What I Learned From Dick Costolo’s Opening Keynote at the PMO Symposium® 2018
By Quynh Woodward
The performance expectation for a keynote speaker is always high. Keynote speakers set the underlying tone and convey important messages for events. In November 2018, Dick Costolo delivered a spectacular opening at the PMO Symposium held in Washington, D.C., USA.
Dick Costolo was most recently the chief executive officer of Twitter, serving from October 2010 to June 2015, where he took the company from US$0 to US$1.5 billion in annual revenue. According to Mr. Costolo, there are many paths to success, but to enhance your chances, focus on the speed of execution and leadership.
Here is a breakdown of his tips for strengthening the “speed of execution” muscle of your PMO:
On a regular basis at your team meetings, ask the following question: “What is it taking us too long to learn and how can we learn that faster?” This question enables teams to reflect on solutions. The “Why is it taking us too long to learn?” question often surfaces commonly held dogmas or practices that are not always useful or true.
As an organization grows, increasingly the default answer to every question is “no.” The bias to yes means that there are many paths to get to “yes” within the organization to avoid hindering creativity. As long as the activities are legal, encourage employees to innovate and try new things. Avoid the most nefarious version of “no,” which is “you have to go ask these other 12 people for permission.” Your team will spend their time asking for permission rather than taking critical action.
The job of leaders is not to prevent mistakes, but to correct mistakes quickly. Protecting the or the desire for everything to run smoothly is a false goal—it leads to measuring people by the mistakes they make rather than by their ability to solve problems.
Rules are set up to simplify life for managers, but they can hinder business results. Instead, replace the critical rules with principles and guidelines, and enable your team to work using their good judgment.
Costolo’s Tried-and-True Leadership Principles
The principles below are based on what Mr. Costolo learned from Bill Campbell, who was the executive coach to Larry Page, Eric Schmidt and Jeff Bezos, as well as Dick Costolo.
Bill Campbell believed that management excellence is about helping people to flourish in their environment, not telling people what to do. Your title makes you a manager. Your team decides if you are a leader.
Principle 1 – Communicate context for decisions rather than authority.
One of the hardest things for leaders is the communication architecture, especially when you are scaling teams. The way to build trust with your team is to listen, be forthright and communicate context for decisions rather than authority. Explain the why and not just the what.
Principle 2 – Push decisions down the stack.
Ask yourself: “What’s the highest-leverage thing I could be doing right now?” When in doubt, force yourself to delegate. Set a weekly goal of the percentage of meetings you will stop attending and start delegating. Make sure action items are delegated to your team appropriately. Give people ownership by providing authority and accountability. As a leader, it is not your job to make every decision. It’s to ensure that decisions get made and to resolve issues when your team cannot reach consensus. If you make all the decisions, then you may become the conduit for organizational politics.
Principle 3 - Eliminate politics.
Avoid being the sole decision maker. A common challenge for new leaders is that they feel obligated to make all decisions. What you may get are pre-meetings before the actual meeting. These pre-meetings are set up to lobby and influence your decision. To eliminate these pre-meetings and politics, you need to encourage debate openly in the meeting room. It’s okay for people to be contentious about a decision. It shows their passion. While social cohesion feels good, getting to the right answer/solution is better. The goal of a manager is not to get to social cohesion, but to get to the right solution. Don’t punish people for debating with you. However, once the debate is done and the decision made, follow Jeff’s Bezos’ advice: “Disagree and commit.” When people cannot agree, don’t get discouraged because contrarians on the team can have great ideas. Send people who do not agree with one another to work together and develop a proposed joint solution.
Principle 4 – Understand the culture.
Ask your teams: “Tell me something that’s not working well.” Get different perspectives. Take notes and don’t agree or disagree with the person on the spot. Reflect to get an overview of the political culture, and learn about what people believe. Take your insights back to your leadership team and act purposely to eliminate political culture.
Mr. Costolo closed out the keynote session with a few of Jeff Bezos’ words of advice:
In one short hour, Mr. Costolo used analogies and simple stories to convey these viewpoints.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on Dick Costolo's keynote.
By Quynh Woodward
Across industries and organizations, there is a greater awareness of the PMO, its different structures and capabilities, and the diverse ways that the PMO can contribute to the success of the organization. High-performing PMOs are setting trends and influencing how their teams deliver value to the organizations that they support.
As a PMO leader, you have your own list of top PMO priorities and are advancing these objectives for 2019. Based on various discussions, surveys and topics discussed at the PMO Symposium this past November, below are three top priorities that we are hearing from PMO leaders across the globe.
1. Continuously Evolve and Improve Your PMO.
The PMO can’t stand still while the pace of innovation and the speed of obsolescence are driving dynamic changes and disrupting the business landscape. According to the 2018 PMI® Thought Leadership Series, – Forging the Future: Evolving With Disruptive Technologies, nearly 80% of organizations have undergone a significant transformation over the past year. These transformation pursuits are requiring a conscious effort to evolve and improve the PMO continuously. At the PMO Symposium® 2018, we heard speakers talk about collecting data about what is working, what is not and what can be improved. Some PMOs are sending regular surveys to their sponsors, stakeholders and customers to inform their need to adapt and foster a culture of continuous improvement. As a PMO leader, have you reexamined your PMO’s operating model, processes and capabilities lately to ensure alignment with the strategy and current needs of your organization? Some PMOs are reconfiguring and rebranding themselves to convey their value and offerings more effectively. And some are changing approaches and plans to enhance the speed of project delivery while others are shifting roles to be closer to the customers to help promote relationship building and a greater understanding of customer expectations and needs.
2. Ensure a Robust Change Management Program.
While change management has always been a critical focus of the PMO, it has taken on a renewed importance at the enterprise level as organizations focus on significant transformation efforts. Well-defined change management strategies are needed to enhance stakeholder engagement and build support for the organization’s strategic goals and objectives. The PMO is perfectly positioned to take the lead role in this effort. Does your PMO have sufficient resources allocated for change management activities? Is the change management effort appropriately reflected in your project portfolio? Is there clear accountability and ownership for these change management activities? How do you ensure and sustain adoption of your organizational changes?
3. Build a Culture of Continuous Learning.
Rising uncertainty will be the norm in the future of project work. For many PMOs, there is no longer an emphasis on eliminating uncertainty, but rather to adapt more effectively. This shift implies the need to bring their teams up to speed on the latest technologies, skills and techniques. To prepare for the future and for delivering strategic changes for their organization, PMOs are looking for ways to foster a culture of continuous learning. It is not just about having a structured educational format, but also informal knowledge sharing between team members. What formal, informal and self-directed learning opportunities are available to your teams? Are you encouraging your project teams to share lessons learned and insights on a regular cadence? Are you engaging senior-level leaders to make their experiences known, either informally or through internal organizational channels? In a culture of continuous learning, teams are continually developing in knowledge and enhancing performance.
While each PMO is unique and has its own vision and mission, what are your top PMO priorities for 2019? Please share your thoughts and perspectives.