Tag Archives: Stakeholder Management

Using negative feedback

In January, my blog The art of giving feedback looked at the topic of providing actionable feedback on performance to your team members. The post suggested all feedback should be actionable and most should be positive. However, it is inevitable that some feedback has to be critical in nature and ways to deliver this to achieve the maximum effect were discussed.

What was not discussed in January, the focus of this post, is how we can make use of negative feedback directed to us! Every manager and team leader has a supervisory role that requires them to offer feedback to their ‘team’ (or direct reports), whilst also being part of their manager’s team making them the recipient of feedback from their ‘bosses’ as well as from peers and in more open organisations subordinates. In short we all give feedback and we all receive feedback!

Receiving positive and constructive feedback is a pleasant experience that lifts our spirits and increases motivation and commitment; it’s easy and enjoyable. Making positive use of negative feedback is more challenging, particularly if the feedback is not well constructed, but is also the key to real improvements in your performance. You need to listen then act (see more on Active Listening).

The starting point is to accept that the negative feedback with openness and gratitude, even if you do not agree with it. You must keep in mind this type of feedback is intended to relay information that may be useful to you as long as you hear what is being said. What you then choose to do with the information is your decision, to be made later; but before you can decide on a course of action, you have to have listened to, and understood, the full message. After you have listened to the feedback say, ‘thank you’ and ‘I appreciate you taking the time to bring this to my attention’.

But be careful, unfair and overly negative feedback is used as a tool by bad managers and workplace bullies to demean and control others and requires a more robust approach discussed in Dealing with difficult people. You should not put up with this kind of attack, if you do, it will persist. However, even whilst ‘pushing back’ against this type of attack, there may still be opportunities to learn and grow – it’s sweet revenge on the bully to be able to use their ‘put-downs’ to help you advance your career.

So regardless of the intentions of the person providing the criticisms, the ways to turn negative feedback into a positive learning opportunity include:

1. Own it. Accept the feedback and make any necessary changes. Do this by turning the feedback into a list of actionable items and write down a SMARTER solution (see more on SMARTER) for each piece of negative feedback. Then work your plan.

2. Assume good intentions. Don’t automatically jump to the conclusion that the person providing negative feedback is ‘out to get you’, and remember that they are (or should be) criticising your work, not you as a person. Once you’re able to do this, it is much easier to make positive changes.

3. Clarify expectations and goals. Use the negative feedback as a chance to clarify your manager’s expectations and as an aid to understanding your role.

4. Build rapport. Use the negative feedback loop as an opportunity to bond with your manager. Their job is to help you develop, whilst yours is to bring results. Schedule regular meetings to discuss your progress and goals; get to know your manager and understand what he or she values most in an employee. This is your chance to show that you’re open to change and capable of growth, and is a great opportunity to show that you are mature, cooperative, and able to make necessary changes.

5. Get a mentor. Use this as an opportunity to find a mentor or strengthen your relationships with co-workers. If you’re in a situation where you need help or support—this is a great time to build those relationships.

6. Use reflective learning. This as a good time for some serious self-reflection. Use the opportunity to think about all the ways in which you can improve your behaviour and attitude.

7. Appreciate the attention. Remember that all constructive feedback (even negative feedback) is a sign of interest and a sign that people want to help you do better.

None of these ideas are particularly difficult to implement once you make the initial transition from seeing negative feedback as an ‘attack on you’ and reframe the criticism as an opportunity to learn and improve your performance. Achieving this needs ‘persilience’ but is well worth the effort (even with bad managers) – the alternative is to become negative and defensive which can only lead to dissatisfaction and eventually leaving or losing your job.

Poor Governance creates complexity

All projects and programs have four dimensions that in aggregate determine how difficult they will be to manage. The four basic dimensions are:

  • Its inherent size usually measured in terms of value;
  • The degree of technical difficulty in creating the output (complication);
  • The degree of uncertainty involved in the project; and
  • The complexity of the relationships (‘small p’ politics) both within the project team and surrounding the project.

These aspects are discussed in our White Paper: Project Size and Categorisation

Of the four, size and technical difficulty are innate characteristics of the project and are not affected by governance, they simply need to be properly understood and managed.

Uncertainty always exists to a degree and can affect what techniques and what processes should be used for the best effect (what to do) and how to achieve the objective (how to do it). The biggest challenge with uncertainty is making sure all of the key stakeholders are ‘on the same page’ and understand what the currently level of uncertain is, and how the project team are planning to resolve the uncertainties. In combination, these uncertainties create four basic project typologies requiring different management approaches (also discussed in WP 1072). Most residual uncertainties can be managed through risk management processes.

Uncertainty is not the same as ambiguity – at the start of the construction process for the London Olympics there was a very high level of uncertainty concerning the extent and types of contamination affecting the ground and waterways, the best techniques for removing the contaminates, and the total cost and time that would be required to complete the work. However, there was absolutely no ambiguity about the requirement to fully decontaminate and remediate the site and the waterways. As the work progressed, the uncertainties reduced, the extent of the problem was defined, the site was fully remediated and the requirement was achieved.

