Project Management

Beware Haloes & Courtesy Copies

From the Eye on the Workforce Blog
Workforce management is a key part of project success, but project managers often find it difficult to get trustworthy information on what really works. From interpersonal interactions to big workforce issues we'll look the latest research and proven techniques to find the most effective solutions for your projects.

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As a project manager, managing people is a large component of your work. So it's worth Think about how you learn the techniques you use. Do some come from experience? From books, seminars or training courses? Did you learn some from watching others? Do you do things because everyone else does them?

Some of the techniques you use may be unproven. That is , they may not have been through rigorous testing to ensure they work. And if they have not, then you cannot be sure they work or even if they have the opposite effect than you want them to have.

Next, for your edification, are a couple of examples of what you can learn when people management techniques are studied.

Beware of the halo effect.

Imagine you are selecting between three candidates for a project analyst. You follow the common practice of interviewing the top candidates in order to choose the best one for the job in your project. The first comes recommended by people you have worked with and trust. They are in a different line of business with a very different culture, but tell you that the analyst has worked very well there. You talked to this candidate very briefly on the phone and liked her positive energy. She does not know much about your business, however.

The second candidate is from outside your company, but from the same line of business and a similar culture. He has plenty of experience. But, really…who cares?  You have a decent recommended candidate that can be quickly transferred into your project. She's one of those great performers who do well in any situation.

Hold it right there! You are under influence of the halo effect! This syndrome causes you to think that an individual who has been found to excel at one job, will be good at almost anything. This is not true. Many studies over the years have shown that the halo effect appears in many situations and that it can lead to problems for the worker and the business.

Typically candidate selection follows a standard process, but I have never seen one that is specifically designed to avoid the halo effect. You have to do that yourself.

  • When you are given candidates with high performance recommendations, check the circumstances under which that performance was achieved (job responsibilities, organizational complexity, culture).
  • If the circumstances  of your project are different, then give that recommendation less weight.

Beware the effects of the courtesy copy.

The second example is about the importance of knowing how to courtesy copy ("CC") people in emails. You probably have gotten the idea by now that communication and transparency can be improved easily by copying anyone involved on your emails. That way everyone is in the loop and cannot come back and say that they did not know what was going on. What did people ever do without email at work?

David De Cremer says his research indicates that courtesy copying can actually reduce trust, just the opposite effect that you want. Here's how you could be surprised in your project by the implications of your "courtesy":

  • You write an email to the QA lead with some planning questions. You copy the lead's boss because he is a very interested and participative business stakeholder to the project. But soon after you send the email, the QA lead comes to you asking why you copied his boss. Don't you think he was going to respond quickly enough? Has there been a problem in the past with his partnership?
  • When you write a request for participation in a series of meetings to a team lead in your project, you copy the team lead's boss in case the lead's boss had a problem with the amount of time, or other input. Right after you send the email, the lead calls you and asks if you have been asked by her boss to send updates on what you and her are doing.

These two examples show how workers can get the idea, whether true or not, that they are being monitored or micromanaged in some way. They get suspicious, especially in cultures where no clear policies in this area have been created. An undercurrent of mistrust leads to just the opposite culture than what was desired from this type of transparency.

What can you do in your project?

  • When developing your communication plan, discuss with team leads and stakeholders what information they want, and what is unnecessary. Generally, no leader or partner wants to sift through dozens of emails where project teams are working routinely, even if problem-solving. That's a productivity sink.
  • Create a project policy that sticks to this communication plan and lets teams work out problems on their own, without communicating "up". Specify that escalations will be used when teams cannot make progress without higher level participation, intervention or approval.
  • Watch for evidence of mistrust and intervene.

If you have experience with or other ideas on these topics, please comment.

The series on Organizational Change Management using Robotic Process Automation examples will return in my next post.

Posted on: August 22, 2017 08:39 AM | Permalink

Comments (21)

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Thanks Joe, excellent topic, I like it

Important topics. Thanks, Joe.

Being a person who is on both ends of the courtesy copy, this really hits home. I sometimes feel that lack of trust when my manager is copied in, yet I also copy in others so that they know what is going on, not thinking of the impact on the manager's direct reports. Thanks for the bringing this up.

I don't usually copy the recipient's boss in my email. My general rule is that the To (recipients) addressees are those of whom I expect something back. The CC are those who should be kept in the loop but are not directly involved.

Which brings me to my biggest no-no: if you want one of many people to do something for you, do not send it to everyone and ask for someone to step up. More often than not, nobody will step up.

It is better to ask one person but copy the others. Give that person an out. If the person does decline, ask the next person, still keeping everybody else as CC.

Well said Joe. CC is very important and at the same time Very Delicate thing!!!

Thanks for sharing. The two bullet points on Halo effect is very interesting as we were caught-up with references!!!.

Very specifically, there three points can imagine in my own experiecnes...are

job responsibilities, organizational complexity, culture.

Many thanks once again for sharing.

Nice reminders!

Excellent blog post. The "cc" definitely can work against anyone trying to keep everyone in the loop. There are times that the "cc" is helpful to the leader and acts as an educational factor related to the purpose of the communication. Oftentimes, we do see the "cc" being utilized for punitive reasons. Unfortunately, those negative motives have hurt the transparency power of the "cc".

The CC copies are now becoming a thing lessening the productivity as you mentioned. It has now become a culture among many, to include the whole team in the e-mail list, irrespective of the requirement.

Thanks Joe.

I've definitely been the victim of the halo effect. Meaning, I've applied it to others I was bringing in. Thanks for sharing these reminders!

Thank you for sharing these reminders.

I have known of people who will bring people into conversations, via "CC", to try to force their issue. It is as bad as "name dropping" in an email, ie, this is Ann, I work for the director, can you do ....

As for the halo effect, because of this I went through 3 managers in 4 years time. They kept hiring these superstars with no regard for what the job actually needed.

Interesting & helpful

The "CC" can be double edged sword. Use it with discretion.

Thanks for expanding on the topic. I think a lot of people take it for granted that these are common sense or assumed practices, but in reality, not everyone can be on the same page unless it is spelled out for them.

Interesting and informative

Completely agree with you, the subject here is very interesting to revisit and review time to time.

That "CC" stuff made me tough learning at the beginning of my career....

Interesting points made and thanks for sharing

Interesting take. Handling email chain effectively will help in communication.
Thanks for sharing.

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"The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions."

- Leonardo Da Vinci