You may have seen somewhere reports that workers across industries are quitting their jobs, to seek better options that align with improved quality of life. One key stimulus for this is that they feel their current job is just not meaningful enough. Pandemics seem to add a new perspective the old job.
How would your project be affected if one or more team members simply resigned? At the very least, there would a disruptive period where the replacement process would have to play out. In a more difficult situation, you would face significant delays. You should want to avoid this situation, but what do you know about making work meaningful? What are you, a psychologist?
Well, maybe you do have a few tricks up your sleeve to make the situation better. And don't think it is all that difficult. You do not have to have an advanced degree in psychology to make work more meaningful. Sometimes all you need to do is show you care. Consider the following to adjust to the "new" new normal.
Remain aware of the key reasons people are giving for leaving (according to a Microsoft survey, at least, which also concludes that there are millions more ready to quit - yikes!).
Some of these you will have little power to change, but others, such as not being engaged or stagnating career, you can help with.
Be aware also that Generations are being affected differently and it is clear that leaders are disconnected from their employees. According this report, younger workers are experiencing more negative affects than older workers. If you are not sure where to start, check with younger workers first.
Here's a quick example to show how simple a solution can be. Do you know anyone who is not satisfied with their current situation? This person may have already expressed their discontent or dissatisfaction with their job or the work environment.
Not all your interventions will be easy, of course. My article on the recent site topic of Inclusion leads to an important response consideration during the Great Resignation, as this situation has been called. If you request feedback related to job satisfaction, be ready to handle this feedback appropriately.
Think about how the work environment affects your project team. Does it treat people as nameless resources who are required to get work done on time even if sacrifices must be made? Or does the work environment treat everyone with respect as individuals? To fix a bad work environment is complex. Your actions to improve the situation in your project does not have to be.
Start by asking project team members what would make work more meaningful to them. It may be more work that builds new skills so they can improve their career. Or maybe you need to actively assist someone to be more involved in the decisions of the team. Or someone may need time away from work to do something personally unique and exciting. Or it may be that you need to arrange a fun, non-work activity for your team where they can interact and rebuild rapport.
If the problem turns out to be similar to situations like these, you very likely have the power and influence necessary to be mount a successful intervention and to help give more meaning to worker's lives.
Consider also this comment recently on a related article that I wrote.
"A PM or Leader should strive for a culture that allows authentic and constructive concerns to surface so that empathetic responses can be given to address them. This type of environment does not always exist. An article on how to encourage/create that type of environment would be very helpful as well."
This post partly fulfills your request Bevereley. I know I wrote a series on this topic and I will find that (those) ad post on this blog next time.
What is the difference between management and leadership? Alert reader Luis Branco suggested this question in a comment to an article I wrote and it is a good question to ponder. In my experience there is less a binary definition than a continuum. On one extreme there is being a beacon for people to follow as they struggle through a dark, uncertain period to get to a brighter future. On the other extreme is driving efficient task management.
In this post and my previous article on "leading questions", I focus more on the leadership side for common situations in the PM world where skills should be built up. It may be a while before you are able to be an executive communicator, but you do have opportunities now to rise above common project management task wrangling and do leadership-side preparation and communications. If you are a newer project manager, this type of leadership skill can help you move into more complex projects and be recognized as a more advanced project manager. Many of us have done the same. If you have more experience, but need more focus to improve, there are tactics below to help.
Know Your Targets: Project Team
For your leadership-side communications to your project team members, you need to help them prepare for the future (medium-term to long-term), to understand the environment in which they work, and to see the larger context of their efforts. This context is beyond managing to a task list, no matter how sophisticated it is. Note also how this communication is parallel to an executive providing the context of the marketplace and "direction" for the organization.
Ask yourself these "leading questions". Add more questions for your situation. Not all questions are relevant to all situations, but you should have at the ready a broad list to make sure you to stay ahead of emerging problems with your communications and actions.
Now apply the questioning technique to a particular example:
Situation: Your project is approaching the design phase. You ask leading questions of yourself (#1 and #2) and determine that there is a risk from some key stakeholders not receiving recent leadership communication of organizational priority on customer-centric design. Alternately, if they did receive the recent communication, they may not agree with the ramifications. As a consequence, these stakeholders may not make themselves available for the amount of time needed in work sessions to understand the design and give feedback to improve its effectiveness with customers.
Notice how these tactics, built by asking leading questions, keep you ahead of the risks and engaging your project workforce to manage the situation in a more sophisticated manner. If you were only focused on project task management, you would run the risk of not starting to address the problem until much later and in a much less-effective reactive manner. Don't be that project manager.
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.