AmbiguityComplexity is similar to uncertainty; there is always a degree of complexity associated with the many and various stakeholder relationships in and around the project. Internal ‘politics’ can be managed, controlled and used in a positive way provided the organisations governance and internal management disciplines are effective. External stakeholder relationships are more difficult to control and tie into the organisation’s overall corporate social responsibilities (CSR) and public relations (PR) activities.

But this is not the way many practitioners are experiencing complexity. The Project Management Institute (PMI) has recently published its latest Pulse of the Profession® In-Depth Report: Navigating Complexity

The worrying finding is that among the organisations surveyed whose portfolios were filled with what they defined as ‘highly complex projects’, 64 percent cited ambiguity as a defining characteristic of complexity in their projects while 57 percent cited the issue of managing multiple stakeholders. I would suggest neither of these characteristics is a true measure of complexity; but that allowing either to exist to the detriment of a project is a clear indication of weak or non-existent governance.

Ambiguity generally means the people working on the project do not know what they are supposed to achieve or there are different interpretations of what is to be achieved. Given unresolved ambiguity is a guaranteed way to ensure project failure, the open governance question is why are so many organisation allowing their managers to waste money working on a ‘project’ when there is no clearly defined objective? Good governance would require the waste to be stopped until the objective of the project is defined and the associated uncertainties understood. This does not require masses of detail, but does require clarity of vision.

When JFK stated in 1961 that “the United States should set as a goal the landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth by the end of the decade”; no one knew how to achieve this in any detail but there was absolutely no ambiguity associated with what had to be accomplished and when it had to be achieved. What Kennedy did was not ‘rocket science’ (that came later); what he did was to create an unambiguous objective against which all future management decisions could be judged and empower everyone to keep asking “is this decision supporting the achievement of the objective (or not)?” Being a ‘good governor’ Kennedy had sought and received assurances that the goal was achievable before issuing the challenge, but he did not try to tell his engineers and scientists how to do their work. And as the saying goes, ‘the rest is history’.

The second area of complexity, identified in the PMI report, involving diverse politics and views will in part be resolved by creating a clear vision. However, the frequently occurring ‘turf wars’ between executives are very much a symptom of poor governance and control. A well governed and disciplined management team should vigorously debate concepts at the initiation stage, but once an investment decision has been made, recognise that working against the success of the initiative is counterproductive and damages the organisation. A key aspect of governance is creating a management culture that supports the organisation in the achievement of its objectives, turf wars and destructive politics are a symptom of weak executive management and poor governance.

Within the PMI findings, the one area where genuine complexity exists is where a project (or program) has multiple external stakeholders with divergent views and expectations that are frequently ‘unreasonable’ from the project’s perspective. A typical example is the motorists who will appreciate the reduced congestion and travel times after a freeway is widened but complain about the delays caused by the road works and the environmentalists who are opposed to the whole project ‘on principle’, knowing the money would be better spent on ‘clean’ public transport upgrades. Thousands of stakeholders, hundreds of different positions, wants and needs and everyone ringing their local papers and politicians…… this is real complexity.

In these situations there are no easy options, the only way to minimise the damage is carefully planned and implemented stakeholder engagement strategies that combine traditional communication options with more sophisticated corporate social responsibility (CR) and public relations (PR) initiatives. This is hard work and never 100% successful but essential to minimising the effect of complexity and to contribute to achieving a successful project outcome. The Stakeholder Circle® has been designed to provide the data management and analysis needed for this type of heavy duty stakeholder engagement.

What price should you pay for perfection?

What price should you pay for perfection or alternatively how do you mange genius?

3D Scan of the building by the Scottish Ten Project

3D Scan of the building by the Scottish Ten Project

The Sydney Opera House is now over 40 years old, is the youngest cultural site to ever have been included in the World Heritage List, is the busiest performing arts centre in the world, supports more then 12,000 jobs and contributes more then $1 billion to the Australian economy each year. The fact is cost nearly 15 times the original under estimate with a final bill of $102 million pales into significance compared to the benefits it generates.

Over the years, we have written about the project and its value on numerous occasions some of the key discussions are:

What I want to focus attention on this time is the genius of Jørn Utzon and the inability of the NSW Government bureaucrats and politicians of the time to understand and appreciate the value of the work he did 50 years ago.

Utzon focused on developing partnerships with ‘best of kind’ manufacturers to prototype and test components then incorporating the best possible design into the fabric of the building. The process appeared relatively expensive in the short term (especially to bureaucrats used to contracting work to the lowest cost tenderer), but 50 years later the value of careful design and high quality craftsmanship is becoming more and more apparent.

Much of the structure was carefully designed precast concrete units, they were used extensively in the shell roofs, podium walls, sunhoods and external board walks. 50 years later the near perfect condition of the concrete despite its continuous exposure to a very hostile saline environment shows the genius of a person focused on creating a lasting landmark rather than seeking the cheapest short-term solution.

