Project Management

Keeping Good Workers According to Experience and Research

From the Eye on the Workforce Blog
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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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Losing workers during a project is very disruptive. You have to replace that worker or extend the project activity in order to respond properly. But replacing that worker takes a lot of time, including identifying the correct candidate, interviewing candidates, making a decision, waiting for that individual to make a decision and actually begin, then onboarding that new worker. How much time does that take in your organization

It should be worth your time, then, to use tactics to keep workers in place. Sometimes tactics related to keeping workers happy require that the workers report directly to you. Yet there are still plenty of tactics that are effective even if project workers do not report directly to you. James Sudakow made some good points recently regarding manager behaviors and employee burnout. Here I have adapted a couple of his points for you as project manager to avoid workers quitting. After that, I added related guidance built off findings from a study publicized recently.

 

Make sure workers know why changes are required

In recent posts I have written about the importance of letting the project workforce know about the strategy behind the project. But there is more to this. Project workers should also know the reason behind project changes. For example, be clear when changes to requirements is driven by better stakeholder understanding of the final solution and will provide better benefits in the end. Or that changes in the schedule are due to a dependent project that will now be in sync and provide a better customer experience.

Avoid getting busy and just quickly organizing the project adjustment without providing a full explanation to connect workers to the big picture. Always provide time to answer worker questions. You must show that you care about team member involvement and to do that you must be responsive to their questions, their concerns, and their feedback.

 

Monitor for poor performance and deal with it

Where have you seen poor performance affecting your project workers? It could have been from stakeholders who are slow to respond to requests. It could be from partners who do not provide information in a timely manner. It could have been from workers on your team who are actually weak links in the chain. When it is project workers, you should act quickly to remedy that poor performance. It is especially important for those on your team to know that you will do something about this if they cannot. You must identify poor performers and facilitate their improvement so that negative impact does not impact the rest of the team. If you have to escalate the deficiency to the individual’s manager, do so.

 

Be wary of stretch goals

You might be under the impression that stretch goals in your project will be an effective way to motivate your team to better productivity. Unfortunately, you would be mistaken.

How do we know? There was a study done within the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, which is doing a lot of research of interest to project managers. This study looked specifically into the effectiveness of stretch goals. To summarize the findings, it was determined that stretch goals are rarely effective, except in the case of certain organizations that accept high risk, in particular, the ability to accept certain financial losses in search of a “winner”. Other organizations did not benefit and even suffered from using stretch goals.

What does this mean to you? It means that you should think twice before planning your schedule with short duration as a motivation tool or to fit in a larger organizational stretch goal. Instead,

  • Calculate practical durations for activities and phases
  • Involve your team and people who are experienced in determining proper durations for activities in your plan
  • Use information from the past that will allow you to incorporate the realities of the work environment and the business culture.

These are proven steps that build success and worker engagement, and do not demotivate workers with unrealistic deadlines.

 

Whether or not you have direct report responsibility, you have a lot of influence over whether your project workers stay in your project or leave it. The simple tactics above, and many other good management practices, are not complicated and will keep you from suffering the fate of those who must replace lost workers midstream in their projects.

 

Don’t forget to check out my articles on this site (two decades worth!) for more tactics to succeed in managing your workforce.

Posted on: December 17, 2019 09:27 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Dear Joe
Interesting is your reflection on the topic
Thank you for sharing the study and your perspective on the subject.

We are facing times when companies and organizations choose outsourcing to implement their projects.

In this context, can we talk about keeping the best workers?

That said, I agree that the more companies involve people in different project planning activities, the better the results.

It does not seem to me, however, enough to retain the best workers

Yes, it's always a challenge to keep the top performers and engage with appropriate rewards and motivation. Thank you for sharing useful tips/ideas.

Very important topic thank you for the insights Joe. I have seen in several management reviews surrounding burnout discussion which put more weights on management/leaders steps in the right direction.

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