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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Help Yourself by Helping Your Team

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

Help Yourself by Helping Your Team

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.

  • For your project team members, keep a list of the types of things that would help them be able to meet their career advancement goals. Just add a column to your team member register and insert general personal development interests.
  • When you have an opportunity that is a match for their needs, get their assistance. Is it running a meeting? Working with a stakeholder? Completing a report? Do not assume that this will take more of your time. Make it a win-win. Delegate more to save time to spend on your higher priority tasks.

  • Keep a record of your activities for your own career development. You can show in your performance evaluations that you are a developer of talent on the job. That is beneficial in any organization.

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.

  • When one or more new team members enter the work environment, pause and have everyone meet in a “team restart” to learn about each other and their experiences and expertise. This doesn’t have to be of long duration. Speed them up by sending basic info in advance, then getting more personal during the restart.

  • Organize these, for example, prior to phases where resources change.

  • Include a discussion of lessons learned in the project to help new resources get a head start and build a sense of sharing. For example, tips about working with stakeholders or advice on working with partner organizations.

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.

  • When major milestones are met, especially when the project has been completed, send a note of appreciation and specify the results obtained and the benefits achieved so that the project team members can see what was accomplished.

  • Acknowledge the obstacles they overcame, and the extra time they put in. Be specific so that it is easy for them to capture that sense of accomplishment.

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.

Posted on: October 20, 2019 11:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Better to Be Competent or Warm?

If you were to go back through postings on this blog over the many years that it has been in existence, you would find that many of the tips and tactics covered fall under the category of “ways to improve the work environment so that workers can do their best”.  To be able to manage an environment is a high-leverage technique for a project manager. You would do well to identify and build as many skills in this area as you can.

Here’s one now!

A recent study helps you understand in a more sophisticated way how to interact so that you create a more productive environment for your project team.

Before getting into the details of the study and pulling out useful tactics for a project manager, it’s useful to ask yourself: Is it better for me to appear as competent or to appear as warm? You might think it is best to be both. You might think it is more important for you to appear competent because your team does not have to like you, they just have to respect your authority and ability.

There are certainly different ways to look at this and, of course, different project managers have different personalities. But if your objective is to create a productive workplace, it is important to strike the right balance in a given situation, to understand what behaviors create the environment where workers will thrive. This study helps you do that - with a little help from my tactics provided after the description of the study.

The study was supported by Carnegie Mellon University and led by Shereen J. Chaudhry, who was trying to determine how and why people use apologizing, thanking, bragging and blaming. The study used clever scenarios with winners and losers and researchers monitored what happened on live chats after the winner was revealed. Sometimes the environment and outcome was fixed to really test researcher's predictions. (Hard to tell whether that would have been fun or just a little creepy.) Researchers interviewed participants afterwards to gather more information.

The outcome of the study confirmed predictions and made additional discoveries, including:

  • People generally prefer thanking far more than bragging.
    (Notice that there is a preference to be polite or appear "warm" in a social setting.)
  • People even preferred to thank or apologize albeit reluctantly when it was important in the environment to appear competent.
    (Notice how there is a fear that thanking and apologizing are seen to make someone look less competent, but it is preferred to appear warm.)
  • "Winners" tend to want to experience gratitude, so may "prompt" others when it is not forthcoming.
  • When given an opportunity to work again with a participant, preference went to those who chatted previously and who used techniques to appear warm over other participants who did not either participate in a live chat or those who appeared less warm in previous interactions.
  • Thanking and apologizing occur less often after bragging and blaming occur.

You can employ certain tactics based on this information, such as

  • Show gratitude to your project team for their work. Provide an authentic apology when appropriate.
  • Prompt your team to show gratitude until it becomes a habit. (Have you seen meetings where gratitude is a standard agenda item? Now you know why.)
  • Do Less bragging and less blaming and counter it in team interactions so that it does not squelch preferred behaviors. Any advantage you desire to achieve to appear more competent by bragging and blaming works against you in reality.

Managing the amount of thanking, apologizing, bragging and blaming turns out to be a powerful tool in your tool set.

Before hearing the results of the study, would you have anticipated that appearing warm was more important than appearing competent in such social interactions? Would you have managed these kinds of interactions as recommended above?

Posted on: March 20, 2019 11:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Eye on Trust: Openness

You may have heard, like I have, that openness can build trust. But what kind of openness exactly? Certainly, you can share "too much information" about yourself. You can share the wrong things. That would not help build trust necessarily. It may make things worse, in fact. And there is confidential information you are provided about a project that you cannot share.

So, the question remains, exactly what do you share to build trust with openness as a project manager? Paul Zak, the expert who studies these factors in the workplace and whom I mentioned in the last post on job crafting, has guidance for us.