Similar longevity can be seen in the tiles that clad the shell roof, the glazed walls and most of the other work designed by Utzon (for more on this see the recently rediscovered, iconic 1968 film Autopsy On a Dream).

Contrast this clarity of vision leading to a high quality, long lasting, low overall cost outcome to the high costs of maintaining and/or replacing the elements of the building designed and installed by others after Utzon was forced to resign. The internal concert and opera halls are planned to be rebuilt at a mooted cost of between $700 million and $1 billion; and changes to Utzon’s design for the precast ‘skirts’ around the podium have resulted in $ millions more in repair costs.

The Sydney Opera House and the National Broadband Network have a lot in common. Both were inspirational schemes intended to cause a major change in culture and move society forward. Both were the subject of opportunistic political attack. Neither was well marketed to the wider stakeholder community at the time, very few understood the potential of what was being created (particularly the conservative opposition), and after a change of government both had the fundamental vision compromised to ‘save costs’ and as a result the Opera House lost much of its integrity as a performance venue with poor acoustics and an ineffective use of space.

Hopefully over the next 10 years $1 billion may solve most of the problems caused by the short sighted ‘cost savings’ in the finishing of the Opera House so it can at last achieve its full potential. The tragedy is repairing the damage done by the short term cost savings and compromises in design to appease vested interests are likely to cost 30 to 40 times the amount saved.

I’m wondering how much future telecommunication users will have to pay to drag the sub-standard NBN (National Broadband Network) we are now getting back to the levels intended in the original concept. The cost savings are focused on doing just enough to meet the needs of the 20th century such as telephony and quick movie downloads – simple things that politicians can understand. Unfortunately the damage this backward looking simplistic view will do to the opportunities to develop totally new businesses and ways of working that could have been facilitated by the original NBN concept of universal fibre to the premises will not be able to be measured for 20 to 30 years. Envisioning what might be requires a different mind set and a spark of genius.

In both the situations discussed in the blog, and when looking at the next bold concept proposed by a different ‘visionary’ the challenge will still be answering the opening question. How can businesses, bureaucracies and politicians learn to manage genius and properly assess a visionary multi-generational project to achieve the best overall outcome? There’s no easy answer to this question.

Meeting Management

meetings#1One of our more downloaded White Papers is WP1075 Managing Meetings.  If your job involves arranging meetings then you need to get both your strategy and your tactics right to create a short, effective, useful and enjoyable experience for everyone!

Strategy focuses on the vision and purpose your meeting should:

Be planned to achieve an outcome
To get the most out of your meetings, you need to plan them wisely. Prior to each meeting, write down the specific objectives that you want from the meeting. Then work out how you’re going to achieve them!

Contain a carefully crafted opening and closing
People remember the opening and the closure the most. So open and close your meetings carefully. When you open the meeting, tell them what the purpose of the meeting is, what you want to get out of it and why it’s important. This gets their attention and sets the scene. When you close the meeting, tell them what has been agreed / achieved in the meeting and the next steps going forward.

Be controlled
You need to be in complete control of the meeting at all times, to ensure that:
•  The meeting follows the agenda
•  You never get stuck on a single issue
•  One person doesn’t dominate it
•  Everyone has their say
Start by standing or sitting in a prominent place in the room. Raise your voice a little to add presence. Jump in frequently when people talk too long. Be polite but strong. Control the meeting as a coach would control a football team – by constantly watching, listening and directing the team. If possible, ask someone else to record the minutes. This gives you the time needed to control the meeting so that the agenda and your goals are met.

Be focused, don’t be afraid to ‘park issues and move on’
Issues and disputes can consume the majority of the meeting time. Provided the issue is not related to your specific meeting goals, then tell the team to ‘park it and move on’. Record the issue on a whiteboard or paper and address it with the relevant team members separately after the meeting. This keeps your meetings short and focused.

Be kept ‘action orientated’
Make sure that where possible, every discussion results in an action to be completed and the ‘action item’ should be assigned to a responsible owner for completing.

meetings2

To achieve this strategy, use the following tactics:

