Cadence & Culture

At the start of 2021, I decided that in the spirit of independence, I would scrap the cadence of posting every Tuesday and post ‘whenever something interesting happened’. What I didn’t realize is that this turned out to be code for never writing. The realization hit early 2022 and once the rhythm was broken, the effort to get back is humongous.

Something similar happened with the podcast. I started with a strict cadence which quickly went from releasing every third Wednesday of the month to whenever I finished recording, thanks to speaker schedule and lack of patience on my part. Same thing with watering plants and same with work meetings. Everything I did on a schedule got done like clockwork. Everything not scheduled felt like it needed more effort.

However, there was something else I observed. Everything with a fixed cadence took on a ritualistic meaning. The site lead meeting that took place the first Friday of every month at 10am transformed into an event to look forward to. Everything I did over the month culminated at that meeting. Saturday morning grocery shopping took on a similar ritualistic meaning.

I’ve been thinking about cadences for so long now that when Corey Quinn brought up the reference to Tony Fadell’s book Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making where he says companies have heartbeats; I knew I had to write about it.

Why?

Because cadences are heartbeats.

Imagine if Apple released iPhones anytime of the year vs at just the one big event? Or if we entered a world where pay increases took place at any time. What would that world look like? If my previous experiences with eliminating cadences worked, I’d have said freedom from artificial urgency and deadlines, increased autonomy and a sense of independence. However, there is good reason seasons come at a fixed cadence (or at least used to before global warming). The lack of a cadence leads to:

  • Chaos
  • Less than optimal delivery
  • Shift in culture

I underlined the shift in culture in bold because that shift is the loss of a heartbeat and a shift for the worse. The rhythm of business (as with everything else) exists for a very valid reason and that is to build excitement and evolve activities around this artificial deadline.

What can we learn?

The Grand Release: It doesn’t have to be a single date but it must be predictable. In my many years in HR, I am yet to come across an organization that understands the importance of not messing with people practices at any point of time in the year. Migrations across HR systems happen whenever it does, new trainings are released at random times and processes are changed at the drop of a hat. The biggest complain of people managers and employees is not that things aren’t changing but when they change, it is usually a surprise. Of course, this comes bundled with complaints of too slow, too tedious and too late but we’ll park that for now.

What if – we bundled changes into November. No reason except to build predictability. Now the organization knows that on the last Thursday of every November, HR will introduce all that is coming in the year ahead. It gives HR a deadline to work towards. The team wants to rally up an impressive list of releases, it has a big launch date to get excited and voila! You’ve built a heartbeat. Also, predictability breeds acceptance.

Tony Fadell in his book alludes to Apple’s heartbeat historically being driven around the annual MacWorld conference. Over time, it expanded to include WWDC, the iPhone event, and on. But at its core, one big event drove the cadence of the company. Fadell contrasts this with Google, whose heartbeat he describes as “erratic” and “unpredictable.” He states that Google as an entity has one big external event each year: Google I/O (because Google Cloud Next continues to get in its own way). However, there isn’t a clear heartbeat present, because Google teams are by and large not synced up with that event in any meaningful way.

Does this mean that everything needs to be pushed to a fixed date? Of course not! Apple releases security patches through the year. Small tweaks can continue as needed. However, releases and big changes happen only on one date.

The Right Cadence: Some of you may start pulling hair that November is likely the worst time of the year. It’s coming up close to vacation season, business peak or a nephew’s birthday. Point is there is no right cadence. Just pick one! Any time of the year that you pick will have some downside. Pick the one that works best but do me a favor and pick one.  If once a year just doesn’t work, pick two or pick four but pick a cadence. If you want to release last Thursday of every quarter, go ahead. Just know that total excitement is a fixed measure. If you are releasing four times a year, that excitement gets divided by four and sometimes vanishes all together. For some things, such as this blog or the pod, once a year is ridiculous. So, I will have to pick once a week or once a month if I am being reasonable but if I was to release new stuff e.g. a YouTube channel, a book or an innovation fund, I would pick a particular date that stays constant over the years. For now, let’s say it’s November.

(Do Not) Destroy Existing Cadences: Where possible. This blog is living proof of what happens when you destroy a cadence. It is very very hard to restore a heartbeat once destroyed. If there’s a wonderful cadence already in place, don’t nuke it because I said November is a great month. Sometimes you may need to, but check how strong the heartbeat is and if you can build on it. Can MacWorld and WWDC also be the time Apple HR decides to launch all it’s new initiatives? Or will they end up destroying it because that’s the time of the year where no one has time to pay attention to what HR is doing?

Cadences are wonderful. When done right, it builds a unifying heartbeat that employees can rally and plan around. It builds the backbone of culture and sends shivers of excitement.

Does that mean that I’m back to posting every Tuesday? I’m not sure. I’m working on it.

Must you set a cadence? Hell, yes! Because, it might be the best thing you do for yourself and your organization. Try it out.

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