The technique of openness is how you share information broadly throughout your team. Your actions should enable the project workforce to see that you are providing needed information in a timely fashion without being manipulative. Here are some ways to do this in your weekly team meetings or daily agile meetings.

  • Early in the project, paint the big picture about project savings and value to the business.
  • Include a specific point where you give updates on what you have heard from reliable sources about what may be happening, about what leadership is thinking about any changes to the foundation to your project for example.
  • Roll out information on risks, update on resolving issues, status of action items you or others are completing. Explain how the work does or does not affect them directly.
  • Help a downstream project team get a head start by making upstream information a little early.
    Example: Make draft versions of the BRD available to designers and developers. Sometimes project teams seem to see themselves as artists who must not show their work until it is final, but you can calm them by stating to the downstream teams all the warnings about making assumptions on unapproved versions. 
  • Actively go after useful information from your sponsor. Your communications with your sponsor should not just be you providing updates, but you should collect useful information to pass on to the team. Keep a list of questions that you rotate through when you speak to the sponsor to confirm
    • assumptions are still the same
    • scope is still the same
    • if expectations are still the same
    • If there is any news about the project or program
    • if the priority is still the same
  • Include stakeholder updates in your meetings that go beyond the basics. Remind participants of the point of view of the stakeholder, for example: priorities, desired dates for key events, desired level of participation in routine work and anything else that will improve interactions between the team and the stakeholder.
  • Stakeholders can provide additional information on upcoming obstacles and conflicting activities.
  • You'll want to then check on what part of this information you can provide to the project teams and then plan to provide that information in your next meeting. In your team meetings, you can explain how these impacts the project. Team members can then respond appropriately without it being an emergency. You can see how team members will trust you more.

You don't have to be a project manager too long to hear things like

  • "Our team does not have the ability to adjust to this latest added effort the way you are requesting."
  • "I'm just hearing about this now and will have to get back on you with how it affects our work schedule, but there is going to be a significant delay."
  • "Seems like we are always last to hear about these changes and then are asked to immediately squeeze more work into less time."

These comments are signs that workers do not have a good reason to trust you and the process, and if they do not have trust they will not be engaged or able to participate fully and give a little extra when needed. They are headed for burnout.

When you don't check for useful information you leave out opportunities to build trust, and then you do not have trust when you need it. So, create your standard agenda or meeting preparation checklist to include sections on

  • Sponsor updates
  • Stakeholder guidance
  • Organizational news from reliable sources/peers/PMO/functional organizations
  • Risk management updates
  • New draft versions available and how to get them

You can think of your own ideas that fit in your situation.

When project team members understand that they are getting a broad communication of information, they have more trust in the work environment where they work. If we get this right, he explains that trust improves engagement and engagement improves performance in your project.

 

What has been your experience in work cultures where there is more openness or where information is more restricted?

Posted on: January 20, 2019 11:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Eye on Trust: Job Crafting

At some point, you have certainly thought about the importance of trust in project management. Did you happen to think of a lot of ideas to build trust? Probably not. This is a difficult topic.

Lucky for you, researcher Paul Zach looked carefully at workplace trust for 8 years and has developed 8 building blocks you can use to develop your own tactics to improve trust in your project. Some of these tactics have been discussed before elsewhere especially in this blog, but there are a couple that have not been discussed often related to project management. These will be the topics of this and the next post.

Facilitate Team to Craft Their Own Jobs

The first of Zak's building blocks to consider is called "Transfer." The term "transfer" for our purposes represents job crafting, which includes allowing people to use their own techniques to complete their work. That is, they determine how they meet the quality expected of their work.

This tactic is typically presented in training for managers and will always be easier for managers to implement. But that should not let you as a project manager miss out on a tactic to build trust.

Here are specific examples of how you can use the transfer/job crafting technique in your projects.      

  • Help them reduce the scope of existing tasks (when you can't really reduce the number of tasks in your plan) by allowing them to start involvement later during the duration of the task. Using reporting as an example, a team does not really need to report weekly until they really start significant meaningful execution. Similarly, they can fill out templates with only basic, absolutely required information.
  • Assist them with completing their plan for this by answering questions they have.
  • Keep this "crafting" process alive during the project. Provide feedback on how their work in job crafting is functioning. Proactively ask if they need any assistance working it out. Provide positive reinforcement for successes.
  • Consider also individual skill and career development. Ask if there is any special development experiences the team lead is looking for. Add that into work planning.
  • To your own monitoring activities, note participation and successes of project team leads and workers. During closing phase, send out formal appreciations that can be used in performance reviews.
  • Do the same with new team leads as they roll into the project in later stages.

