Find A Mentor
Categories: career development
Your professional development is a career-long project. You should never stop seeking ways to expand and improve your skills. But you also can’t become overwhelmed or impatient with the journey.
I hear a lot about the struggle “to be heard” in an organization. Next-gen and mid-career project managers alike are looking for greater responsibilities and wider opportunities. How do you gain respect, instill trust, and earn recognition?
Well, a great place to start is to find a mentor.
A mentor can help you navigate the corporate culture, understand the bigger picture, and identify actions that will help you establish credibility within your organization.
Where are these mentors? You don’t always know. Start with people you respect and see as role models. Consider individuals who have shown interest in your work, even if it was a small gesture.
You want to find someone who is approachable, but make sure to keep your search open to people with different styles and perspectives so that you can grow and learn new ways of doing and thinking.
Most important, don’t be afraid to ask. The worst that can happen is that it’s not the right time or the right connection.
And even without an official mentor, you can still emulate the qualities of people who are succeeding.
But if you do get a “yes”, make sure that you’re already thinking about what you can do for the mentor in return.
So take action! Put together a list of potential mentors within your organization. Consider which ones would be the best fit for you, and why. Your notes might look something like this:
Next, make a plan to approach your top choice. Would an informal conversation in the halls be the best way to keep it light? Or perhaps a more carefully worded email clearly outlining your goals and reasons why you think this person would be a great mentor?
Most important, you’ve taken the initiative, and that’s a major step in itself, in growing as a professional. So make a mentor a key milestone in your most important project—YOU!
A new generation of project leaders is rising. Here are six values they bring to the new Project Economy.
A new generation of project talent is rising around the world. With Gen Z entering the workforce and millennials taking on management roles, organizations are being dynamically altered. These project leaders have unprecedented digital fluency, an unflinching readiness for change, a naturally collaborative mindset, a deep commitment to inclusion and environmental issues—and very high expectations about what that means for how we all work.
Unfortunately, too many companies still cling to old-fashioned talent systems that favor experience above all else. For 60 percent of organizations, attracting and hiring the next generation of project professionals is not even a priority, according to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession In-Depth Report: A Case for Diversity. That is a formula for failure.
To better understand how to harness the power and promise of future-focused project professionals, PM Network’s special Future 50 issue highlights 50 young standout project leaders who represent a wave of change and talent around the globe—a "youthquake" that will reshape the future and accelerate innovation in the here and now. In interviews with this year’s Future 50 and dozens of other professionals around the globe, common values and expectations emerge. Here are six takeaways:
1. Ignite a Learning Culture. Finger-pointing and blame are out. They expect a culture that cultivates that learning, growth and risk-taking out in the open, not locked away in a classroom or far from senior leadership. And they want to showcase their skill set, their ideas and to fill a more important role in the organization and projects.
2. Pick Up the Pace. Speed is in, especially for career advancement. More than half (57 percent) of Gen Z workers expect to be promoted at least once a year, according to The Workforce Institute. That might seem absurd to the old guard, but there’s an upside to that relentless ambition: sky-high engagement and a powerful work ethic.
3. Play Well With Others. Closed doors are out. They want leaders who are with them, communicating, listening and removing impediments. They want leaders to understand them as individuals and build an environment that allows them to do their best work.
4. Cultivate Inclusion. Empathy is in. Big-picture thinking, creativity and empathy aren’t fuzzy ideals; they are must-have skill that project managers need to succeed in The Project Economy. And nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of millennials say they’d look to leave an organization that doesn’t share key values on diversity and inclusion, according to Deloitte.
5. Lead With Purpose. Win at all costs is out. Younger people are less comfortable working for a company that doesn’t share their values, placing a premium on organizations that find a way to deliver financial results and serve the social good. Nearly 40 percent of U.S. millennials said they’ve chosen to work at an organization because of its sustainability measures, according to a Swytch survey.
6. Iterate Everything. Feedback is in. With an iterative mindset about everything, they tend to get impatient when there’s no follow-up after a completed task. They see any gap in the feedback loop as a missed opportunity to course-correct and improve work in that moment. And they’re especially interested in project data and performance analytics.
Get the full story here.
Does your organization practice diversity? I’m not talking about a Human Resources handbook that covers equal opportunity hiring and anti-discrimination policies—every organization checks those legal boxes. I’m talking about embracing diversity. I’m talking about demanding true diversity.
The latest Pulse of the Profession In-Depth Report from Project Management Institute—A Case for Diversity—is a timely one. It shows the value and benefits of inclusive project teams, shows where companies are currently in their attitudes versus actions, and offers a blueprint for making diversity a reality. All project professionals should read it, and make sure their executive leaders find a copy in their in-boxes as well.
Most project leaders already recognize that culturally diverse and gender diverse teams increase project value—88 percent, according the report. They know a “mix of mindsets” leads to fresh approaches, faster problem-solving and far better solutions.
“Being able to draw from a spectrum of backgrounds and experiences”—be it race, age, gender, sexual orientation, culture or nationality—“fuels innovation, unleashing perspectives that might otherwise go unconsidered,” the report states.
