Continuing from Part 1, here are more tactics for being a leader without moving a muscle, just listening. This is active, focused listening, though. You are seeking two pieces of information critical in any widespread disruption: useful information about your project status and state of mind of your team members. With these two pieces of information you will be able to manage your project and appropriately show empathy so that each team member will feel more comfortable with the situation, even in chaotic circumstances.
Focus on Recognition
When there is some type of global event that disrupts your project, it is difficult for your team members to get routine work done in a routine way. As you listen, look for opportunities to increase the positivity of the work environment by making sure you recognize work that has been completed.
As you ask questions to determine state of mind, you will likely identify opportunities to build the confidence of team member who may be questioning whether they can complete work in such a difficult work environment. You want team members to understand that they can apply their judgment where they have expertise to get work done but may simply need help to manage through the unusual circumstances resulting from the disruption. A couple of examples:
You can build confidence by explaining that team members do not have to be anxious over the constant new obstacles but can use guidance from you and others to understand the new circumstances creating the obstacles. In turn, team members can better identify and communicate obstacles that are keeping them from progressing. Additional benefit for you: This will improve the information you get about work progress, risks, and issues even during a major disruption.
While listening to team members, look for signs that you may need to "loosen the reins" of controls on individuals in project work. That is, if disruption creates more difficulty for teams to get work done, there are more obstacles and less progress. Less progress means less to report in a standard reporting period. Less reporting means less need for routine monitoring.
Conclusion & More Help
Being a good listener is being a good leader. In a time of global disruption, a good leader having a firm grasp on his/her project, knowing the state of mind of team members, and showing empathy is rare and needed. With these listening skills you will be able to show yourself as a valuable member of the organization and improve your career prospects. Be sure to document these successes for future positions applications.
Here are articles I have written related to change interactions:
How are you doing? We are weeks into a wave of global lockdowns. You might be feeling anxious and frustrated while you work – or cannot work. Imagine what your project team is feeling. No, really, imagine what they are feeling. This will help you become a better leader in the most difficult of circumstances you will ever face. Read on to see how.
In an article which will be published on projectmanagement.com soon, I explain how to generate effective conversations with the right questions. (Once published, I will link it here.) In this post, this concept will be taken further - into the conversation itself. When the most difficult and disruptive situations occur, you must be able to interact effectively with project team members. Right now is one of those times. These techniques will allow you to emerge as a better leader in those conversations.
Your Two Objectives in a Worst-Case Scenario
You now have two objectives. One is to collect useful information for your project, information like whether a project team member currently has the technology available to complete his/her tasks. The second objective, the one more related to leadership, is to find out their state of mind.
The Importance of Being Empathetic
Don't be concerned if being empathetic is not your strong suit. In a massive global event, you and the person you are conversing with are experiencing a similar situation. Certainly there are some geographies, some countries, that are being hit much harder. And it is undeniable that some areas are suffering much more from restrictions forced by the global pandemic. But there is common ground! You will be able to begin conversations which include work situations, family situations and health situations. You will be able to determine what your team members are experiencing in an environment that has never been experienced before. They will feel the need to talk about it.
Listening Means Waiting
When you go into these calls, you will have effective questions to elicit conversation. What you do then is listen. One good tip to make sure you're listening properly is to wait at least three to five seconds, perhaps even more, before you say anything. Let the silence extend! Remember, in a case of global disruption, situations can be fraught, desperate, dire. When they are, responses may be slow, but you need to know, so wait.
Listen Without Judgement
Even though you believe it, avoid the bad habit of responding with "I know how you feel." You see this conversation play out constantly in movies and on TV. The reaction is generally, "No you don't!", which can happen to you when you make this judgement, so don't ever do it. It is a bad response and unnecessary.
Remember, your objective is to determine their state of mind. You want to get an idea of their frustration, anxiety, fear, whatever. If you can put a word to it, you can understand enough about what they are going through. In any situation that has to do with a global event or a major world disruption, you may have project team members in the depths of despair facing tremendous obstacles or at the heights of elation after surmounting obstacles.
If you are not be good in these difficult, fraught conversations, you can prepare to show you are empathetic by having “framed” responses in your mind. For example:
Notice how each one of these responses carefully puts a description on what the other person is experiencing. That shows you received the message and is comforting for the team member.
Avoid "Action Statements" Generally
Being a good listener does not mean that you have to act on anything. In fact, focusing your response on actions rather than empathy typically takes away from the benefits of empathy and interferes with your ability to determine state of mind.
Instead, Suggest Actions Via Questions
Here are some examples of where you would be an effective listener and leader by asking questions related to state of mind:
These are just examples of where you can make it easier for the project team member while making the individual more comfortable or less anxious. Those are actions of a good leader.
In Part 2, more techniques will be described to become a better leader this way along with links to related articles.
Just like that things can change. When you are the project manager you are expected to respond, even if the source driving the change is far from the boundaries of your project. Even if the source is a global pandemic. The right response makes all the difference. The wrong response can be deleterious to the project and to your career. Being a leader means responding appropriately even when you are not sure which direction to go.
The situation is not as fraught as it seems, though. The fact is that you do not have to have all the answers to be a good leader. You can have the same questions as everyone else. To be a leader in a situation like this you have to use a different set of skills, those that are useful in the transition period between discovery of the change and when the response is clear.
What I have for you here, then, are some tips about what is important now and how to do it. After those tips are links to articles I have written previously that should also be useful now. I will continue to add new tips helping you respond to the global pandemic with links to useful articles and posts from the past.
