This is the second post in a series related to Robotic Process Automation*, begun in association with PMI's Information Systems and Technology Symposium, June 14, 2017, where I presented Becoming an RPA-Ready Project Manager. You can filter posts in this blog to find all related to "Robotic Process Automation".
Another component of organizational change management that you will need to monitor as a project manager is that the vision for the change has been communicated. Generally, you do not have to personally manage vision communication. It is the job of senior leaders to define and sometimes a special group helps to formalize the actual message into emails and intranet web pages. Still. it is wise for you to make sure it is going to be done properly or the tasks you are accountable for will not likely be successful as planned. You just have to love those out-of-project dependencies!
How do you know the vision of organizational change? It is a clear description of the target future state of the organization and the benefits that will be expected. Don't settle for anything less. For organization-wide RPA efforts, where the vision includes software robots doing some of the work previously done by most human resources, the description must include a more satisfactory workplace where workers complete less tedious, more valuable work.
If the vision is not communicated to everyone, your project gets run off the rails by
Don't wait for these symptoms to occur, unless you are a masochist. Treat proper organizational communication as an Assumption, Dependency or something else formal and reportable. My paramour Amelia was wisecracking at lunch the other day that if you publicize a dependency for vision communication, then you might spur "someone" into action to do it!
What about the rollout of that vision? You will know effective, broad communication of the RPA effort vision is occurring when great practices for organization-wide communications are implemented. That includes:
Make a note to look for these great practices to monitor your Assumption or Dependency. Don't see them? Consider managing as a Risk.
The communication should be continual and take many perspectives, such as
Per member Philippe Schuler responding to the first OCM post, success stories are also important in organizational change management communications. In RPA projects, workers (users) will be expected to be skeptical of the changes, but evidence that it has worked well previously will help calm fears. Especially useful stories for RPA will include any that show the workers who have robots working for them are more productive and happy with their now more valuable work - and thus making the vision manifest.
If you start to see a lot of push-back to your RPA projects, it may not be your teams' fault, it could be inadequate organizational readiness for your projects. Consider escalating with that as a potential cause. The solution to that problem should be different than having you just push harder yet again. It could be resolved as a management problem beyond your role.
* Robotic Process Automation: For our purposes, configuring a software robot, using one of the relatively new tools available, to complete a certain part of a work process formerly completed by FTEs. RPA is not Artificial Intelligence, but simply a way of automating the execution of well-defined business rules. Projects are short and bring quick benefits to the organization.
We continue with the important topic of persuasion, giving you more and better ways to use the "persuasion tool.".
Here's a situation for you and a question:
You have to ask one of your team leads for an updated work schedule after a requirement was adjusted. Because of the decision meeting schedule, you need the update more quickly than will be comfortable for the team lead. You recall that the same team lead has rejected your requests the last couple of times. So should you expect better treatment this time or the same treatment as last time?
It's better to know in advance so that you can customize your approach. You don't want to take the wrong tone or say something that will make getting the information in a timely fashion less likely.
Use Previous Rejection to Your Advantage
Research was actually done related to this and the verdict is: Someone who has rejected you previously is more likely to grant your request. Perhaps it is because they are guilty from turning you down the first time. Doesn't really matter to you, actually. Make your request confidently, even if you have been rejected multiple times before, because the odds are in your favor.
Remind Target of Their Control
Unfortunately for us project managers, like the situation above, we are often in the situation where we can request that a task be done, but the individual we are requesting from does not have to grant our exact request. Maybe they will grant the request eventually, but later than we need. Maybe they meet our timeline for providing information, but the quality of the information does not meet what we really need. We need all the persuasion tactics we can master to drive work to completion.
Ironically, you can be better off if you remind your target of their control when you frame your request. As part of your initial request, not later, you affirm the target's control in the situation by saying something like:
There was a study done to confirm this was true looking across 42 separate previous studies. The tactic worked in most contexts, so definitely try it out when you make one of your more difficult requests.
Express Confidence in Worker Ability to Complete
If you are trying to persuade one or more people to complete a task, not necessarily make a decision, two points are important to get across: your confidence that they can do it and that you are there to support the effort.
Assuming that you have defined what you want, a key motivator is that you have confidence that the worker or team can do the work. Say it clearly using words you are comfortable with. This statement reduces an unspoken concern over potential problems or failure that will result in negative consequences for those completing the task. This concern is always present, and more pronounced in certain environments, some of which you may have worked in. With this tactic, you can be the positive force that helps teams complete tasks in any environment.
What are tactics you use to persuade in difficult circumstances?
When was the last time you had to be persuasive? Maybe it was to convince someone to start something right away. Maye it was to overcome resistance to doing something at all. Whatever the case, it was a time when you had to use a "tool" project managers need: The ability to persuade.
I'll also wager that you used a tactic to persuade that you are comfortable with, maybe even out of habit, without considering whether it was the most effective method. You may have used a tactic that is common in your workplace. We mimic what we see in the workplace. We may even use a persuasion technique that would work on us.
The problem is that none of these reasons for choosing a method of persuasion are good. They do not guarantee that the most effective method is chose. If persuasion is an important project management tool, then care must be taken how it is used.
