. Dave:

I know lots about you, and I’m sure a lot of other people know lots about you, but you know, let’s talk about Allison and your superhero persona.

Allison:

My superhero persona. I love that. Yeah. I’m an Agile Coach that has been getting more and more into leadership coaching and really looking at how do you help your organization to have a healthy culture, embrace trust, and really have an environment of trust, and so I feel like I’ve extended myself into these new and different areas. That’s been really exciting and part of what enables that is this superhero ability to partner up and learn from other people.

Allison:

I’m very fortunate to lead our Agile Coaching practice at improving and get to work with so many of our coaches and our scrum masters to find out what are they seeing with their clients? What is it that they’re trying? What are they learning about? And being able to bring that into my own practices.

Dr. Dave:

Excellent. So let’s jump in and I want to learn how you’ve experienced social justice in work, community, and family.

Allison:

Yeah. I know when you first asked me to do this interview, I was like, “Are you for sure?” You’re talking to white woman in Texas. This is not something that had been top of mind most of my life. I think like many people of my generation, I was raised to be colorblind. You know, you want to be a kind person, you want to do good for the community, help others. You kind of knew about racism, but you’re really don’t know how to talk about it and so much of what I’ve been learning in the last year or so is, wow, there are things that have been going on in a more systemic fashion that I was definitely not aware of due to the privilege that I have and so I think about friends of mine from high school that I had been in choir with them or art class and it was really this connection through the arts that I got to learn a bit more about BIPOC culture.

Allison:

A good friend of mine was Chinese. I would hang out with her and some of her other Chinese friends on the weekends and it was almost weird to me of like, I would hear these stories about how they’d go to Chinese school and how they were learning the language and some of the history and then, of course, like forgetting some of the language if they hadn’t been for a while and I had nothing equivalent, right? So it’s like I felt outsider amongst all of them and then later on, again, this love of the arts, I learned how to swing dance and so I started becoming part of the swing dance community here in Dallas and there was that moment where I’m like, “Oh, I love this. I want to go and watch some of the old videos, the original dancers that have been captured on film.” and then I started learning about the history as a result of that and it was really fascinating to realize that I am this white woman in the 2000’s trying to learn about the dance from these films with these amazing Black dancers and Black musicians.

Allison:

But those parts of the films might’ve been cut out originally if they were shown in theaters in the South and that always felt kind of jarring to me of what is it that so many of us in the 2000’s were, found appealing about jazz, about swing dance? You know, a lot of engineers got into this. Many of us were white, and then we start learning a bit more about the Black history behind it and, thankfully, I’ve been able to learn more about the history from some Black dancers, as well, and they give this whole new perspective and it’s like, well, now I have to think about was I appropriating something unintentionally? How have I been contributing to something that’s larger than us? What is the role of the history in the things that we do in our lives?

Dr. Dave:

That’s deep. That’s really deep. I’m glad to … no. No, I’m glad for it. No, I’m glad for the inquiry and the depth of, really, going a little deeper because some people just go right by on the surface without really seeking to learn more. But I’m really fascinated by the company improving that you work for. Your company’s built on the principles of conscious capitalism-

Allison:

Yes.

Dr. Dave:

I wanted to know how has those principles shaped your view on corporate responsibility for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging?

Allison:

Yeah, that’s a great question and I wish that it was baked in more deeply sometimes. But when I … okay. So when I take a step back and I think about conscious capitalism, it’s based on these four tenets of purpose, leadership, stakeholders, and culture, and I started reflecting on this and realizing that, while I would love to have diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging be part of the purpose, this higher purpose, this higher level goal or mission that we’re working towards, and I think it’s easy to recognize that that wasn’t the case for most companies. They might not have had that top of mind when they settled on what is the thing that our company is all about.

Allison:

I would then love to say, “Well, then it’s the leadership,” right? We have these conscious leaders. They’re aware and they’re educated and that they’re going to take care of the diversity and the equity and the inclusion and the belonging. That may or may not be true either and the culture that they’ve created might not reflect it, either.

Allison:

But I then realized that when I talk about the stakeholders, that final tenant of conscious capitalism, I think that’s where it can challenge us to revisit everything else that we’ve been considering for our company because I could very easily say, improving is all about how do we change the perception of IT and we could go about, in doing that, having these fantastic consultants, delivering excellently for their clients. But go about it where there’s not a whole lot of diversity amongst our consultants. There’s not a whole lot of diversity perhaps amongst our clients. But we could compare ourselves to other technology companies or other consulting companies and go “Well, as long as we’re doing pretty well by that standard, we’re in good shape,” and I love to think that we’re that kind of company that always challenges and looks at how do we go beyond.