  1. Send out a meeting agenda in advance with any anticipated items that you may need specific attendees to address highlighted to that person. This way people can come prepared to provide meaningful contributions.
  2. Start and finish the meeting on time. Your attendance and participation level will be better if people know you have a reputation for getting right to business on time and that your meetings don’t run on forever. Start it on time, be productive and then end it.
  3. Don’t repeat everything for late-comers. If you have to update someone on a key point that has already been discussed in their absence, do so quickly. And if they missed their time to discuss their specific tasks, move them to the end of the line–get back to them after you’ve gone through the rest of the team. If you have a reputation for being on time with your meetings you won’t have too many problems with people arriving or calling in late.
  4. Release everyone as soon as business has been conducted. When the meeting is over, close it out with a brief verbal summary of action items and let everyone know the action list will be circulated within a few minutes. And then end the meeting.
  5. Cancel a meeting if you believe there’s nothing new to discuss. If you’ve set up a meeting but there’s nothing new to discuss or key contributors cannot attend, then cancel it or re-schedule it. On the flip side, be careful not to do this too often. Otherwise people will come to expect your scheduled meetings to not happen and they will either come unprepared or not come at all.
  6. Focus the meeting on the agenda. Try to recognise when the side discussions start to get out of hand and ask those individuals to call a separate meeting to discuss or ‘park it’.
  7. Publish action items within minutes. Action items are delegated to specific people, but he list is sent to everyone (see more on delegation). Follow up with the minutes containing a status summary of what was discussed, decisions that were made, action items that were assigned, when things are due and when the next meeting will be held within a day. Send it out via e-mail and ask attendees to respond if they see anything incorrect or feel that anything should be added. That way you’ve essential documented that everyone is on the same page.

For more detailed advice on managing your meetings download the White Paper WP1075 Managing Meetings. Applied effectively these ideas can free up a massive amount of time!

The art of giving feedback

feedback (1)One of the key supervisory skills needed by every leader is the ability to give feedback to their team on individual performance. The reason is simple, if the team don’t know what you expect from them, you are unlikely to get the performance you need. If someone is doing the ‘right thing’ they need to know it’s ‘right’ and be encouraged to continue. If someone’s not doing what’s required they need to have their efforts redirected.

Feedback is different to motivation – a highly motivated worker producing the ‘wrong thing’ quickly and efficiently has the potential to do more damage than an unmotivated worker producing very little. The ideal is a highly motivated team, all doing the right thing and all knowing they are doing exactly what’s required. Effective feedback is one of the keys to achieving this nirvana.

The starting points are effective delegation, making sure each team member knows what they are expected to achieve and why; and a constructive team environment where people understand the ‘rules’ and are willing to help each other. Delegation is discussed in our White Paper: WP1091 The Art of Delegation. Aspects of team leadership are discussed in a range of posts at http://stakeholdermanagement.wordpress.com/?s=team.

Once your people are busy working, the opportunity to use feedback effectively cuts in. As a starting point all types of feedback need to be genuine. The purpose of giving feedback is to improve the behaviour of the other person and to bring out the best in your team and this won’t happen is the feedback is seen as disingenuous. There are essentially three types of feedback and all three have their place:

  • Positive reinforcement where you acknowledge good work.
  • Constructive feedback where you suggest improvement.
  • Negative feedback where you highlight unacceptable behaviour.

Negative feedback
Negative feedback should be rare, and generally used only where there is some form of unacceptable behaviour. The key with this type of feedback is focusing on the behaviour not the person – you are dealing with an unacceptable behaviour, not an unacceptable person. Geoffrey James suggests these 10 rules for giving negative feedback:

  1. Make negative feedback unusual. The ratio is five or more positive feedbacks to one negative; and this may mean you need to plan to ‘accidently find the person doing something right’.
  2. Don’t stockpile negative feedback. Feedback is best given real time, or immediately after the fact; there is no ‘best time’.
  3. Never use feedback to vent. It creates resentment and passive resistance.
  4. Don’t email negative feedback.
  5. Start with an honest compliment. (Discussed below)
  6. Uncover the root of the problem by asking open questions.
  7. Listen before you speak. (See more on active listening)
  8. Ask questions that drive self-evaluation. (See more on effective questions)
  9. Coach the behaviours you would like to see. (See more on coaching)
  10. Be willing to accept feedback, too.

The vast majority of your feedback should either be constructive feedback where you help someone improve or positive feedback where you reinforce desirable behaviours:

  • Positive feedback includes praise, reinforcement, and congratulatory comments to reinforce and encourage the current behaviour or performance to continue essentially unchanged.
  • Constructive feedback includes suggestions for improvement, explorations of new and better ways to do things, or indicating the ‘correct way’ to do something that was done in a less than optimal way.

Feedback

Positive feedback
This is by far the easiest feedback to give, helps develop moral and commitment and most people appreciate recognition for a ‘job well done’. The challenge is to make sure this type of feedback is distributed evenly and fairly across the team. If someone feels they are being ignored and ‘others are getting all of the praise’ the feedback can be counterproductive.

Constructive feedback
Done well, constructive feedback is even more valuable than positive reinforcement. A recent survey by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman has found that 57% of people preferred corrective feedback; compared to 43% who preferred praise/recognition. But how the feedback is delivered really matters 92% of the respondents agreed with the assertion, “Negative (redirecting) feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance” . The challenge is to make sure your feedback contains information that is useful in a way that can be used.

In this respect, constructive feedback and coaching are very closely aligned. Coaching is discussed in more depth in my post Developing your team.

