Tag Archives: Project Teams

Happiness and Motivation

HappinessWe touched on the ‘power of happiness’ a couple of years ago in an article looking at the dramatic improvement in the performance of the Australian cricket team caused by the change from a coach focused on ‘driving individual performance’ to one focused on ‘creating a performing team’, that improvement in performance continues to the present time (see The Power of Happiness). This post takes a wider look at the way happiness (and unhappiness) affect both the people working in an organisation and the organisation itself.

Everyone wants a motivated and productive workforce, there seems to be a direct link between worker satisfaction, motivation and performance – a happy workplace tends to be a productive workplace; and there is definite evidence that unhappy and de-motivated workers are less productive. What is less clear is does motivation generate happiness or are happy people more inclined to be motivated and productive?

Looking at the negatives first, a 2010 survey by the Australian Institute of Management, of more than 3,000 business people revealed that negativity, apathy and disillusionment are present in the executive ranks of many Australian organisations:

  • 40% of respondents surveyed did not feel appreciated by their employer.
  • 20% of participants expressed negative sentiments about working at their current organisation.
  • Almost one in three of those surveyed criticised the workplace culture of their organisation.
  • 34% of respondents admitted they could be putting more effort into their current role.
  • 33% of those we surveyed said they are considering leaving their employer.

Surveys in the USA have shown similar trends with up to one third of the workforce disengaged or actively working against the interests of their employer, and nothing much seems to have changed in the period since the surveys.

One of the largest employer’s world-wide is the UK Civil Service headquartered in Whitehall London. The wellbeing of its workforce has been studied over many years, starting in 1967, with the findings published in the ‘Whitehall Studies’ (see: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/WhitehallII). The focus of these studies is the health of the Civil Service workforce, but there are strong links between wellbeing and motivation.

The Whitehall Studies and similar studies in Europe and Australasia show a clear relationship between position in the social hierarchy and mortality. This social gradient is present for most of the major causes of death, and has dispelled two myths. The first is that people in high status jobs have higher risks of heart disease. The second is that the gradient of health in industrialised societies is simply a matter of poor health for the disadvantaged and good health for everyone else. This aspect of heath outcomes is important, but outside of the control of any manager.

Whilst most managers within organisations cannot do much about the external factors affecting health and wellbeing (although good employers do a lot in this area) they can have a major influence on the work environment which is the other major factor in the overall wellbeing of all employees. The studies conclusively demonstrate that a motivated, happy, workplace is more productive and has better health outcomes than an unhappy one.

Within this aspect of wellbeing, the key finding from the Whitehall studies is that stress at work is the number one cause of lost time, but understanding ‘stress’ so it can be managed is not straightforward. Conventional wisdom has it that a stressful job is one characterised by a high degree of pressure and responsibility. New research, to which Whitehall II contributed, shows that negative stress at work tends to result from an imbalance between the psychological demands of work on the one hand and the person’s degree of control over the work on the other. The combination of high demand and low control generates stress leading to measurable increases in illness; with low control being especially important. ‘Figure 2’ below taken from Whitehall II clearly shows people in jobs characterised by low control have higher rates of sickness.

Whitehall-2

High demand on its own appears to be far less damaging – for many people a ‘stretch assignment’ or new challenge may be demanding but the ‘positive stress’ associated with tacking the challenge by using skills, including opportunity for developing skills, if managed correctly is a stimulus to enhanced performance.

The other antidote to negative stress is the team environment. Working with supportive colleagues and managers improves health and reduces sickness as shown in ‘Figure 3’ below:

Whitehall-3

Another controllable factor is the balance between effort and reward. High effort in the work place is a desirable quality. The Whitehall findings demonstrate that high effort must be matched by appropriate rewards. The way work is organised and the climate of feedback in the workplace all potentially affect each of the three crucial aspects of rewards; self-esteem, status and income (I will discuss rewards in the next post).

 

Creating a happy, committed, high performance team.

The Whitehall II study focused on illness and the negatives in a workplace, the place I want to finish the post is on the positives of creating a happy and productive workplace.

As a starting point, almost all of the negative influences on health defined in the Whitehall reports are juxtaposed to well established motivational theories – provide people with the right motivation and you eliminate most of the problems defined above.  The evolution of these theories has been outlined in our post The Evolution of Motivation and the various xxx are defined in our White Paper WP1048 – Motivation.