Allison:

It’s part of improving. That’s why the name is what it is, that we’re not going to settle of how do we compare to everyone else? We’re going to end up having to look back at when we look at the stakeholder model, it’s the employees. It’s the clients. It’s the community at large. It’s how do we even raise up our competitors? You know, the people that we would normally think of as rivals in a traditional company would go, “No, no, no, no. These are also practitioners. These are also people in our space,” and we want everyone to get better and level up what IT is as a profession.

Allison:

And so with that view in mind, I look at it and go, “Well, we know that there’s not as much diversity in this space of technology and certainly in consulting as well, and with that, we have to look at how do we recruit differently? How do we involve people? Participating? Promoting them differently? Have better representation, have better voice so that everything is changed in service of our ultimate purpose.

Dr. Dave:

No, that was really good. That was really good. So, one of the things that I want to follow up with is let’s talk about the residual effect of the lack of opportunity that you see for Black, Indigenous, people of color, who we call BIPOC and the Agile and technology community. What is that?

Allison:

Well, I think the technology side of it, we’ve seen a number of examples where technology solutions that are biased, right? There wasn’t enough BIPOC representation, perhaps, amongst the development teams or within those companies that were creating these new applications or these new websites and so the result is that it’s skewed through its algorithms or some of the functionality of how are black users being treated? Or how are women being treated? How are other Indigenous and people of color being treated through that?

Allison:

So that’s the first part of it of do we really see that representation of the community within the technology development side so that we are best serving the whole communities needs? But then, I think, secondarily and this is certainly in the Agile space as well, that lack of a clear entry point of how do you get started in this kind of career? Or how do you move up? How do you get promoted in this?

Allison:

I think there is such a strong bias towards white male leadership and what that looks like that it makes it extremely difficult for anyone that is not that mold to move up or get started. There’s this impression of what kind of experiences that would equate to, or what kind of education you need to have. You know, maybe very specific skills, but they’re pinpointed to it has to look like this and that’s, again, we’re missing out on how else could this look? How else could someone have gained the experience or maybe not have gone through formal education that if we can instead look at what do we really need in terms of talent, it will free people up to, I think, bring more of themselves and bring a level of creativity that we haven’t really seen in the workplace.

Allison:

I have the sense that in the Agile community, we’re lacking this intellectual humility, overall, that I think we still see this dogma around the frameworks and which one is the best and this difficulty to really hear what are the other ideas? Or what might be some new practices? What are other ways to help teams or to help organizations that comes from some of our biases, I guess I’ll call it. You know, the singular perspective. There must be a right answer and we’re not looking at the complexity quite the way that we could.

Dr. Dave:

You know, that’s a really interesting response as I’ve spoke to a couple of individuals from Africa and they were talking about how can they bring Agility to Africa in a unique context for Africa? So, that’s a very insightful perspective.

Dr. Dave:

But you, Allison, are the Chief Coach in charge at your company. How would you coach your coaches to deal with team members affected by the trauma of just social justice challenges, right? I mean, we all bring our stuff to work.

Allison:

That’s a tricky one. I mean, I like to think the coaches that work for Improving, we are relationship-oriented. You know, we do care about people, and want to build trust. So my instinct is to say like, “Well, be open to hearing the experience,” and it could be very uncomfortable, right? Depending on what kind of trauma or story someone is bringing of social justice challenges they faced and my fear is that the inclination from the coach would be to want to move into this rescuer mode. To actually want to put on the superhero cape, themselves. Like, “I’ll make it better,” and that might not be the appropriate response. That I think there’s some wisdom to kind of sit with the problem that this person is sharing with you. Reassure them, if appropriate, that it’s not them, right?

Allison:

Yes, it sounds like you’ve encountered systemic racism or, maybe, somebody that’s sexist or some other challenge that is not a reflection of you as a person, but it’s really the environment or the context that you find yourself in. So give them a little bit of confidence that they’re not the ones that are broken, necessarily. Maybe see if there’s something that you could help them to do to, to process it and heal if that’s a thing.

Allison:

Again, I think because we’re talking trauma, we get out of our … the depth of what we can handle pretty quickly, honestly, as Agile Coaches. We are not trained up to deal with trauma. We are not trained up to hear and handle some of these things that could happen. But I also see that there is an opportunity of how can we be the models for inclusion? How can we, perhaps, have these conversations with leaders not to break any confidentiality or make anything weird for the employees that might have shared something with us? But to talk about it from a, perhaps, more objective manner of, “Here are some things that are happening. This is extremely normal given the things we’re seeing in the United States right now, across the world right now,” and how might we take some action more at the organizational level, more at that systemic level, to do something about this?