Giving Constructive / Negative Feedback
As already mentioned in the ‘negative feedback’ section the key to having your suggestion/criticism listened to is to start with an honest complement. One of the easiest is simply to say “Thank you for your hard work on this…” and then provide some feedback or even criticism immediately after. This approach is effective because:

  • It acknowledges the person’s hard work – Right or wrong, chances are good that the person worked hard on whatever it is that you are providing feedback for. It makes the person feel good at the start, because it tells them you noticed.
  • It doesn’t throw everything out of the window – It acknowledges that there is a good base to start from and with just a few tweaks and revisions it will be just fine.
  • It comes from a supportive angle – By verbalizing your position of appreciation and support, feedback will sit much better with someone who feels as if you have their interests in mind.
  • It is non-threatening – The person receiving the feedback immediately understands that you are not gunning for them, that your only motive is to help them and the deliverable to become better.

There are two caveats:

  1. If they didn’t work hard don’t use this opening, a different conversation is needed with a different complement to start the discussion (nice hairdo… / how are you feeling…. / I like your poster….). Honesty and integrity are key components of effective feedback and that starts from the very beginning.
  2. Don’t ever use ‘but’ or ‘however’ after the complement! “Thanks for all of your hard work, BUT…” simply means please ignore everything before the ‘but’. Use a construct similar to: “Thanks for all of your hard work, do you think we could make you job easier / quicker if ……”.
    It may old fashioned English grammar but (ie, ignore the beginning of this sentence), but is an exclusionary word similar to or:  “You can go to the cricket or the tennis” means pick one. And is an inclusive term. “You can go to the cricket and the tennis…” and in this context “Thanks for all of your hard work the outcomes are great and we can get even better…” (similar constructs exist in Spanish, and I suspect most other languages).

Why feedback is hard
One of the other interesting findings in the Zenger Folkman survey was people who don’t like receiving feedback don’t like giving feedback. And those who are open to feedback also find giving feedback easier. As a starting preposition, one of the easiest ways to gather ideas on how to improve your business is to have employees give feedback to managers, both in their own unit and in other units on options for improvement! But it is still not easy.

There are a number of reasons why feedback and certainly criticism are hard to administer and swallow at the same time:

  • People think you are attacking them personally.
  • People think you don’t have the right to offer feedback.
  • People think you think you are better than them.
  • People think everything they do is terrible.

The antidote is a strong team culture, showing you care and making sure you focus on the problem, not the person (unless the feedback is positive).

The ability to give corrective feedback constructively is one of the critical keys to leadership, an essential skill to boost your team’s performance that could set you apart.

Gamification – A new way of working

gamification-user-experienceGamification is discussed in Chapter 7 of my book Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders.  This post takes a closer look at the topic from a more basic level and based on some of the research, and will suggest options for making your next wait at the dentist’s fun!

In my book, Robert Higgins, the author of Ch. 7 – The New Confucian Communication Game: Communicating with the Nintendo® Generation, suggests the way to lead in business is very similar to being a superhero in an on-line game and explains the self-organising networks of communication and status that develop (with plenty of help for non-gamers). But the potential is much wider. Gamification has the potential to revolutionise the way people see work, and how they interact with one another within the workplace.

Gamification is the concept of transferring the positive mechanisms present in games (such as badges, leader boards and other forms of ‘instant feedback’) to mundane work tasks, creating a more dynamic, fun approach to the working environment. Applied effectively, Gamification restructures a typically boring task into something fun, competitive and engaging.

Technology research and advisory company Gartner has identified four principle means of driving employee engagement through the use of gamified techniques:

  • Acceleration of feedback cycles to maintain engagement
  • Use of clear goals and rules of play
  • Allow players to feel empowered to achieve these goals
  • The building up of narratives that engages players to participate and achieve the goals of the activity

When used in a positive way, gamification will encourage people’s psychological desires for competition, drive them to engage and participate in a community structure, and increase workplace morale and productivity; it is a great way to motivate and engage the new generation of knowledge worker and reduce attrition.

The key is to develop a meaningful ‘points score’ associated with the performance of the work and then provide effective (and visible) feedback. Built from Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of need’, three key areas to include are:

  1. Level 1: Recognition. This first level focuses on highlighting success and engaging novices. The key themes drive personal brand recognition.
  2. Level 2: Access. This second level builds demand for association and attracts intermediate users by creating value and scarcity around access to ‘special’ resources, people, and tools for improvement.
  3. Level 3: Impact. This third level appeal to power users and advanced users. At this level, bragging rights and incentives align with impact on the growth of the organisation.

Gamification as a concept within business is still in its infancy, but with the energy surrounding its adoption it seems inevitable that in the long term we will all be exposed to this fast growing phenomenon. The statistics certainly suggest there is a potent demand for gamification. Research by Gartner suggests that by 2014 more than 70 per cent of global organisations will have at least one ‘gamified’ application, and by 2015, the research shows that 50% of Global 2000 organisations that manage innovation processes will have gamified those processes. Although this current wave of enthusiasm may be at the ‘peak-of-inflated-expectations’ and about to descend into the ‘trough-of-disillusionment’ on Gartner’s Hype Cycle.

trough-of-disillusionment

Used effectively, gamification has the potential to improve productivity significantly. Three examples include:

  • Using gaming to revitalise ‘lessons learned’, and promote the creation and sustenance of organisational and project knowledge ‘wikis’ rather than boring databases using competitive knowledge ranking systems to encourage increased contributions and improved team engagement (often seen in enthusiast online forums today).
  • Using challenges and rewards to track performance against the plan (where the on-time performance for the updating of progress information and the accuracy of the data provided is weighted more heavily than the actual achievement of results – the ‘players’ all have equal control over updating their progress accurately, but may not have control over the pace of work).
  • Workflow processes can be visually represented and improved by managers and team members alike, with leader boards in turn highlighting and rewarding the innovative thinkers (see more on process improvement).

The use of feedback mechanisms, such as leader boards, allows the creation of a potent dashboard from which other managers can gauge the health of each project. As well as allowing the day to day monitoring that is essential to ensure on time delivery.

Gamification has the potential to become part of the project managers ‘toolkit’, and when combined with other innovations, to contribute to successful project delivery, but it is not a one size fits all remedy to all project problems and should not be forced upon a workforce without first gauging the level of buy-in amongst individual employees. And, it may just be another business fad, but who could deny that to make work fun is a laudable aspiration? Your next challenge is to make a ‘game’ out of waiting at the dentists…..

Integrity is the key to delivering bad news successfully

Integrity2Integrity is the result of a combination of virtues, including the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, supported by ‘soundness’ and completeness in what you do and say. You have to earn a reputation for integrity based on what you are, and more importantly what you are known for by the people you have to deliver the bad news to.

The reason integrity is so important in the world of project management, including PMOs, Portfolio and Program management is that most of the information and decisions we are involved in are based on a future outcome that cannot be proved at this point in time.

Any accountant can tell you a project actually cost $2million six months to a year after it finished; however, when the project estimator has to tell the Sponsor, his pet project will cost double the $1 million the Sponsor is hoping for there is no way of proving the estimates are correct. If the bad news is to be believed, the estimator has to be believed and the Sponsor’s willingness to believe is in part grounded in his impression of the estimator’s integrity.

Integrity should not be confused with ‘never making a mistake’ or the person’s passion for their work, or their producing evidence or calculations others disagree with – integrity is knowing the information produced by the person is the best they can deliver, is soundly based on sensible parameters and both the supporting information and any contra information is openly available (no secrets, and no overt biasing of the results).

In a perfect world, a person would be respected for their integrity and their opinion or information accepted on that basis, and used as the starting point for discussion, particularly if there is an alternative interpretation. In the ‘real world’ there is an unfortunate tendency to ‘shoot the messenger’ if someone in a powerful position dislikes the information.

Whilst being ‘shot at’ is never fun, watching how you are being attacked can provide very good insights into what the attacker really knows or thinks. Some of the current commentary around the climate change debate is a good example.

A couple of weeks ago the recently appointed Chair of the Australian Government’s Business Advisory Council launched an attack against the CSIRO, the weather bureau and the “myth” of anthropological climate change demonstrated in the IPCC reports. He did NOT offer any scientific evidence to support his assertion that all of the world scientific and meteorological bodies were incorrect, rather attacked their integrity and accountability on the grounds of ‘vested interest’.

Just for the record, the primary body looking at climate change is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on which all of the 194 members of the United Nations have a right to be represented, and this body oversees and appoints the scientific panels which in turn engage with 1000s of other scientists world-wide. The work of the IPCC in turn has been reviewed by the Inter Academy Council, a multinational association of scientific academies, and found to be successful. I would suggest integrity, accountability and openness are clearly demonstrated. But this does not mean the science of climate change cannot be attacked, even if less than 2% of the peer reviewed scientific papers published in the last decade doubt the findings in the other 98% that man made greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change. Climate sceptics are happy to accept the odds of 49:1 against.

The ‘climate sceptics attacks are being mounted in exactly the same way the tobacco industry attacked the emerging body of scientific evidence in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, that smoking caused damage to people’s health. Some of these lines of attack (which generally mean the attack has no real data) are:

#1 Ask for specific proof. This sounds reasonable but is in fact impossible. You cannot prove a scientific theorem! All science can state is the theorem has not been challenged (yet) Gravity seems obvious and was explained by Newton, then Einstein, then Quantum Mechanics in quite different ways.

