Eye on the Workforce

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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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Countering the Most Difficult Strategy Implementation Obstacles

Resource Problems in Org Change Management (RPA)

Better to Be Competent or Warm?

The Blessing and Curse of the Long-Duration Task

Eye on Trust: Openness

Countering the Most Difficult Strategy Implementation Obstacles

In my article this month I discussed tactics to assist you with strategy implementation by maintaining the proper culture. That article did not look at troubleshooting tactics, but I'm rectifying that here with several troubleshooting tactics that will help you take your career to the next level. You might want to check out the article first to make sure you get certain background information.

On to troubleshooting. Recall that in a project or program closely associated with strategy implementation, you as a project manager have a critical role in helping achieve the business strategy. That gives you a certain prestige, power, cache. Don't be afraid to use it. But use it wisely by taking careful steps.

Characterize identified obstacles to escalate properly

Suppose you identify an obstacle to implementing business strategy such low participation by one or more stakeholders. Is the cause simple overallocation or actually resistance to the strategy? Those are two very different situations. If you can, you need to know before you can effectively intervene.

Problems that stakeholders report that are from known competing priorities or reduced resources are common and can be handled through your typical risk and issue management. On the other hand, problems arising from certain "silos" that do not want to participate, require a different tactic.

What would be the cause of resistance to the business strategy? Some individuals, job roles, or departments can be affected negatively by the strategic plan being implemented. Jobs can be lowered in prestige, shifted around the organizational structure or even lost. Implementing business strategy is serious business. And you can represent danger as the project manager. Even if the fear or anxiety is unfounded resistance can still affect your "strategy" project and must be dealt with.

What might you hear from a stakeholder or partner if there is resistance to the business strategy? Hint: You will not hear "I disagree with the business strategy." But listen for phrasing like in these examples:

  • "I have the resources to assign, I just don't see how this department benefits."
  • "This division's focus is really in a different direction."
  • "Your project is not part of what our group supports."
  • "Look, I just can't support this project."

Or you may get a tip off from another stakeholder or sponsor that one or more stakeholders are known to be negatively affected by the strategic changes and then see actual resistance.

Intervene effectively for resistance to the strategy

Suppose that you have followed all these steps and identified and have evidence that a stakeholder Is not participating because of resistance to the strategy itself. In this case you must use a very specific type of intervention that is unlike the regular risk and issue management process you normally follow.

  • Get guidance from the sponsor for the first step. Depending on the specific stakeholder (or group) and situation, you may be asked to intervene with a certain message. Alternately, it may be taken up by higher levels of the organization associated with strategy.
  • If you have the intervention conversation, prepare so you are confident and clear. Remember that you have the prestige of managing a project directly connected with implementing business strategy. The effort requires participation.
  • If you escalate, be prepared for the "organizational" resolution to take some time. Ask the sponsor if it is appropriate to "pause" your project if you cannot push work any further.

Projects implementing business strategy are not given to just any project manager. You have to be able to handle the basics without thinking too much because you are dealing with higher-level risks and stakeholders - and the stakes are greater. Succeed by using your understanding of business relationships and breaking down complex problems into step-by-step solutions.

 

Posted on: August 07, 2019 09:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Two Global Facilitation Techniques

This month we are looking at Global PM on ProjectManagement.com. Among the potential problems experienced when managing teams that are based on different continents is simply being successful at facilitating meetings.

You may not even see the problems during the meeting. Yet the meeting ends, everyone seems to agree and when it comes for tasks to be completed, or deliverables being delivered, there are problems. They seem to come out of nowhere, or everywhere. You follow your facilitation best practices, but they do not give you the same results as when you deal with teams that are co-located with you.

 There are many reasons for this (in fact, I have many articles and blog posts on this site dealing with cultural and other differences between experienced and well-meaning co-workers), so what you need are techniques you can use to help make sure there no surprises.

 

Wait 3 to 5 seconds after you ask a question or ask for comments.

Whenever you are in a meeting, listen for this situation: The leader or someone will ask "Are there any questions?" When this happens, count the number of seconds before the leader says something like, "OK, then, we can move on."

Typically, this will be about one second. That's way too fast, especially for a global meeting. How many times have you heard someone say, "Hey, sorry, but I want to go back to a previous topic"? They were victimized by the lack of response time.

Do not make that mistake. Wait three to five seconds. Count it out to make sure. It may seem like a lifetime, especially if you have had too much espresso, but wait.

Let us count the reasons why you should wait…

  1. Some personalities require more time to formulate questions in mind
  2. Language barrier
  3. Multi-tasking
  4. Fear of answering slowing response
  5. Embarrassment / shyness
  6. Lack of confidence
  7. Lack of comfort in role
  8. Getting approval to ask question from someone
  9. Getting help wording question properly
  10. Side conversation or chat interfering with attention
  11. Delay due to concern over whether question is polite
  12. Time delay in transmission lines

If you have additional reasons, please comment to this post. Maybe you have stories about bad communication in meetings with global participants.

 

Avoid blaming an individual directly or indirectly during a meeting.

A person may be the immediate noticeable target, but rarely the root cause that should be the target of an effective response. And when you blame an individual in a meeting where participants are from multiple geographic zones, it creates an environment of fear and confusion that is not sustainably productive to provide you with the results you need.

Among the many and varied reasons why blaming an individual is the wrong approach are

  1. The individual worker thought what was done was correct and had no information otherwise
  2. According to the culture of the team, there was no communication problem
  3. The worker followed the practice expected in the business location where the worker was based
  4. The worker valued politeness over another criterion which was very different than your preference, but was expected in the worker's geographical zone
  5. Project scheduling did not properly consider religious holidays required of the worker's geographic location.