Look for other barriers to flexible work that you can eliminate or reduce.

  • Enable more job crafting by allowing remote work or alternate team work spaces.
  • Reduce required attendance at periodic/routine meetings to individuals who are absolutely necessary at each event. Send good notes out to all others.
  • Remove work rules that are really just part of organization culture and not otherwise justified, such as expectations that a multitude must approve certain documents.
  • Allow use of agile techniques to allow teams to collaborate more even if those techniques are not yet accepted by the organization.

Once you have team leads crafting more of their own work to fit their circumstances, you will have built more of your foundation for a trusting work environment. Do even more by helping them provide the same flexibility to their own workers.

Giving control like this is a key part of maintaining trust. Wresting control away from workers, by forcing restrictions and requirements for whatever reason, serves to break down trust. Be aware of obstacles to flexibility as well.

Next month, my post will be about openness, another one of Zak's building blocks that can be applied to your projects.

In the meantime, have you had success with job crafting?

 

Posted on: December 23, 2018 03:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Beware Haloes & Courtesy Copies

As a project manager, managing people is a large component of your work. So it's worth Think about how you learn the techniques you use. Do some come from experience? From books, seminars or training courses? Did you learn some from watching others? Do you do things because everyone else does them?

Some of the techniques you use may be unproven. That is , they may not have been through rigorous testing to ensure they work. And if they have not, then you cannot be sure they work or even if they have the opposite effect than you want them to have.

Next, for your edification, are a couple of examples of what you can learn when people management techniques are studied.

Beware of the halo effect.

Imagine you are selecting between three candidates for a project analyst. You follow the common practice of interviewing the top candidates in order to choose the best one for the job in your project. The first comes recommended by people you have worked with and trust. They are in a different line of business with a very different culture, but tell you that the analyst has worked very well there. You talked to this candidate very briefly on the phone and liked her positive energy. She does not know much about your business, however.

The second candidate is from outside your company, but from the same line of business and a similar culture. He has plenty of experience. But, really…who cares?  You have a decent recommended candidate that can be quickly transferred into your project. She's one of those great performers who do well in any situation.

Hold it right there! You are under influence of the halo effect! This syndrome causes you to think that an individual who has been found to excel at one job, will be good at almost anything. This is not true. Many studies over the years have shown that the halo effect appears in many situations and that it can lead to problems for the worker and the business.

Typically candidate selection follows a standard process, but I have never seen one that is specifically designed to avoid the halo effect. You have to do that yourself.

  • When you are given candidates with high performance recommendations, check the circumstances under which that performance was achieved (job responsibilities, organizational complexity, culture).
  • If the circumstances  of your project are different, then give that recommendation less weight.

Beware the effects of the courtesy copy.

The second example is about the importance of knowing how to courtesy copy ("CC") people in emails. You probably have gotten the idea by now that communication and transparency can be improved easily by copying anyone involved on your emails. That way everyone is in the loop and cannot come back and say that they did not know what was going on. What did people ever do without email at work?

David De Cremer says his research indicates that courtesy copying can actually reduce trust, just the opposite effect that you want. Here's how you could be surprised in your project by the implications of your "courtesy":

  • You write an email to the QA lead with some planning questions. You copy the lead's boss because he is a very interested and participative business stakeholder to the project. But soon after you send the email, the QA lead comes to you asking why you copied his boss. Don't you think he was going to respond quickly enough? Has there been a problem in the past with his partnership?
  • When you write a request for participation in a series of meetings to a team lead in your project, you copy the team lead's boss in case the lead's boss had a problem with the amount of time, or other input. Right after you send the email, the lead calls you and asks if you have been asked by her boss to send updates on what you and her are doing.

These two examples show how workers can get the idea, whether true or not, that they are being monitored or micromanaged in some way. They get suspicious, especially in cultures where no clear policies in this area have been created. An undercurrent of mistrust leads to just the opposite culture than what was desired from this type of transparency.

What can you do in your project?

  • When developing your communication plan, discuss with team leads and stakeholders what information they want, and what is unnecessary. Generally, no leader or partner wants to sift through dozens of emails where project teams are working routinely, even if problem-solving. That's a productivity sink.
  • Create a project policy that sticks to this communication plan and lets teams work out problems on their own, without communicating "up". Specify that escalations will be used when teams cannot make progress without higher level participation, intervention or approval.
  • Watch for evidence of mistrust and intervene.

If you have experience with or other ideas on these topics, please comment.

The series on Organizational Change Management using Robotic Process Automation examples will return in my next post.

Posted on: August 22, 2017 08:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)
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