A little while ago I talked with a Project Manager who cared.
He was very concerned about the way his sponsor was changing the scope and deliverables of his project, and told him he was making a mistake. That the project should be focused on delivering something slightly different. The change of direction was not in the best interests of the company.
The reason he was talking to me was that he had just been brutally removed from the project, perplexed because all he had done was what he thought was best for the organisation, and that the sponsor was really just pursuing his own selfish agenda.
From my angle, the political perspective, he had started to pursue his own political agenda, for the good of the organisation. This set him up against his sponsor’s political agenda. Instead of being the servant of the organisation, he had become a political player.
And he lost.
As soon as you begin to try to influence the decisions, you are acting politically. This may or may not be what stakeholders are expecting of you. If they think you are there to simply execute the project deliverables, what they have decided is best for the organisation, they will not appreciate your opinions. Your attempts to get their decisions to change, however well-intentioned, will not be welcomed, especially if you are talking to other powerful people.
It is wise to be clear about the scope of your project.
It is also wise to be clear about the scope of your role and what the key players around your project are expecting of you in that role, and when.
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Some project managers are very assertive. They are in a hurry, focused on the deliverable, and nothing is going to stand in their way. They have a reputation to maintain.
But, what does this mean? How do you quantify very? More to the point, how do those you work with judge your level of drive and assertion?
You need to know, or at least begin to get a sense of what level to apply, in case you go too far (and be accused of bullying) or become too soft (and be accused of not delivering).
Here are some behavioural that some regard to be bullying:
(extract from Are You a Bully?)
Any one of these, in isolation, it probably okay. Not ideal, but okay. When you start adding more to the mix, you are likely to be coming across as too pushy, demanding and perhaps a bit of a bully.
Now, I know you have a job to do, and there are far too many people avoiding a good day’s work, but take this seriously, before it becomes a problem for you.
How do you judge the appropriate level of assertion to apply?
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Fun, because most of the people quite naturally focus on fixing the problem areas, working to overcome opposition, root out adversity and clear through the roadblocks.
A few wise ones respond that most time should be spent with their Advocates.
It is quite natural to try to fix the problems stakeholders present, that’s what you’re paid for isn’t it?
But, the very best way to do that is to enlist the support of your supporters. Mobilise their energy and effort to your cause. Advocates are on-side and you have a good relationship with them. Since they are on-side, quite likely they will also be a major beneficiary when you succeed.
Which means they will likely be quite willing to lend a hand. To spend time helping you plan your moves, develop your strategy, or even getting more personally involved. Remember, that while you may have a strained relationship with another stakeholder, your advocate may get on well with them and can influence on your behalf.
Aside from leveraging greater influence by working more closely with your advocates, you will also benefit by avoiding the risk that their support may wane. In the turbulent political environment, alliances can change and it is important that once you have gained agreement, you work to keep it.
And actually, you’ll probably enjoy your work more too. Trying to engage with enemies can be soul destroying, stressful and demoralising. You cannot ignore these people, but you can work with others to lessen the risk they pose, and increase your chances of winning through.
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The sooner you recognise it for what it is, the easier it will be to fix.
There are four key elements to consider in these situations - content, behaviour, tension and emotion.
Most clashes begin with a disagreement on content and escalate due to differences in behaviour people use to gain agreement. As these differences become entrenched, the tension rises, as do the emotional reactions. Which means, things continue to get worse until an interrupt takes place.
What I find fascinating is that if two people use similar behaviours to try to remedy the disagreement on content, they naturally move towards problem-solving. The clash begins when people just don’t like or agree with the way the other person is handling it.
The key to fixing a personality clash is to find a way that both sides can comfortably adopt similar behaviours as they seek a resolution OR both sides accept and tolerate the differences in behaviours.
Which means, if you are facing a personality clash, you can take constructive action to adjust your behaviour, and your levels of tolerance of the other persons way of behaving.
In a later post I will share some ideas on practical action you can take if you are affected by this problem. Meantime, take a look at the OnDemand webinar (PMI Members only) which goes into a lot of detail on behavioural differences.
Review the OnDemand webinar Engaging Stakeholders with Style
Not surprising given the often mysterious nature of the political world of work. And of course, the experience of falling prey to those who play the politics at the cost of integrity and to the detriment of the organisation.
Which is perhaps why people, when they face a political challenge, actually end up digging themselves deeper into the mire without realising it.
The problem here, is that they are quite naturally biased towards a negative viewpoint. And by engaging in the actions above, they are actually making things worse rather than better.
Instead, I like to advocate that when facing a political problem, people need to:
Now, I do accept this may be a tall order for some, but given the skills of facilitation you have learned as a project manager, applying them to a political situation is doable - once you learn to put aside your emotional reactions.
Review the OnDemand webinar How to Handle Project Politics