In today's work environments, we should be adept at receiving, understanding and acting on communications via different channels, right? (Different channels being emails, face-to-face, telephone conversations and voice mail and so on.) I remember seeing guidance for older workers telling them not to be surprised to receive communications via text message from their younger boss. We are really evolving away from the need for constant face-to-face contact, aren't we?
To get a little more clarity on this, a team of researchers conducted a study of digital communications between supervisors and employees. The researchers were looking to see if "more digitally centered communication satisfies employee's needs regarding the communication with their supervisors and influences attitudes toward the supervisor and the job." That's a good objective because as project managers, we want to ensure that our communication is effective and that it helps (and motivates) project teams and workers to complete their tasks as expected.
In the study, the research team has employees evaluate communication quantity and quality, and even report on ideal use of communication channels. They measured three things:
Here's a summary of what they found:
So project managers who are also supervisors of workers, take note. There appears to be good evidence for you to prioritize face-to-face contact. Could be good for your career.
Let me suggest that these results are also instructive for project managers who are not direct supervisors. A future study may find that there is not as strong a correlation for "dotted line" project manager communications, but I would wager that project managers who prioritize face-to-face communications over email and telephone are seen as more effective and have project teams with higher job satisfaction and team identification.
It is up to you to find appropriate times to switch to face-to-face communications. Consider the following:
Perhaps those who are trying to use digital communications to become more efficient are not seeing the drawbacks. You can take a more wise course knowing the results of this study. The toughest part may be justifying the expense of face-to-face meetings and video conferences. What do you think?
How many of you depend on the SMART goal (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) tactic for improving performance? A large number, I'll wager, no matter what other type of performance system is in place. It makes a lot of sense. Who would not want goals that met those criteria?
Unfortunately, such goals do not work as well as described and typically used. The evidence is overwhelming in the literature, it just has not filtered down to how workers are managed.
Kenneth M. Nowack, Ph.D, in his article, Urban Talent Myths Exposed in (Talent Management Magazine), explains that, as recently as 2012 there was a study of workers that found that 15% strongly agreed that their goals helped them "achieve great things." That fact shows there is a gap between the ingrained beliefs behind goal-setting performance management programs and what actually is effective.
This blog focuses on helping you get past these kinds of misconceptions by reviewing actual science that helps us understand what really works. So let's look more closely at the evidence. According to Nowack, "nearly 200 published studies…have shown that deciding in advance under what conditions you will plan to implement a new behavior can significantly increase your chances of actually doing it." This is the missing piece of the puzzle, the technique that will make goals more effective than they are now.
The technique, according to Nowack is to plan performance improvement in this way:
“If situation X occurs, then I will initiate behavior Y to reach goal X.” This takes an extra level of planning effort than just coming up with SMART goals, but is very practical.
Given this, what are you to do to improve performance in your project?
However you use the technique, be proud of the fact that you may be a step ahead of other leaders and even the human resource professionals in your organization. And that, project managers, is smart.
Sure, we know that project managers can save their organizations by delivering projects that improve competitiveness in the marketplace or increase profitability. But according to new research, that's not all.
According to a study by Christopher G. Myers, Bradley R. Staats and Francesca Gino, project managers can do something else: help the organization learn better from failure. The authors did not mention project managers specifically, but bear with me for a few paragraphs and I will make the case.
The researchers found that one barrier to organizations learning from failure is "high perceived ambiguity of responsibility." Put in more basic terms, when responsibility for actions was not clear to workers, the tendency was to attribute failure to a source outside of their control. This tendency keeps the workforce - the organization - from learning from failure. This is why organizations continue to make the same mistakes.
Conversely, when workers perceived low ambiguity of responsibility - higher clarity on who is responsible for what - their tendency is to focus on themselves when attributing causes of failure. They then learn from failure. The organization as a whole can then improve.
Now think about this: One of your responsibilities as a project manager is to organize work and assign responsibility. So it follows that by doing this well, you are a key facilitator of organizational learning. Doing the following can help your organization improve:
It seems simple to have clear tasks assigned to individuals, so people underestimate the work it takes to do this right on a continual basis. You should not underestimate the difficulty. You should also realize that by doing so, you help workers take responsibility for their own tasks.
The more we know about the benefits of project management, the closer we appear to being super heroes. Maybe we should be wearing Spandex and capes!
OK, that might be going too far.
The point of my last post was that coaching is both necessary and complex. Thinking about complexity we were focusing on remote coaching of diverse individuals. Consider the complexity of coaching when you have individuals from different nationalities, work cultures, religions, geographies, ethnicities, economies, assumptions about working with supervisors, and so on.
Try these tips for coaching at a distance. They do not replace general good coaching practice, just help you with the special situation of diversity at a distance. (The term "coachee" refers to the individual who you are coaching.)
With this special preparation and interaction, you can take an important step to getting the performance you need from your diverse and far-flung project team.
You hear people say things like, "If you take away everything but my ability to (sell, speak to the public, etc.), I will survive." For project managers, increasingly, coaching is becoming one of those skills. It is a skill so valuable that it can make up for weaknesses in other skills. Certainly it's saved me from difficult situations over the years.
Coaching in today's projects is as necessary as it is complex.
It is necessary because you need those who report to you (solid line or dotted line) to be at top performance. This includes contingent workers who may be new to your organization or entering your project mid-stream. It is necessary because there are times where you have to intervene quickly before one problem starts a stream of other problems. It is necessary when you must stop interpersonal conflicts before they make things worse in your project.
But, perhaps more importantly, this is becoming more common: project workers are not trained enough early on, leaving you or your designees to train during your project. Much of this training will have to be completed as coaching.
But - make no mistake - coaching can be complex, made more difficult when you are not geographically co-located. You may not see the individual's facial expressions or body posture, always very important, and you may have some cultural differences that keep you from that initial full understanding that is imperative to coming to a resolution.
What to coach about related to performance does not change even if someone is far away and in different culture. Just a few examples:
These are potentially difficult topics, and if you are working with a diverse workforce, you have to prepare in a special way to be sure you get it right, despite your desire to move quickly before things get any worse.
In a couple of days, I'll post tips for coaching "diversity remotely." Until then, consider the answer to this question about remote coaching: What letter does the best coaching question begin with?