Researchers actually do studies to determine what techniques are effective. You should pay attention to what has been learned to make yourself a better project manager, able to get work done through others. Today's post is the start of a series called "Friendly Persuasion" that will cover many aspects of persuasion relevant to project managers. It's actually a broad topic!
Recently in Inc.com, Christina DesMarais talked to Clinical Psychologist Jeptha Tausig-Edwards about what research has shown actually works when persuading others. There are particular points that apply to project managers.
Don't Bury the Headline In Your Request
This was in a topic in a previous post in this blog. When you are in a conversation where you are going to make your request, state request first. This generally increases your chance of being accepted.
This tactic can be applied to stakeholder interactions, where, for example, you need the individual's approval or you need to use the individual's resources for a period of time to keep your project on track.
This tactic works because studies found the reality is that those who you target with your request have other things on their mind or may simply be worn out. They appreciate you getting to the point.
In your pitch, be specific as to benefits of the made of your target. For example, you can say:
Have a Back-up Plan
OK, so even if you have a good pitch, you may get rejected. Don't take "No" for an answer all the time, though. Be ready with a particular response tactic that may keep your options open so that you are not dead in the water.
Researchers have determined that the words you use in your reaction to "No" are critical to success. You have to use the alternative option format as shown in these examples:
The reason is to keep the individual from responding based on their preference and get them to respond based on their character. The work has to get done, you are asking your target decision-maker to help you with how the work is going to get done.
As you can see, when you know what works, you can prepare for the interaction. You can even grab success from the jaws of failure. Perhaps more importantly, the tactic may be different in tone and content than a less effective method that you would have used without knowledge of research.
This topic is so important that I'll post additional proven tactics this month (and in the future) to start you off in the new year with better interaction skills.
Until then…Where have you had to apply your powers of persuasion? How did it go? Have you experienced bad attempts at persuading you?
Teams are more successful dealing with stress when they have a shared purpose. That was the conclusion reached by studies and reported in my last post. So the question remaining is: How can this information be translated into success tactics for you as a project manager? You have to continuously foster a particular line of communication related to challenges. Here are tactics you can use:
From the beginning of the project, promote its business benefits. The shared purpose will be to complete the project so those benefits are realized.
When hiring workers, start building a high-performance team by selecting people who see project obstacles and challenges as opportunities.
Later in the project, as obstacles appear and work teams are put under stress, remind the team that the benefits depend on successfully completing the project together.
Discuss the challenges the project team is facing. Bring the conversation around to what the project team can do to meet the challenge. Determine how to work together to meet challenges, surmount obstacles and reduce stress. For example:
Do not mistakenly communicate an attitude that appears you want to avoid stress during the project. And don't imply that stress is something individuals will have endure on their own. This does not work. The team must expect to work to meet challenges together, and that will reduce stress overall.
Set up new deliverables like the requirements document as a key part of getting business benefits. Make sure the deliverables mention or link back to the business benefits desired. This not only good practice but helps to link team members together throughout the project.
If key points from the project charter change at any time, use that as a trigger to update the project team on adjustments to the shared purpose.
At the end of the project, as part of Closing, communicate to everyone who participated that the benefits will be achieved because of their participation to complete. This will cement in their minds that working together as a team is superior to other methods. And you will be remembered as the project manager who runs projects this way.
Notice how all these tactics lead to regular discussions about obstacles and challenges. Build up a habit to think in this way. Project managers regularly talk about risks and issues, so this is not a foreign concept. The trick is to communicate that project challenges are not stressful threats, but opportunities for the team to succeed.
Have a stressful project work environment? Worried that the stress is putting the team in conflict, making the team less productive? Do you see friction among the team members or individuals suffering stress?
Stress can lead to team failure, but it does not have to do so. At least not according to a happiness researcher.
Now you are probably thinking: Happiness, you say? What does project management have to do with happiness? Doesn't being in a project mean constantly feeling the walls closing in from your "aggressive" schedule, tight budget, changing requirements and scarce resources?
You could not be blamed for thinking that way.
By the way happiness research is a thing. Check out this TED talk by Shawn Achor, the Harvard (!) happiness researcher whose work is behind this post. We should all probably be spending more time thinking about it than we do. Maybe this is a good place to start.
Achor studied NFL teams and elite military units, looking at situations where some teams perform at a high-level in high-pressure situations and other teams fail. A key success factor was the way teams handled stress. That sounds like something that project managers need to understand then, doesn't it?
There are two parts to being successful here. First, you have to understand that successful teams need a common purpose. This has been established and reported in this blog previously. Achor clarified the second part: that successful teams use their common purpose to better manage stress.
In an article, Achor describes one CEO who changes stressful situations (for example significant barriers and constraints) into meaningful group challenge. NFL winning teams were able to overcome tremendous competition by overcoming the challenges together. Elite military units trained by stamping out a feeling of individual stress, redirecting that feeling to the team for solution.
Managed in this way, stress actually helped bond team members to their organizations. For readers of Eye on the Workforce, you should recognize this as employee engagement, the powerful cultural factor that creates a workforce that is committed and driven.
There has never been a time with more constraints for project managers and their teams. The best project managers will know how to
In this way, you will build a reputation for being an effective leader and have more successful projects.
In my next post, I'll continue with this concept, listing specific tactics useful for project managers. In the meantime, check out the links and post your own ideas and thoughts....and be happy.