Dr. Dave:

So let’s talk about some actions that probably you’re taking personally to improve. Yeah. Put you on the spot. Opportunities to BIPOC individuals-

Allison:

We’re getting real fast.

Dr. Dave:

Yeah. In the Agile community. Hey, you know if you’re talking to me, we’re having real talk. So, you know that.

Allison:

For sure. For sure. Well, I think the most obvious thing for me, I’ve been very active as a speaker in the community and actually my favorite thing is to be a co-presenter and so I’ve joked that I’m very promiscuous as a co-presenter. I partner up with a lot of different people and that’s by design, honestly. Partly because I love to learn and explore new topics and I find it really advantageous to have a number of different people I’m presenting with because I learned something new from each of them. But I’ve also been conscientious over time of how am I partnering up with someone that might be BIPOC? Someone that, maybe, hasn’t had much experience in public speaking?

Allison:

I love growing new speakers and so I’ve done it as a co-presenter. I’ve also been involved as a mentor in women and Agile’s Launching New Voices program, which I think is fantastic and I know they’ve been mindful of BIPOC representation and how are we supporting BIPOC voices, as well. So that’s been really good.

Allison:

I think more in my work side of things, looking at some of our job descriptions and the expectations of people that we might be hiring in, or certainly once they are a consultant,, again, what are we expecting them to do? What are they responsible for?

Allison:

Taking a step back with some of my colleagues and really deciding it’s not just have they done the things that Allison has done? Because that’s not reasonable. But what kinds of experiences do we value? Has this person started up a brand new team using Scrum or Kanban? That would be something of interest to us, or how have they helped an existing team to, maybe, reset or level up? That might be something.

Allison:

Trying to move away from specific certifications and looking to what’s the real knowledge that might be expected? There could be a lot of different schools of thoughts that they could be pulling from and how might we look for that or hear that through the interview and certainly, as we’re working together?

Dr. Dave:

Okay. Let’s talk about what would be the most significant change you would like to see to support BIPOC and non-BIPOC integration? Because yeah, I’ve been around the block a few times-

Allison:

Yeah.

Dr. Dave:

… and I still see that this, often, this non-integration that takes place in terms of us willing to be humans to each other. We still run into our own little silos and we keep things to ourselves in our silos. Talk to me about that significant change as someone who’s leading coaches, who’s out there in different organizations, and even into our community, the Agile Community.

Allison:

Yeah. Yeah. I love that idea of integration and you’re right, there sometimes is this invisible divide and I think part of that goes back to what degree do I feel like I need to fit in, you know? Or try to blend in to fit a certain ideal of, maybe, what an Agile Coach is or what a technologist is or what a leader is versus can I really have that sense of belonging and bring more of myself into it?

Allison:

I often feel like I’m one foot in and one foot out when I look at companies, right, of there are things that make me similar to people and that’s where we might connect. But there’s also things that make me different and certainly the way that I think and look at problems and challenge things can make me quite different and it can be hard to bring some of that, at times, if I don’t feel like it’s understood well or valued, appreciated by that environment and so I think to really address this … how do we support BIPOC and non-BIPOC integration? We need to get a bit clearer on what is the culture that we’re aiming for and I think a lot of companies have those aspirational values, the things that were printed on posters and maybe they have some awards around it. But then they would often, kind of, pigeonhole what those values meant and be looking to hire people in, or appreciate them for meeting those values in those specific ways.

Allison:

I think, especially around hiring, there’s the idea of the culture fit and I don’t think culture fits serves us as well as we wanted it to. I think of now, of I’m looking for culture contributors. How are you going to add to, right? And there’s that dimension there of I need you to bring something else to the table. I want the differences that you have. How could that make us better? How could that change us? And so looking at where have you defined your values in such a way that you’re not able to identify the contributors to that culture and see how you might shift that definition or shift that understanding of the value for your culture?

Dr. Dave:

You know, every time I hear the word culture fit, I said, “Code. Code.” That’s what goes on in [crosstalk 00:21:56] code. Code. You know? You don’t really belong here.

Allison:

The only thing worse than the culture fit is that they just say, “And it’s a beer test,” of like, “Whoa!”-

Dr. Dave:

Yeah.

Allison:

No.