A better approach for a globally-sensitive leader is to focus attention on where in the process or interactions things went wrong and work in a positive collaborative manner to resolve the problem and avoid it in the future. You should explain that the objective is for everyone to come out looking successful.

In related cultural conversations, you can explain that politeness should be interpreted as helping everyone on the project be successful even if it means having to be open and honest. Give yourself as an example.

 

This technique, while time-consuming is actually a powerful global team-building activity. It sets the stage for your workforce to resolve their own intra-team problems - without you!

Posted on: March 20, 2017 11:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Why Project Stress Can Be Positive

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?
Do you know how to respond as a project manager?

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

  • select the best people who will be able to deal with stress
  • manage the team to create a better way to deal with stress and
  • close out a project so that everyone will understand that they have succeeded.

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. 

Posted on: November 20, 2016 10:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Prioritization Gets More Done

Your project workers are busier than ever. They are working on your project, other projects, and completing work for the organization as a whole, going to training, charity work, special initiative team activities and more.

It is easy to let this overwhelm your ability to succeed in your project. Don't let it! There is still a way for you to get work done more efficiently. You have a powerful tool called prioritization. Prioritization is powerful because:

  • It works better the more work project workers have weighing them down.
  • When you prioritize what should happen in the project, you are being positive rather than saying what is going wrong.
  • Project workers are still empowered to do their own work, so you do not appear to be controlling.
  • You do not point out anyone's inadequacies, you focus on key tasks.

And it's not difficult to find times to use this tool. Opportunities to prioritize occur naturally in your duties as a project manager, for instance when you

  • Tell work teams about the upcoming tasks
  • Communicate to project workers about what is expected in the upcoming phase
  • Conduct a kickoff meeting
  • Talk with a team about their percent work complete on a set of tasks.

What you can probably improve on is using "prioritization language" more during these opportunities. Two key terms are urgent and important to the project. Urgent means the due date is now or very soon. An urgent task may need to be done, but does not have to be important to the project. Many urgent tasks are not very important.

A task that is important to the project has more value to the success of the project. For example,

  • A task that removes a risk causing the project to be overall status Red is more important than getting meeting notes out within the expected time.
  • One task may be a higher priority because it is on the critical path and another task has in actuality an extra week to complete before it delays the project schedule as a whole .
  • An activity might be a higher priority to your project because you have plenty of evidence that there will be delays associated with it, so you want to make sure it is started on time or earlier.

You don't want project workers bogged down in lower-priority urgent work and not getting to what is important, but that's what commonly happens. The vicious cycle is that once people focus on non-important urgent items, they take their eyes off of important tasks that can reduce the number of urgent tasks, causing more past-due frantic work. Putting out fires replaces time for team work planning.

Within any week, you can set and communicate the high-priority work tasks. You can also ask what non-urgent activities are interfering with time for important (high-priority) tasks. In my next post, I'll cover ways to communicate priorities so that the important work will take precedent in the project workforce. You'll also see how prioritization can help you build your reputation.

In the meantime, let me know what you are experiencing in your project workforce related to priorities (or lack thereof) and I'll try to use your examples in that post.

Posted on: June 20, 2016 10:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Communicate Value of Your Project Early

One problem that you as a project manager have to deal with early in the project is aligning workers to the objective of the project. This is not aligning to any specific deliverables, mind you. It's deeper than that. It's getting the agreement or consent to participate in the project as a whole.                           

You can't expect everyone to be doing their utmost for your project from the very start. Some people may work with you grudgingly and not believe in the purpose of your project. Some may not participate fully because they have a lot of conflicts even though they want to participate with you because they believe your project is so important to the company. There are many other possibilities.

So how do you get people to see your project as a priority? As an important project in the company? As a significant effort that they want to be seen participating in? As an activity that they may even want to spend a little extra effort making sure it is successful?

You can link your project to corporate strategy and business benefits in a powerful way. Who does not want to be part of meeting the business strategy and attaining business benefits?

First, connect your project to corporate strategy. Chris Cancialosi, PhD suggests a strategic narrative to communicate the corporate strategy. Your leaders may not be using the strategic narrative technique, but you can use ideas from that to build a better presentation of the link between your project and the business strategy.
    • Explain "what was", "what is" (just before and during the project), and "what will be" after the project and how your project makes that future happen. Make sense out of the change. Emphasize what will be better.
    • Link to values. There may be one or two that sync up nicely with your project
    • Link to profitability. Everyone wants more money coming in so they have more money for their teams. Profits come from reducing costs or increasing revenue, so pick the one that most closely represents your project
    
The second area is business benefits that are being sought. Again, this is a part of your conversations with stakeholders.   You should be able to identify something specific related to stakeholder interests, such operational efficiency, new capabilities, marketplace advantage, and so on.

This might seem a little too time- and energy-consuming . Is it worth the effort?
I think it is. Linkages to either of these areas will help build "employee engagement," that critical factor that gets workers to work hard and give a little extra when needed. ("Employee engagement" is a topic covered in this blog all the time.) You will also benefit from fewer conflicts from other projects because you will have established your project as a higher priority.

Still, your time is limited, how could you do this to make is less time consuming and fit into project activities?
    • Create a slide for your kickoff meeting or improve the one you already have for strategy link or business benefits from your project.
    • Get with your sponsor to confirm your understanding of connection to business strategy is correct. Have the "what was, what is, what is to be" narrative style in your mind as you confirm.
    • Get with stakeholders to find benefits or impacts in advance that fit into the mold of your connection to the strategy.
    • For business benefits, use the same tactics. Talk to the same people if those have not already been specified in the Charter or other project documentation.

The point is to have a powerful, succinct presentation that you use early in your project. This can put you ahead in the game to capture the time, attention and commitment of those who will make your project successful.

Posted on: March 13, 2016 06:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)
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