But knowing and doing are two very different things. Large gaps exist between what organizations proclaim and what they have actually achieved. Only 33 percent of respondents say their organization has a culturally diverse senior leadership team, and nearly 60 percent say there isn’t a single female in their C-suite.
Cross-cultural awareness and communication are also lagging. Half of respondents say their organization is below average at educating teams on cultural norms and practices to improve collaboration with global stakeholders. And just 18 percent say their organization offers a formal mentorship program to develop project leaders.
Diversity requires action. To build inclusive, future-ready project teams, organizations need executive sponsors such as chief diversity officers to lead the charge and make sure the message of inclusion is heard at every layer of the org chart, the report states. “Companies can also boost diversity with distributed teams, drawing in talent from different locations—with different voices and different ways of working.”
Networking groups, mentorship programs and focused recruiting efforts are all fundamental to developing diversity in the workplace.
The diversity dividend—the ROI in inclusion—is real. The report finds that clients want to see themselves reflected in the project teams they call on to execute their strategic goals, and that Gen Z's best and brightest want to work for companies that demonstrate a commitment to diversity.
A Case for Diversity concludes with three principles that organizations should focus on to make diversity a reality:
> Walk the Walk: The desire for diversity and inclusion is clear—but ambitions must be backed by actions. To achieve real outcomes, organizations need a strategic plan.
> Reexamine Assumptions: The post-COVID-19 reality is revealing new ways of looking at inclusion. By tapping into technology and rethinking the old office requirements to allow for more distributed teams, companies can reach valuable new talent pools and ensure diversity.
> Reflect Your Audience: There’s value in visibility. To attract and retain employees, clients and business partners, organizations must assemble teams that truly reflect their diverse audiences. With the right mix of perspectives, companies can better understand—and deliver on—what end-users really want out of a project.
Future-ready project teams will be diverse teams. Demand nothing less.
Download A Case for Diversity here.
What, in your experience, are the biggest barriers to driving an innovation from within?
This is the question Dr. Kaihan Krippendorff asked 150 “internal innovators”—employees leading innovation efforts within their organizations— over the course of three years while conducting research for his book, Driving Innovation from Within: A Guide for Internal Entrepreneurs. He took their responses and then interviewed innovation experts such as Bharat Anand (Harvard), Steve Blank (Silicon Valley), George Day (Wharton), John Hagel (Deloitte’s Center for the Edge and Singularity University), Gary Hamel (London Business School), Roger Martin (Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto), and Rita McGrath (Columbia) to capture their points of view.
His discovery: there are seven common barriers to innovation:
1. Intent: Many would-be internal innovators have simply given up trying; they have abandoned the intent to find and pursue new innovations.
2. Need: Most employees do not understand what kinds of innovations their organizations need (e.g., less than 55% of middle managers can name even two of their company’s top strategic priorities), so for ideas, they look in the wrong places and then propose ideas of little strategic value.
3. Options: Would-be internal innovators often grow frustrated because they become fixated too early on a few, or even worse just one, innovative idea, instead of continually generating a flow of new ideas and managing them like a portfolio of options.
4. Value blockers: It is commonly accepted that innovative ideas are inconsistent with, and therefore disruptive to, a company’s current business model. This established model creates erect value blockers that prevent an appropriate new business model from forming around the new idea.
5. Act: Established organizations tend to ask one to prove an idea will work before giving permission to take action. Yet most new ideas are better suited to the opposite approach: taking action in order to prove the idea. This puts would-be internal innovators in a catch-22: they cannot prove their idea will work so they cannot take action.
6. Team: Scaling new ideas often requires one to pull together a cross-silo team that runs at a rapid pace and is geared toward learning rather than delivering results. Corporations are geared for the opposite: they are siloed, act slowly, and value results (over learning).
7. Environment: Getting support for new ideas is politically complicated because the leadership behavior, types of talent, organizational structures, and cultural norms that help established organizations sustain their core operations also tend to hinder internal innovativeness. Would-be internal innovators struggle to find “islands of freedom” from which they can access the talent, structures, cultural norms, and leadership support that support attempts at innovation.
"Successful innovators understand that, while any one of the seven barriers can crop up at any time, there is usually a natural flow to the sequence of events, a sequence that outlines a pathway of innovation," says Krippendorff. “Their ability to recognize and control that sequence, to the greatest extent possible, plays a big role in their ultimate success. I also realized that if we turn those seven barriers around and look at the obverse, we see solutions.”
To that point, Krippendorff outlines seven steps to building an innovation team, each of which we have begun presenting in greater detail here on ProjectManagement.com:
1. Remove organizational friction: Walk through the five points of organization friction (resources, rewards/expectations, risk-taking, senior leadership support, and organizational freedom), and identify what you must do to address, or at least anticipate, each one.
2. Assemble a cross-functional team: Pull together a team of between five and ten people with the right mix of functional backgrounds, who are learners (high educational level) and unrestrained by accepted dogmas (low tenure). [see “Start Building an Innovation Team”]
3. Align around an important goal: Complete a V2MOM to align the team passionately behind a compelling shared vision, with an understanding of what specifically qualifies as winning and what obstacles you will face. [This acronym stands for: Vision, Value, Metrics, Obstacles and Measures—for a deeper dive, see “Build Team Commitment to a Goal”]
4. Use metrics and data to track the most important thing(s): Decide which leading metrics your team should focus on.
5. Build a scoreboard everyone can see: Decide on a display for your team and individual metrics.
6. Establish a rapid rhythm: Agree on the frequency with which you will review your team’s progress, and set an agenda for that meeting.
7. Generate positive velocity: Celebrate early wins; allow people to strive beyond what is easy by allowing for failure.
Whether you’re an executive, project manager or team member, these are great, actionable steps to support innovation efforts in your organization. And there’s also a great piece of advice to remember for each step of your innovation journey—from Gary Pisano, senior associate dean of faculty development at Harvard Business School and author of Creative Construction: The DNA of Sustained Innovation:
“The all-or-nothing approach to solving problems makes for great theater. It does not, however, bear much resemblance to how actual big problems are solved in society, business, or science. Big problems typically get tackled through a series of small solutions, each of which on its own may not seem particularly important, but that together can have a huge impact.
“We need to be thinking about a big set of ‘small’ solutions rather just a small set of ‘big’ solutions.”
With the pandemic forcing so many project teams to work from home, no doubt you're holding tons of virtual meetings. But are you making the most of them?
Working from home (or WFH) is quickly becoming "the new normal." The COVID-19 pandemic kicked the WFH movement into high gear, and many experts believe it will continue long after the crisis has passed. But before we can optimize this new way of working, we're all going to have to get proficient at one of the biggest work-from-home fundamentals: the virtual meeting.
"Remote meetings are inherently different from in-person meetings," says Howard Tiersky, coauthor along with Heidi Wisbach of Impactful Online Meetings: How to Run Polished Virtual Working Sessions That Are Engaging and Effective. "If you're not used to running them, you're going to make tons of mistakes. And those mistakes can have major ramifications in terms of how well people perform once they log off and get back to work."
The good news is that well-run online meetings can be extremely powerful, says Tiersky. In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review, online meetings can be even more effective than in-person meetings when done right. But first you need to be aware of what not to do. Tiersky identifies five common mistakes made in virtual meetings:
1. Neglecting one (or more) of the "big five" success keys of online meetings. If you are seeking to bring people together to share information, come up with solutions, make decisions, coordinate activities, and/or socialize, you will be successful if you:
"If you do all of these correctly, you will have high-impact online meetings," Tiersky says. "If you don't, there's going to be a lot of awkwardness and inefficiency. Worse, bad meetings can lead to bad workplace performance, which is the last thing any of us need right now."
2. Holding voice calls instead of videoconferences. When everyone has their cameras on, you can expect a significant improvement in the effectiveness of online meetings. This keeps people engaged because they know that what they're doing is visible to everyone else. They're far less likely to multi-task, which is one of the greatest obstacles to audience engagement.
3. Failing to be strategic about sequencing. The first item on your meeting agenda should be a restatement of the purpose of the meeting. After that, strategize on the sequence of your activities. For example:
4. Not giving people an active role. It's possible for one person to present content, facilitate questions, ensure the meeting stays on time, and take notes, but why? Seek to distribute the roles of facilitator (responsible for running the agenda), presenter (responsible for sharing specific units of content), timekeeper (watches the clock and alerts facilitators and presenters how to adjust their speed and content), and the notetaker (documents the meeting) among the participants.
"When you give participants something to do, you prevent them from being passive listeners or webinar watchers," Tiersky says. "When people have an active role, they are far, far more attentive and engaged."
5. Failing to take advantage of breakouts. In most meetings of more than eight people, usually most of the talking is done by just five to seven participants. This is one reason why during live workshops Tiersky often breaks larger groups into breakout teams, so they can come up with ideas, work on prioritization, action planning—whatever the work is—in smaller groups and then come back to the larger group and report on the work they did. (Several of the major online meeting platforms including Zoom and Google Hangouts now offer breakouts.)
"We give each team clear instructions for the work they are to do, in writing, and then usually give them a small amount of time to do it, like 20 to 40 minutes," he says. "A compressed time frame forces the group to organize quickly; get to work; and focus on progress, not process or perfection. I've been amazed over the years that sometimes when clear instructions, a small team, and a tight time frame are combined like that, you get work done in a half hour that might have taken days, weeks, or months if done 'the usual way.'"
These are just a few of the mistakes people regularly make. There are plenty more. The good news is most of these are easy enough to correct once you realize you're making them.
"When done correctly, online meetings are an incredibly powerful method of enabling collaborative work," Tiersky says. "It's worth investing a bit of time and effort in learning how to maximize them. Frankly, they have the potential to move the needle for your business, and right now, this is more important than it's ever been."