Dr. Dave:

Yeah. Yeah, exactly just that. Let’s talk about the utopia of what diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging would look like for you.

Allison:

Okay. So this is one of those areas where I feel like I’m kind of out there, but I’m going to say, I think there’s more conflict and I say that with a giant smile. I actually think that if we have more diversity and equity and inclusion and people have a better sense of belonging, we’re going to have these constructive conflicts around our purpose and how are we doing things together? You know, how do we work together that in healthy relationships, there is always a certain amount of conflict that happens and some of those issues are actually never going to be solved.

Allison:

But we are committed to the relationship and so we find new ways of addressing that and explore how can we get better collectively, together. So I feel like in this area, I want to have more conflict. But in that constructive way that we create more, what like Jake Calabrese has referred to as anti-fragile teams. They have actually become better because of the conflict and how they navigate conflict over time.

Allison:

I also see beyond the teams, wanting the sense of abundance in our mindset of there is room for more. How can we let go of this need to compete? There’s only one winner and everyone else is a loser, but embrace there’s so much opportunity. There’s so much work to be done. How do we hear one another and really value those differences and let people move into these opportunities to use their strengths instead of feeling the need to focus on their weaknesses, or again, try to blend in and match what their supervisor thinks.

Dr. Dave:

That’s excellent. I love the playfulness of where you went with that and the curiosity. I dig it, you know. I think that’s what we need in terms of different ways to think about, of us connecting. To me, I think, in natural integration and utopia, the utopia of it, but it’s also the connection that we can make as human beings in the process. Maybe sometimes we just miss the fact that we’re all human beings, you know?

Allison:

It’s hard because I think it would, to me, be silly to say like, “Utopia is we all just get along and it’s very peaceful and,” right? This is like the kumbaya Agile. We collaborate and things are wonderful and that’s why I look at and go, “No. Actually, there’s this other dimension of we care so much that we’re having these head-hurting conversations sometimes”-

Dr. Dave:

Yeah.

Allison:

But it’s to achieve something that’s greater than what any one of us, individually, can do.

Dr. Dave:

Allison, thank you. I knew that, yeah, having this conversation with you would be a bit thought-provoking and we’ll go deep with this. So I’m grateful for your time and your energy today.

Allison:

Thank you. Thank you for inviting me on.

Dr. Dave:

All right. So let me just close by saying thank you for listening to the KnolShare with Dr. Dave podcast with Allison Pollard. I hope this learning experiences would also prompt you to take and seek more and discover how you could contribute to a positive experience for BIPOC lives.

Dr. Dave:

Look, it really doesn’t take much, you know? It’s just all about us tapping into our own humanity. So, there’s a few places that you could find this recording. You’ll find Agile for Humanity podcasts at KnolShare, or Dr. Dave podcasts on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and also on the following websites. You could go to the agilealliance.org, knolsharewithdrdave.com, grokshare.com, knolshare.org, agileforhumanity.org, a lot of places. And also, when you get to the Agile Alliance website, under their webcast, there’s a thing called Sharing BIPOC Stories, so you’ll also find it there, as well.

Dr. Dave:

The music for this podcast was done by my niece, Kiana Brown Hendrickson. Really talented and also the podcast is copyright 2021 with KnolShare and Dr. Dave Cornelius. So until next time, be well, stay safe, and connect soon. And Allison, thank you so much again. I really appreciate you.

Allison:

Thank you.

 

About the Speaker(s)

Allison Pollard helps people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, Allison enjoys mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In her experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, she grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years she served as an organizer. Allison is also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Dr. Dave Cornelius is the founder of the 5 Saturdays program and leads the group’s Leadership Council. In addition to being a published author and speaker, Dave is an experienced IT and business professional and a globally recognized lean and agile catalyst who empowers others to achieve their very best. He specializes in coaching, training, and leading co-located and distributed teams to deliver quality innovations from concept to cash. Dr. Dave held leadership roles where he helped transform IT into a partner with other groups within an organization. Dave holds a doctorate in management (IS/IT emphasis), a master’s degree in business administration, and a bachelor’s degree in computer science. His professional certifications include public speaking (Toastmasters DTM), product management (PMC II), project management (PMP), agility practices (PMI-ACP, CSP, SPC), IT service management (ITIL v3), and process optimization (SSBB). Learn more about Dave by visiting Dave-Cornelius.com or on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/daveauck/. You also can follow Dave on Twitter @DrCorneliusInfo. Learn more about our on-demand Agile and Design Thinking courses at https://KnolShare.org