The key is designing the work so that everyone in the team experiences:

  1. Job satisfaction
  2. Good relationship with co-workers
  3. Good relationship with their manager
  4. New and interesting challenges
  5. Feeling valued by the organisation.

Once these elements are in place, the key challenge is allowing people to enjoy working. In this respect setting hard targets can be counterproductive!  A target is a predetermined level of performance that people are expected to achieve, the problem is if people have the know-how to achieve the target, there is little motivation to surpass the target. But if they do not have the know-how to achieve the target, they are left with two options: distort or game the system.  Goals may cause systematic problems in organisations due leading to unethical behaviour, increased risk taking, decreased cooperation, and decreased intrinsic motivation. As the ongoing banking crisis has demonstrated, aggressive goal setting within an organization will foster an organisational climate ripe for unethical behaviour (see more on this in: The normalisation of deviant behaviours).

Shift from ‘management setting targets’ to a process of challenging everyone to help move the organisation from where it is now to where it needs to be and you encourage the achievement of the best possible outcome.

–  Challenge people and teams to improve the way work is done by redesigning their work methods.
–  Challenge them to develop systems that provide clear business value.
–  Challenge them to devise an architecture that will meet future growth projections.
–  Challenge them to create new products that will be successful in the marketplace.

Challenges empower people; they provide the opportunity for autonomy and mastery in pursuit of a clear purpose (all strong intrinsic motivators).  Then all that is needed is for leaders to respect and acknowledge the individuals in their team, provide support and protection to the team, and importantly to celebrate the successes of the team (see The Power of Happiness). But remember, leadership is not a position description – see more on the attributes of a leader.

happiness-3

The challenge for a leader is to create the environment for happiness to flourish, a supportive and successful team. After that it is largely up to each individual to decide to enjoy the opportunity to ‘be happy’!  To an extent the multitude of self-help advice on the subject is correct, each person decides if they wish to be happy of miserable. The good new is happiness tends to be contagious, in the right environment it only takes one or two happy souls to start the ball rolling and over a relatively short period of time most people will ‘learn to be happy’.  For the few who insist on spreading negativity and unhappiness, remember another trait of high performance leaders is “getting the right people on the bus, [and the] the wrong people off the bus “ (Jim Collins – Good to Great).

 

In summary – a well led, motivated team will be a happy team and happy teams are productive teams.  They are great to lead and great to be part of!   The alternative is the type of problems identified in the Whitehall studies.  The challenge is creating the culture change needed to allow people to enjoy working on your team – it may not be easy, but it is worth the effort.

Lessons from manufacturing

In much of the developed world, and particularly Australia, small to medium sized manufacturing businesses are in decline.  However, the manufacturing landscape is not all ‘doom and gloom’ there are always a few organisations that are developing and performing well above the trend. This blog will suggest the ‘high performance work practices’ used in many of these high performance manufacturing businesses are directly transferrable to project teams.

Research has shown a correlation between High Performance Work Practices (HPWPs) and ways high performing manufacturing SMEs tend to operate.  HPWPs are a set of management tools and practices that help get the best out of an organisation and its employees, creating business success. The practices are divided into three broad areas, developing and encouraging:

  • Knowledge, skills and abilities;
  • Motivation and effort; and
  • Opportunities to contribute.

HPWPs manifest in five interlinked organisational outcomes:

  1. Self-managed work teams.
  2. Employee involvement, participation and empowerment.
  3. Total quality management.
  4. Integrated production technologies.
  5. The learning organisation.

Whilst some of the specific tools are unlikely to be directly translatable to many project teams, the key practices are.  High performance organisations are focused on motivating their team members (employees), building their knowledge and giving them opportunities to contribute to the success of the organisation.  If your team is happy, safe and efficient, you maximise the opportunity for success (see more on team motivation).

HPWPs are not ‘rocket science’; most of the individual concepts are well established in management theory, what’s new is a clear demonstration of the advantages gained by integrating the elements in a coordinated and planned way to drive high performance. (See more on HPWPs).

Achieving this is partially governance, partially organisational management, ensuring the team has the tools and skills to succeed, and that the work environment allows then to work efficiently.  The rest is attitudinal, ensuring the team are happy and feel valued, and employing team members that have a positive, collaborative and supportive attitude; leadership is the key, but so is ensuring you have ‘the right people on the bus’ (see more on leadership). It is much easier to teach a person new skills than it is to change their attitude.