Be a Good Listener
One of the most useful things you can do now is be a good listener. Make your team members feel valued and listened to. Listen without comment or judgement to complaints, stories, ramblings and so on. Just being able to vent will help workers "process" what is happening and to later focus better on next steps. Showing empathy is a sign of a good leader and will gain support of your team.
Talk to individuals to find out what specific questions they have, what guidance they need. Groups often don't allow individuals to be open with comments. Use the phone to better pick up on verbal queues and respond clearly.
Projectmanagement.com just had a monthly theme of leading-edge trends. Showing empathy is an increasingly desirable trait. There is no better time than now to display your ability in this area. For example:
More articles of mine that will help you display leadership during this time:
Use a Resource Schedule
A resource schedule is a valuable tool when a major event changes availability of resources especially when these changes are drastic. A resource schedule provides you with a list of resources and dates when each are supposed to be working on your project. It is a valuable guide to help you determine the impact of any constraint you have. The more drastic the change or constraints, the more useful it is. It also becomes a source of objective information for you to generate resource-related reports from your project.
You may have a resource schedule which is captured in a spreadsheet or on some type of project management or resource management application. This is a more formal rigorous method and will help you manage changes or manage conflicts due to an extension of your schedule
If you are not managing a project with such rigor and formality, then start one now. List all project team members in a column on the left and, to the right, add columns that show at least week by week. Add details for availability that you know, whether people are available or not.
Everything else is clearly what you don’t know. Do some research to fill in blanks but expect there to be gaps during major change. Maybe you cannot contact an individual or group for whatever reason. All this is important for your analysis and objective reporting of status.
Keep Learning as You Work
I’m sure you need many options for guidance now. I did some research on my previous articles that may be relevant to your particular situation in this global rolling event.
These are articles related to managing virtual teams better:
You will have to have productive and constructive conversations with your sponsor and stakeholders during this period, so here are articles related to doing that better:
Here are two articles connected to problem solving better. You can imagine that there will be a few problems to solve.
Last but not least, see posts on this blog after you filter on Change Management.
In the previous post and an article, Improve Stakeholder Relations by Adding a Social Component, we have been exploring how a web share site for stakeholders is a good way to keep them in communication and involved, but you have to use the correct tactics to make it all work. There were a couple of topics requested from readers that were left to cover: building the site itself and using a push email to make it easier for stakeholders to get involved.
Building the Site
Just how to build such a site depends on the applications and tools you have at your disposal. Some of these are listed at the bottom of this post. If you have an enterprise platform to build a cover page and link to files and a discussion area, that is all you need. If you are not sure at all how to proceed, try these steps:
As stated in the article and previous post, the cover page is the most important. The first page can be and probably should be your only developed page in most situations. Why? Because any additional pages will take more time to administer and update over time. If you have a project coordinator or other person who can make updates to the site in a timely fashion, then feel free to build out additional pages within reason.
Beyond your initial page, additional pages might do the following:
Combining the "Push" Email Effectively with Project Site and Discussion Area
The push email is the email sent out with the intent to provide info and draw stakeholders to the discussion area. Here's an example.
The situation is that a complex issue has arisen that may affect the scope and schedule of the project. You, as project manager, plan to send out an ad hoc push email to summarize the issue and connect stakeholders to additional details and to a related online discussion to answer stakeholder's initial questions prior to a decision meeting that must be scheduled two to three weeks out.
In this case, you do not want to overwhelm stakeholders with a complex email. You would rather send them to a space where you can start gathering their input prior to the future decision meeting and avoid inadequate communication or miscommunication.
With building the site and the push email covered, questions from readers have now been answered. Thanks for reading my articles, posts and for your active involvement in projectmanagement.com!
A Variety of Possible Tools
Here are examples of platforms or applications that are designed to provide information and interaction that can be used in a project environment. You want the ability to create a customized page for your project, to post project files and to create a discussion area.
In a pinch, just a shared drive can be manipulated to meet the design objectives, the "Home" page being a single file.
I pay attention to your comments, believe me. This post, in fact, was driven by comments to an article of mine on ProjectManagement.com. Daniel Moskowitz and Luis Branco requested more information on techniques I wrote about in Improve Stakeholder Relations by Adding a Social Component related to building a project web share site that will be effective for stakeholders. I got started on my response to the comments and it turned into almost two full posts.
The goal, according to the original article, is to have a project share site that not only works for your project team, but also attracts stakeholders and has useful and timely information they need to keep them doing their job in the project, however that is defined.
These design ideas and communication enhancers are based on sites I have created and also from what I have seen done by others. Always keep your audience in mind. Stakeholders do a lot and your project is just a small part of their work life. They may have just minutes to understand what is happening in your project and be able to respond/participate properly.
What to Place Front & Center
Provide stakeholders with what they need immediately or with just a click. Give them basic context.
To summarize, then, your "front and center" content should include
Other Content & Where to Place It
The application you use to build your project site typically allows you to format your page with one or two "rails" on the sides for additional content, links, announcements, etc. that are not important or urgent enough to put "front and center". They can contain links to other areas of the site. You can also use the area below the "front and center" section for additional detail that is more static.
Avoid These Design Mistakes
It's easy to become excited about what you can do, but a common problem is putting in too much content on the Home page that must be updated. Soon, for various reasons, you will have less time and desire to manage this page. If someone else is updating the page, perhaps there is less of a problem.
Look critically at what you create to see that you have not simply left the design to "default" or "common" without thinking about stakeholders.
In my next post, I will describe more about applications that are used and using "push" and "pull" emails.