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.
Losing workers during a project is very disruptive. You have to replace that worker or extend the project activity in order to respond properly. But replacing that worker takes a lot of time, including identifying the correct candidate, interviewing candidates, making a decision, waiting for that individual to make a decision and actually begin, then onboarding that new worker. How much time does that take in your organization
It should be worth your time, then, to use tactics to keep workers in place. Sometimes tactics related to keeping workers happy require that the workers report directly to you. Yet there are still plenty of tactics that are effective even if project workers do not report directly to you. James Sudakow made some good points recently regarding manager behaviors and employee burnout. Here I have adapted a couple of his points for you as project manager to avoid workers quitting. After that, I added related guidance built off findings from a study publicized recently.
Make sure workers know why changes are required
In recent posts I have written about the importance of letting the project workforce know about the strategy behind the project. But there is more to this. Project workers should also know the reason behind project changes. For example, be clear when changes to requirements is driven by better stakeholder understanding of the final solution and will provide better benefits in the end. Or that changes in the schedule are due to a dependent project that will now be in sync and provide a better customer experience.
Avoid getting busy and just quickly organizing the project adjustment without providing a full explanation to connect workers to the big picture. Always provide time to answer worker questions. You must show that you care about team member involvement and to do that you must be responsive to their questions, their concerns, and their feedback.
Monitor for poor performance and deal with it
Where have you seen poor performance affecting your project workers? It could have been from stakeholders who are slow to respond to requests. It could be from partners who do not provide information in a timely manner. It could have been from workers on your team who are actually weak links in the chain. When it is project workers, you should act quickly to remedy that poor performance. It is especially important for those on your team to know that you will do something about this if they cannot. You must identify poor performers and facilitate their improvement so that negative impact does not impact the rest of the team. If you have to escalate the deficiency to the individual’s manager, do so.
Be wary of stretch goals
You might be under the impression that stretch goals in your project will be an effective way to motivate your team to better productivity. Unfortunately, you would be mistaken.
How do we know? There was a study done within the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, which is doing a lot of research of interest to project managers. This study looked specifically into the effectiveness of stretch goals. To summarize the findings, it was determined that stretch goals are rarely effective, except in the case of certain organizations that accept high risk, in particular, the ability to accept certain financial losses in search of a “winner”. Other organizations did not benefit and even suffered from using stretch goals.
What does this mean to you? It means that you should think twice before planning your schedule with short duration as a motivation tool or to fit in a larger organizational stretch goal. Instead,
These are proven steps that build success and worker engagement, and do not demotivate workers with unrealistic deadlines.
Whether or not you have direct report responsibility, you have a lot of influence over whether your project workers stay in your project or leave it. The simple tactics above, and many other good management practices, are not complicated and will keep you from suffering the fate of those who must replace lost workers midstream in their projects.
Don’t forget to check out my articles on this site (two decades worth!) for more tactics to succeed in managing your workforce.
How many times have you read an article with manager or supervisor techniques and come away disappointed that you could not use them as a project manager? They are meant for entrepreneurs, those with direct reports in operations or just make assumptions that are not true for you.
It's frustrating because no manager could use help more than a project manager with temporary teams, temporary efforts and a rotating list of skeptical stakeholders. Luckily, you are able to use many of the same tactics, certainly those that focus on influencing and motivating rather than those leveraging your authority over salary and career advancement.
This blog has covered many of these techniques over the years. The techniques below allow you to get the most out of a project team even if it is temporary, and not burn the individuals out or misuse them or abuse them. The best techniques allow you to end up with project team members who would be glad to join your team again.
Help project team members with their personal advancement
You may not be able to promote workers or give them new roles in the organization, but you can help them meet their career development goals.
Help the changing team work together better
You may know tactics related to helping individuals work better. For example, you may be able to recognize ways to set up an individual for success in their role. What you may not have practiced previously is techniques used to help the entire team work together better. This is more important in projects where workers enter and exit the project work at different times. When new members enter a team, act to minimize the “bond” that the existing team members have.
Make sure your employees feel a sense of accomplishment
We often talk about motivating workers by giving them positive reinforcement publicly. But we do not always focus on a related technique of helping them feel a sense of accomplishment. This turns out to be important – especially important in environments where a feeling of accomplishment is more rare. Examples of such environments are those that commonly have long projects, or where resources move quickly from project to project without having a chance to think about their impact.
These tactics will not only motivate your project workers, they will help make you stand out as a more sophisticated project manager. When you get results and have a motivated team, you are a valuable resource in any organization.