#2 Ask for an exact number. Our $2million project cannot be ‘proved’ to actually cost $2,000,0123 in 28 months time when it will be finished. All we can reasonably offer is an estimate, the assumptions it’s based on and a possible range of outcomes. Demanding to know ‘exactly’ what it will cost or exactly how long it will take is asking for the impossible and if a ‘number’ is provided, you can guarantee it will be wrong and that wrongness will be used to attack your credibility in the future

#3 Find one point of contradiction or one ‘change of opinion’ anywhere in the overall presentation and use this ‘one error’ to condemn the whole body of work. This is relatively simple if there is lots of complex information compiled from many sources and the people developing the materials are acting with integrity and making their processes open and transparent. Intelligent people when presented with new facts change their mind and adapt their thinking. It is highly counterproductive to ignore new data that may cause a change in the results of a complex calculation but watch the attackers claim the ‘science is wrong’ because opinions have changed by a few years and a few decimal points of a degree based on better modelling and more accurate data. Changing a forecast from 2.7 degrees of warming to 3 degrees, or a time period from 50 years to 30 does not alter the basic fact of global warming and the reality will be different again (but when you know exactly what the temperature rise was it is too late to stop it occurring). This is the classic project problem do you spend money now to alleviate a potential problem or wait until its too late and you know what the issue is for certain…….

#4 Attack the messenger. If you cannot attack the basic data, discredit the messenger. Claim vested interests, lack of morals, or anything that damages the messenger (in the corporate world fire the person or transfer them – we have a really good posting for you in the Aleutian Islands…) After all, the practice has been in vogue since the times of the Ancient Greeks.

Washington Post

Washington Post

#5 Use obvious facts out of context or in isolation. How can the world be ‘warming’ when the USA is freezing? The cold is obvious, the cause is not. The system that keeps the Arctic weather in the Arctic is the Jet Stream; the Jet Stream is powered by the thermal gradient between the tropics and the Arctic, the Arctic is warming faster than the tropics, reducing the gradient and therefore potentially making the Jet Stream less stable. For more on this see: http://science.time.com/2014/01/06/climate-change-driving-cold-weather/ (then apply #1, #2 and #3 above if you want to ignore the theorem). A counterpoint to the USA freeze is Australia’s record hot year in 2013, see: http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/2014/01/08/offthecharts/. However, neither the USA data not the Australian data alone proves anything used out of context or in isolation, what matters is the overall weight of evidence, not selected facts.

The good news is if your attacker is using any of these relatively cheap tactics, you know they have little real evidence to oppose you. If the attacker is of equal or lesser power to you, name their tactics and use the power of your integrity to counter their arguments, it takes time but there is nothing gained by descending to their level (except the loss of your integrity).

If the attacker has more power then you (the normal project / senior manger situation) more subtlety is required, but that requires a book to cover the options – fortunately there is one…. Treat yourself to a copy of Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management  it may not solve all of your problems but it will increase my royalties.

Why organisational change can be difficult

Organisational change seems to be far more difficult in some organisations than others – this blog will suggest the reason and a possible solution! But before looking at these concepts, let’s lay out the basics:

  • The concept of using projects to enable the creation of value is fairly well accepted, the value creation chain starts will innovative ideas and finishes when the benefits are realised and value is created (read more on Benefits and Value):

Fig-1 Value Chain Grey

  • The effect of the ‘chain’ means that when you have got to the end of the project (or program) all that has happened is you’ve spent money, benefits and value come later and need a ‘team effort’ from all levels of management to be maximised (read more on Benefits Management).

Fig-2 Benefits_Management

  • Consequently the key to realising the benefits and maximising value is effective organisational change (read more on organisational change)

Fig-3 Change_Management

  • And the basic concepts of organisational change have been defined by numerous authorities from the perspective of stakeholder attitudes:

Fig-4 The-Change-Curve

And the rate of adoption of the change:

Fig-5 change-normal-curve

  • The concepts are documents in a range of references including:
    –  PMI’s Managing Change in Organisations – a practice guide
    -  APMG International’s Managing Benefits

But none of these well established concepts really explain why some organisations are open to change and others are not; the question this post is focused on.

One insight that helps explain why some organisational cultures are resistant to change and others more open to change is discussed in an interesting paper: Darwin’s invisible hand: Market competition, evolution and the firm (Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization: Dominic D.P. Johnson, Michael E. Price, Mark Van Vugt)

The paper suggest that the Darwinian view that competition among firms reflects the ruthless logic of ‘selection of the fittest’, where the free market is a struggle for survival in which successful firms survive and unsuccessful ones die, is only partially correct.

The application of Darwinian selection to competition among firms (as opposed to among individuals) invokes group selection, which requires altruism and the suppression of individual self-interest to the benefit of the ‘greater good’ of the group and the advancement of the firm.

This effect can be achieved in circumstances where the organisation is lead by a charismatic leader who can inspire the members of the organisation to sacrifice their short-term self interest to the ‘greater good’. Or when the members of the organisation are either inspired by the organisation’s mission (eg, committed workers in many aid organisations) or feel the organisation is threatened and that sacrificing their short-term best interests to help the organisation survive is essential for everyone’s long term good. These types of situation create the same effect as a ‘high performance team’ – individual team members ‘play for the team’ ahead of any selfish interests.

If any or all of these factors are in play, and are appreciated by the individuals that make up the organisation, the ability to implement change is significantly increased (provided the change can be seen to contribute to the mutual good / mutual survival).