Achieving a ‘high performance’ culture is a journey that needs planning; successful manufactures built their HPWP structure incrementally starting small and adding to the practices over time, ensuring all of the elements work together; a similar approach should work for project teams.

The trigger for this post was a recent survey by the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Workplace Leadership that has clearly demonstrated the value of HPWPs in SME manufacturing sector (see: http://www.workplaceleadership.com.au/projects/high-performance-manufacturing-workplaces-study/ ), and as the title suggests, we believe translating these concepts into practical project team management should drive similar successes.

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.

Key roles within Project, Program and Portfolio Management

Project, Program and Portfolio management is frequently seen as a seamless part of a business. However, distinctly different skill sets, personal attributes and capabilities are needed in the different roles. This post suggests a framework that can be used to understand the differences.

Role 1 – Technical

Most people start on a project management career as a team member focused on technical work. Aspects of the role include:

  • Developing the skills to do the work
  • Solving technical problems
  • Supporting and engaging with fellow team members
  • Planning the work to be accomplished in the next day or two

The team leader is a skilled and experienced technician with additional responsibilities to ensure the others in the team can be successful. The team leader’s additional roles include:

  • Leading the team, leads by doing
  • Skills transfer to new team members
  • Resolving technical problems that are beyond individual team member’s skill sets
  • Planning the work for the team for the next week or two
  • Clearing road blocks and keeping project management informed.

Role 2 – Project Management

The step from team leader to project manager role is a career change. The project manager manages technicians by providing appropriate direction and leadership. Whilst technical understanding is important, the PM does not need to be a technician. For example, in many countries it is illegal for a construction project manager to install electrical wiring; this is a job for qualified electricians. Success for the PM lays in planning and managing the overall project he or she is responsible for and negotiating it through to a successful conclusion. Aspects of the role include:

  • Designing the project to efficiently deliver stakeholder requirements within acceptable time, cost, quality and risk parameters
  • Providing clear achievable and effective direction, leadership and motivation to the project teams through the team leaders
  • Helping team leaders develop their skills and their team members skills
  • Resolving stakeholder issues and problems across the spectrum of the project, usually through negotiation and communication
  • Planning the project work through to completion and then transitioning the plan into action
  • Acting as a buffer to protect the project team from undesirable external influence

Role 3 – Program Management / Project Director

Moving up the career ladder, the next career change is to the role of program manager or project director. The difference between these roles is the program manager will typically manage a range of projects across functions to achieve an organisational objective aligned with the organisations strategy. Whereas the Project Director has responsibility for the performance of project managers within a functional area; eg, the IT Department.

These are junior executive roles focused on achieving organisational objectives and creating value through the work of other managers. These managers, manage project managers. Success for a program manager is delivering organisational change and benefits. Aspects of the role include:

  • Defining strategies to achieve the organisation’s objectives
  • Initiating projects to deliver the required outputs
  • Providing clear achievable and effective direction, leadership and motivation to the project managers
  • Helping project managers develop their skills
  • Negotiating stakeholder issues and resolving problems at the organisational level
  • Planning the organisation’s work through to the achievement of the objective (minimum 1 to 2 years)
  • Helping other organisation executives appreciate the value of the program and ensuring the work is aligned with the evolving organisational objectives

Role 4 – Organisational Governance

Slightly to one side of the ‘doing’ of projects and programs the organisational governance structures are supported by portfolio management and PMOs. These management roles are focused on providing strategic advice to the executive. The portfolio manager assesses current and planned projects and programs on a routine basis to recommend the optimum mix for future resourcing. The PMO manager should be operating at the strategic level, providing input to the portfolio management process based on the performance of current projects and additionally providing input to the organisations overall governance structure. Whilst the PMO staff are frequently technical, the PMO manager needs to operate effectively at the executive levels of the organisation.

Success in these roles is being a ‘trusted advisor’ to the organisations executives. Aspects of the role include:

  • Defining appropriate governance processes to support the achievement of the organisation’s strategy
  • Selecting projects and programs to deliver the required outcomes
  • Negotiating resource and capacity issues and resolving problems at the organisational level
  • Planning the organisation’s work on an on-going basis (minimum 2 to 5 years)
  • Helping other organisation executives appreciate the value of the project and program portfolio and ensuring the work is aligned with the evolving organisational objectives

Whilst these four very different roles are frequently lumped under the one umbrella of project management, as this post has demonstrated, very different skill sets are required for each and transitioning from one role to another, needs to be treated as a career change.

For more information see: