Tag Archives: Stakeholder Management

Dealing with bad news

The current faux furore around the Australian Governments response to the Human Rights Commission offers a textbook study on dealing with bad news.

I am assuming none of the protagonists believe child abuse is acceptable and everyone is ultimately interested in minimising harm to vulnerable children. However, the political grandstanding may well be restricting the opportunity to achieve the generally desired harm minimisation.

Given the fact that the report from the Human Rights Commission was delivered to the Government in November last year, and they have had two to three months to carefully consider their response my other assumption is none of the reactions are ‘accidental’, rather the attacks on the commission are a deliberate (but I would suggest flawed) strategy.

So what are the lessons for project managers and business people that can be derived from the activity to date?

#1 – You need to be strong to deliver bad news effectively. The unprecedented personal attacks on the President of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, is unusual at this level of society, but all too common within business and other situations. Generally, only bullies and people who know they have no substantive counter arguments resort to this type of tactic and try to ‘shoot the messenger’ to avoid dealing with the substantive issues.

Bad-news1If you are the messenger, it helps to try to determine the nature of the person you are delivering the ‘bad news’ to, and prepare accordingly. If you are dealing with a bully, try to ensure you have support from others in a position of power. If you are dealing with a response based on no substantive counter-argument be prepared to ‘weather the storm’ and let the facts do the talking. Watching Gillian Triggs responses in the Senate Enquiry yesterday to thoroughly unprofessional attacks from Liberal Party Senators who had not even bothered to read the report they were attacking her about (despite having access to it for 12 weeks) was a classic example of weathering the storm and not being dragged down to the other sides level of ignorance.

Bullies don’t like being wrong, it pays to have a fallback position. The Abbott Government took exactly the same line of attack against the Climate Commission and defunded the body, fortunately that group were able to quickly reorganise as a ‘crowd funded’ body and are continuing to provide scientific information to the Australian public as the effects of global warming continue to manifest (for more on this see: Why we support the Climate Council of Australia Ltd). The Human Rights Commission may need to have similar ‘fall back’ positions.

#2 – Dealing with bad news effectively needs subtlety. The attacks on the messenger and the timing of the Human Rights Commission’s report leave the Abbott Government looking like uncaring bullies who have no interests in child welfare. Assuming all of their allegations about political bias are correct, the way they are managing the problem simply makes the leaders of the attack look like uncaring bullies. The simple fact is children are still in detention and are still being abused. Consider the alternative approach that was open to the Government which is also the ‘text book’ approach to dealing with bad news.

1. Acknowledge the report and its contents.
2. Appreciate the work in the report: Regret the report had not been available sooner.
3. Highlight the positives: Note that since the Abbot Government has been in office the number of children in detention has been reduced by more than 80% from the numbers detained by the previous Labour Government.
Note: this tactic does not deal with the two main concerns in the report which is the length of time children are detained and child abuse but it does create a positive ‘atmosphere’.
4. Deal with the negatives: Describe how the Government will work to resolve the remaining cases.

The facts around ‘children in detention’ are complex, but what would be better for the government (and the prospects of Tony Abbott)? The current situation of looking like an ignorant bully who is only interested in political point scoring (not to mention the overtones of misogyny, child abuse and the inability to accept bad news – just shoot the messengers) or looking like a strong and caring leader focused on doing the right thing despite the poor timing of the Human Rights Commission report? Unfortunately it’s too late for the latter option and the people likely to suffer most as a consequence are the children in detention.

Bad-news2The ABC’s ‘Fact Check’ outlines the rest of the data: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-23/triggs-detention/6083476

The report is available from: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/asylum-seekers-and-refugees/publications/forgotten-children-national-inquiry-children

Summary: The next time you have to deliver or receive bad news remember, the facts are simply facts, you choose how you deal with them and as a consequence how the information will be used and how you will be perceived. Importantly, when the sort of furore we are currently seeing around the Human Rights Commission report breaks out, the one certainty is the ‘report’ will get far more attention for far longer then would otherwise occur – there really is no such thing as ‘bad publicity’.

For more on delivering bad news see: Integrity is the key to delivering bad news successful.

Two new papers on the web

BeaverWe presented papers at the Engineers Australia MCPC14 conference late last year. They are now available on our website.

Understanding Design – The challenge of informed consent looks at the problem of communicating complex project information to stakeholders in a way they can understand.

Scheduling Complexity discusses the challenges of managing time in complex projects and the need for qualified schedulers.

For more of our papers and articles see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PM-Knowledge_Index.html

Extreme Risk Taking is Genetic……

A recent 2014 scientific study, Going to Extremes – The Darwin Awards: sex differences in idiotic behaviour highlights the need for gender diversity.  The class of risk studied in this report is the idiotic risk, one that is defined as senseless risks, where the apparent payoff is negligible or non-existent, and the outcome is often extremely negative and often final. The results suggest that having an ‘all male’ or male dominated decision making group may be a source of risk in itself.

Darwin1Sex differences in risk seeking behaviour, emergency hospital admissions, and mortality are well documented and confirm that males are more at risk than females. Whilst some of these differences may be attributable to cultural and socioeconomic factors (eg, males may be more likely to engage in contact and high risk sports, and are more likely to be employed in higher risk occupations), sex differences in risk seeking behaviour have been reported from an early age, raising questions about the extent to which these behaviours can be attributed purely to social and cultural differences. This study extends on these studies to look at ‘male idiot theory’ (MIT) based on the archives of the ‘Darwin Awards’. Its hypothesis derived from Women are from Venus, men are idiots (Andrews McMeel, 2011) is that many of the differences in risk seeking behaviour may be explained by the observation that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things…… but little is known about sex differences in idiotic risk taking behaviour.

Darwin2The Darwin Awards are named in honour of Charles Darwin, and commemorate those who have improved the human gene pool by removing themselves from it in an idiotic way (note the photographs are both of unsuccessful attempts to win an award).  Whilst usually awarded posthumously, (the idiot normally has to kill themselves) the 2014 The Thing Ring award shows there are other options.  Based on this invaluable record of idiotic human behaviour, the study considered the gender of the award recipients over a 20 year period (1995-2014) and found a marked sex difference in Darwin Award winners: males are significantly more likely to receive the award than females.

Darwin3Of the 413 Darwin Award nominations in the study period, 332 were independently verified and confirmed by the Darwin Awards Committee. Of these, 14 were shared by male and female nominees (usually overly adventurous couples in compromising positions – see: La Petite Mort) leaving 318 valid cases for statistical testing. Of these 318 cases, 282 Darwin Awards were awarded to males and just 36 awards given to females. Meaning 88.7% of the idiots accepted as Darwin Award winners were male!

Gender diversity on decision making bodies may help to reduce this potential risk factor in two ways.  First, by reducing the percentage of people potentially susceptible to MIT. Second, by modifying the social and cultural environment within decision making body, reducing the body’s tendency to take ‘extreme risk decisions’.

One well documented example is the current Federal Government. Given the extremely limited representation of women in the make-up of the current Abbott government, and some of the self-destructive decisions they have made, I’m wondering if there is a correlation. A softer, less aggressive, lower risk approach to implementing many of the policies they have failed to enact may have resulted in a very different outcome for the government.

Are Sponsors over worked and under effective?

Sleepy-Sponsor1The Institute of Project Management (Ireland) has published a  survey is based on self-reported information from their courses based on nine major position descriptions/levels comparing the expected number of hours to be worked based on the terms of employment and the actual number of hours typically worked by the attendees. The averaged data from senior management positions is worrying:

  • Director of PMO; expected: 39.0 Hrs, actual: 60.0 Hrs
  • Portfolio Manager; expected: 37.0 Hrs, actual: 50.0 Hrs
  • Project Manager (Senior); expected: 37.9 Hrs, actual: 50.3 Hrs.

Combine these findings with data from PMI on the hours worked by Sponsors (download the PMI report on‘Executive Sponsor Engagement’ ) with many reporting working weeks of 50 to 60 hours on their ‘day job’ before taking on the additional responsibilities of sponsoring a project or a program; and, that effective sponsors report that typically they are working on three projects at a time, spending an average of 13 hours per week on each, the problem of over extension of key executives becomes obvious.

Combine these findings with the demonstrated correlation between effective sponsorship and achieving project success, the overextension of senior managers has serious consequences:

  • Sponsors have inadequate time to understand the project’s requirements and support the project manager leading to an increased probability of failure;
  • Tired managers make poor decisions, and tiredness affects ethical standards (see: Tired workers lose their ethics);
  • There is frequently not enough time to train the sponsor in his/her role further reducing their effectiveness; and
  • These pressures often lead to a lack of continuity in the sponsorship role, which is another identified source of project failure.

The evidence is clear, organisations that fail to effectively sponsor their projects and programs are making an overt commitment to wasting the organisation’s time, money and resources – there is an 80% greater probability of failure and no amount of effort at the ‘project management’ level can overcome executive management failures.

Sleepy-Sponsor2One simple way to stop the waste is for an organisation to defer any project where it is unable to find a committed, trained sponsor, with adequate time, energy and skills to properly fulfil their role. No sponsor – no project! (See more on the role of a sponsor)  This may sound extreme, but if the executive management team do not see the project as being sufficiently important to the organisation they manage, to reorganise the disposition of executive resources to properly support the work, then the project is probably not that important anyway. The organisation will be better off not spending the money and wasting its resources.

The governance challenge is creating a management culture that on one hand, actively encourages the deferment of projects that are inadequately supported (eg, don’t have a sponsor); and on the other actively encourages the development of the organisation’s capability to excel at the ‘the management of projects’ (see more on the strategic management of projects).

Sleepy-Sponsor3Creating this culture is a critical governance issue (see more on the governance of project management).  If an organisation cannot implement projects and programs efficiently, it cannot adapt and change to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world which will inevitably lead to the organisation becoming obsolete. However, achieving the necessary changes won’t happen if the executive team are already overextended – the situation highlighted in both of the reports referenced in this post! Building the organisational capability to efficiently its projects and programs is itself a major change initiative that needs resourcing and sponsoring at the highest levels.

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.

Stakeholders generate profits for shareholders

A few months ago I posted on the concept of Understanding stakeholder theory and suggested organisations that focus on providing value to stakeholders do better than those focused on short term rewards for shareholders and the associated benefits flowing to executive bonuses.

A new report: From the stockholder to the stakeholder by Arabseque Asset Management and Oxford University supports this contention. The report reviews existing research on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. It is a meta-study of over 190 different sources the authors have demonstrated a strong correlation between organizations that take ESG seriously and economic performance. For example:

  • 90% of relevant studies show that sound sustainability standards lower the cost of capital;
  • 88% of relevant studies show a positive correlation between sustainability and operational performance;
  • 80% of relevant studies show a positive correlation between sustainability and financial market performance.

However, to translate superior ESG quality into competitive advantage, sustainability must be deeply rooted in an organisation’s culture and values. The consequences of failing to take ESG seriously continues to be demonstrated by another of my regular topics, BP. The report contains a plot of oil company share prices from 2009 (pre the Deepwater horizon disaster) through to 2014. BP’s share price continues to suffer the consequences of the short sighted cost cutting that precipitated the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

BP-Price

The report concludes that it is in the best economic interests of corporate managers and investors to incorporate ESG considerations into decision-making processes starting at the governance level right down the organisation hierarchy.

The full report can be downloaded from  http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/pdf/Stockholder_to_Stakeholder.pdf.

Opportunity Lost

RICSThe first edition of the RICS / APM guidance note on Stakeholder Engagement is a missed opportunity. Hopefully the second edition will plug many of the glaring gaps.

The guide is built around ten principles:

  • Principle 1: Communicate
  • Principle 2: Consult early and often
  • Principle 3: Remember they’re only human
  • Principle 4: Plan it
  • Principle 5: Relationships are key
  • Principle 6: Simple, but not easy
  • Principle 7: Just part of managing risk
  • Principle 8: Compromise
  • Principle 9: Understand what success is
  • Principle 10: Take responsibility

All sound principles but in a strange order

Any complex endeavour needs a clear understanding of its objectives and then a plan to achieve the objectives before starting work, but ‘Understand what success is’, is at #9 and ‘Plan it’ at #4.  Surly the whole point of engaging stakeholder is to enhance the probability of success. Which means #1 understand what success is, #2 plan how to achieve success and then move into implementation.

But implementation needs focus, completely missing from the guide is any practical guidance on ways to understand the stakeholder community, prioritising the stakeholders so the communication effort is focused where needed and then managing the overall engagement effort for maximum effect. The best the guide can offer is a simplistic 2×2 matrix. My methodology, the Stakeholder Circle® is one of several that recognise the multiplicity of dimensions needed to understand a stakeholder, the outline is available free of charge from http://www.stakeholdermapping.com/stakeholder-circle-methodology/

The last omission is considering the path to stakeholder management maturity. The path to maturity is mapped at: http://www.stakeholdermapping.com/srmm-maturity-model/

I had hoped stakeholder engagement was moving beyond the soft ‘fluffy’ platitudes of the past into a pragmatic management process, allied to risk management, focused on maximising the aggregate benefit from a project to all of its stakeholders.  These ideas are in the RICS Stakeholder Engagement guide but unfortunately the guide lacks any guidance on how to achieve these objectives, with the exception of the CASE model in Appendix 3.

Hopefully the 2nd Edition will not be too far away.

The 1st Edition is available from http://www.rics.org/shop