However, if the members of the organisation feel the organisation is fundamentally impregnable, there’s no threat (or common enemy) and no inspiring mission, a completely different dynamic come into play. The competition and Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ plays out at the individual level. What matters most is how the proposed change will influence existing power structures and networks. To most people the change is likely to be perceived as a threat; they know what the status quo is but can only imagine the future state after the change and will generally imagine the worst case due to our innate biases. And consequently the change has to be resisted – the normal ‘change management challenge’.

These ideas seem to make sense of our general observations:

  • Change seems easier in small or medium sized organisations because the members of the organisation see their self-interest is closely aligned to the success of the organisation
  • Some inspirational organisations seem to adapt to change easily, 3M and Apple spring to mind, a combination of inspirational leadership and a strongly believed mission to create new things.
  • However, in many established large organisations in both the public and private domains, the link between the individuals well-being and the organisations well-being is less clear and entrenched self-interest takes over. The well known ‘office politics’.

So how can a change agent overcome the entrenched inertia and covert opposition experienced in the change resistant organisation? Short of generating a massive crisis (eg, the General Motors reorganisation) most change initiative will fail if they are not carefully managed over a sustained period.

One idea that can be used in these circumstances is Paul Finnerty’s Big Jelly Theory

The Big Jelly Theory, postulates that large or very large organisations are extremely difficult to change, but it is not impossible to do so. The problems change agents often encounter are caused by the approach chosen to effect the required organisational changes.

Paul’s theory is that if you throw yourself and your team members 100% mentally and physically at the organisation in an attempt to force it to change at best the organisation will giver a little shiver, momentarily, like a giant jelly, and then immediately return to it’s pre-existing shape and carry on with business as usual as though nothing has happened.

Fig-6 Big jelly theory

The theory postulates that the only effective way, to change or realign an organisation, is to metaphorically issue each of the change team members with spoons. The team members then use these spoons, to sculpt away at the big jelly, and in doing so changing the organisations shape, to whatever has strategically been deemed as more desirable, for the future.

In other words whilst effort and enthusiasm are important, in making or reshaping organisational changes they are very often ineffective when used alone. Whereas the spoon approach, whilst often time consuming, yields discernible result almost from the start.

This is in effect the Kaizen Way – great change is made through small steps. Rooted in the two thousand-year-old wisdom of the Tao Te Ching, Kaizen is the art of making great and lasting change through small, steady increments. Dr. Robert Maurer, a psychologist on the staff at the UCLA recommends:
1.  Ask small questions.
2.  Think small thoughts
3.  Take small actions.
4.  Solve small problems
5.  Bestow small rewards.
6.  Identify small moments of success.

Provided you have the overarching ‘grand vision’ to coordinate and align the small changes, the results can be amazing!!!! It just needs time, perseverance and really effective long-term stakeholder management which is where tools like the Stakeholder Circle® come into play.

Setting expectations

In a recent PMI ‘Voices’ post, Communicating Change  I briefly touched on the way expectations affect experience.  A wonderful New Year’s Eve party in one of our preferred training venues (the Bayview Eden Hotel) really brought this home!

When we turn up at the hotel for our next PMP and CAPM courses starting on the 20th January,  our previous experience and expectations of a friendly and efficient business environment with comfortable training rooms and great catering are likely to be fulfilled as normal.

However, take a peaceful PMP training room, add some bling, invite a group of old rockers from the 60s and 70s to listen to Brian Cadd an Australian songwriter-legend from that time (I know that’s before many of you were born) and watch one of the best NYE parties develop. Our expectations were dramatically reframed as we walked into the room!

Setting expectations

Fast forward 20 days and I’m sure we will be back to the calm, professional, well lit environment we are used to.

There are valuable business lessons to be learned from the way hotels quickly reconfigure the atmosphere within their public rooms. The artefacts you have on display, ambient lighting and temperature, the venue itself and the way you dress and behave starting with the invitation to a meeting all contribute to the perceptions of the person you are communicating with and their perceptions will influence the way any discussion or negotiation starts. Once started, it is very difficult to reframe the process if it is ‘on the wrong track’.

So next time you are preparing for an important communication decide if you want the ambiance to be friendly, casual, professional, intimidating or something else and then think through the list above to decide how you will present to the person.

You cannot change the basics any more than a hotel can change its physical building, but you can change the way it is perceived and the ambiance you create and use that as the foundation for an effective communication.

Wishing you all a happy and prosperous 2014 – our year certainly started with a bang.

Papa Elf, the man behind the man, on stakeholder management

The-PenguinDoes Santa use the SRMM® maturity model to enhance his organisations stakeholder management practices?

This interview published in the ‘the penguin’ would suggest Papa Elf, the man behind the man, is at least acquainted with the Stakeholder® Circle methodology and his grotto organisation has achieved a high level of ‘Stakeholder Relationship Maturity’ – we will know for sure in a few days time……

To read the full interview with Papa Elf see: http://projectpenguindotorg.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/papa-elf-on-stakeholder-management/