In previous posts I’ve discussed the unfortunate but very real phenomena of having a portion of the project team opposed to success, if success means that you, the PM, will benefit personally. Imagine your organization depicted by a bell curve. The split looks like this:
- Category A is more than one standard deviation to the left side of the curve, and represents the so-called early adapters. These people are attracted by the novel, and were probably among the ones who purchased Beta-Max format VCRs (and, if you don’t know what a Beta-Max VCR is, I don’t want to hear from you). Since your project is probably creating something that’s not been done before, at least in some context, these people tend to be your natural allies.
- Category B people range from the median or mode, and consume that part of the curve to the left up to where the Category A-ers are. These people can be counted on to become allies eventually, but need to be shown or convinced that cooperation with your project’s agenda will benefit them.
- Category C people are to the right of the median or mode, extending (generally speaking) one sigma to the right. They are not allies – at best they can be described as unwilling participants. They only end up contributing when it is made painfully obvious (and, yes, I do mean “painfully”) that to fail to do so will result in unacceptable consequences for them. They almost literally have to be forced to do their jobs. It’s unfortunate, but these people are real.
- Category D people are on the tail-end of the curve to the right, and will oppose you, no matter what. Even when it becomes clear that further resistance to your technical approaches or strategies is futile, they will find a way to oppose you, through the “slow-roll” or “silent veto” tactics, or else via calumny, rumor, or out-and-out slander. I know it’s highly disconcerting to consider that such people are on your team, but they invariably are, and it’s dangerous to pretend they aren’t.
Don’t believe me? Consider the story of Joe Rochefort.
U.S. Navy Officer Joe Rochefort was the cryptologist who led the team that cracked the Japanese Imperial Navy’s JN25 code in the early months of the Pacific Theater of World War II. From the American entry into the war through early June of 1942, the Japanese Navy experienced one success after another, and the situation was dire for the Allies. After breaking parts of the Imperial Navy’s top-secret code, Rochefort became convinced that the next major attack would come against Midway Island, in the northern Pacific, but almost all of his colleagues disagreed. One ally in OP-20-G suggested a ruse, to announce in an open transmission that Midway was short of drinking water. The Japanese took the bait, and transmitted in their JN25 Code that their next target was low on drinking water. Rochefort was right.
With this knowledge, OP-20-G would render to the Midway Force’s commanding officer, Raymond Spruance, virtually the entire Imperial Navy order of battle for their attack on Midway, intelligence with a value that cannot be overestimated. The Americans were out-numbered, both in ships and planes, and the IJN personnel were better trained and more experienced. They were, in fact, outclassed in every single way but one: the USN had the Japanese order of battle, thanks to Rochefort. The Japanese weren’t even aware that the United States Navy had a presence in the area until well after the battle had been joined.
The result of the ensuing battle has been accurately described as the turning point of the Pacific War. The Japanese lost four front-line aircraft carriers, dozens of planes with irreplaceable crews, and the initiative in the Pacific. The Americans lost one already-damaged carrier, the Yorktown, a minority of the aircraft committed, and a handful of support vessels. If ever the margin of victory in a major battle could be attributed to a single individual, the result of the Battle of Midway being materially brought about by Joe Rochefort’s cryptology breakthrough has to qualify as a leading candidate. So, Rochefort was recognized, rewarded, promoted, right?
Unfortunately, no. Apparently, Rochefort didn’t suffer fools gladly, and had several encounters with one on a previous assignment aboard the battleship Pennsylvania. This particular fool ended up on Ernest King’s (then Commander in Chief of the Navy) staff. This person disliked Rochefort personally, and strongly advised against him receiving any recognition for his work. Keep in mind that Rochefort had just contributed mightily to changing the course of the Pacific War and, by extension, the future of Western Civilization. No matter. He had made an enemy, and this enemy would have his revenge. Rochefort ended up receiving the Legion of Merit, Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was inducted into the National Security Agency’s Central Security Service Hall of Fame; however, only the Legion of Merit was awarded to him while he was alive. All of the other awards where given posthumously.
I think any manager, but especially Project Managers, need to keep in mind that, in those instances where you have achieved notable success, anybody within your organization who had opposed you, your ideas, or the scope you pursued stands to lose status as their opposition is revealed to be misguided at best, and treacherous at worst. And, if they fall under Category D above, you know they are perfectly capable of using calumny or slander to mitigate the damage to their status via throwing shade on your accomplishments.
Have you experienced a high-profile success recently? Good for you.
Now watch your back.