Thank you, Henry Ford, for the reminder.
Over the years I noticed a number of phrases we say to each other within the team and the implications they had. It gets down to social awareness, an EQ skill. Sometimes the best of intentions can turn into unwanted results.
The choice of words is as important as the person we address. Subtle implications can make or break a relationship or the desire for future interaction, both in professional and personal set-ups.
Here are some of examples I collected over the years:
“You are too good for that job/position/team”. Instead of an implied criticism, offer support, with some enthusiasm. “Their loss” with the right tone of the voice can work better.
“You always…” or “You never …” said particularly during annual performance reviews. Instead of making people defensive and closed off to your message, simply point out the consequences of their action/lack of action on your time/worload, preferably, everytime it happens. “It seems like you do this often” or “You do this often enough for me to notice” is an opening to finding a solution.
“As I said before” or “As it should have been clear from my previous message/email”. It is clearly a question of how well you communicated initially/previously. So, rephrase, make it more interesting, catchy so that it stays with your receiver. The efficiency of the receiver depends on the efficiency of the source.
“You look tired” vs “Is everything okay?” Instead of assuming, try to ask.
“Good luck” (depending on the tone) carries a doubt in the persons ability. Cast your confidence instead: “You have what it takes” or “You’ll manage, as you’ve done on so many occasions”.
“It’s up to you” or “Whatever” or “Whatever you want” implies indifference and/or desire to be serviable. Instead, offer a number of options: “I have no strong opinion either way, yet a couple of considerations to bring to the table are …”
“This is a miscommunication” assigns the blame and puts the interlocutor into the defensive mode. Instead say “From our previous communication, my understanding was that …”. It will open the door and help clarify the misunderstanding. Sometimes saying “I am sorry” makes you own your mistake and the respect of others by bringing the talk back into the calm waters.
“I challenge that” is a sure way to put a person into an open fight mode or into a defensive mood. Instead “I would like to bring to the table another perspective” takes the heat out and offers an inclusive and respectful way of dealing with an issue.
Once you become aware of the effects the words have, your communication and relationships will improve. And that is key in any project team.
Yet another of my favorite books I often pick up from the shelf. We all know how important is the leadership in project management. We all struggle from time to time with the “How to” became and remain a leader. This book is like a treasure chest. Every time you need a gem, you open a chapter: Getting Started, Coping with Success, Dealing with Disaster, The Art of Communication, Getting the right team, The Customer is King, Talking to the Media, Business vs Politics, Looking to the Future. As project managers we find ourselves dealing with many if not all of the above. Hence the value of the book for project managers.
The book is written with wit and wisdom. Each chapter feels like going into the offices of the best executives Leighton talked to for this book. Each was generous with insights and advice you would get from very few academic or professional training programmes. It is also highly entertaining and will glue you to learning with fun and motivation to become the best at what you do.
“The glue that holds people together in a team, and that commits people to an organisation, is the emotions they feel” is one of my favourite quotes from this book.
I long believed that all that matters in business and work environments is getting things done. Business and project management literature supported the belief. Recent research on Emotional Intelligence begs to differ and for good reasons. Emotions and moods have real consequences for getting those same things done in any project. To paraphrase the authors of the book, the project manager’s ability to survive everyday surprises depends to a large extent on whether he/she has first the ability to manage his/her own emotions in the face of the change and thus lead the team through unchartered waters.
This book was like a mirror to me. It made me ask myself some important questions. It also helped in navigating better through the repertoire of leadership styles I see around me from visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting to commanding and their impact on work climate.
The authors guide the ones who seek to change through the metamorphosis with practical tips and inspirational transformational real life stories, touching on self-management, team management as well as navigating the world of stakeholders we engage with for outcomes that matter most.
I come back from time to time to this book when projects touch upon policy and public action. The book “is aimed at development managers and others who are involved in policy investigation” states its Introduction. In project management, I found it a useful resource when we need to gather information in project design; or we need to learn about stakeholders and their agenda in policy making contexts.
The book is both very informative and an invitation to reflect. It offers tips and lessons learned for example in avoiding pitfalls in research. It covers “thinking with documents” and “thinking with people” for a participative approach. A number of tools such as structured surveys and semi-structured interviews as well as the importance of the subjective and personal are presented.
The book also covers how to bring in data and combine it with qualitative information. Personal integrity and effectiveness in research are brought in as topics of academic debate in the challenge of “trying not to get it wrong”.
In sum, if you are looking at how to inform the public policy-making process and how to communicate the results the book will serve you well both in an policy research and project context.
“We cannot measure it. Our project is too technical” or “too specific” or too something else can unfortunately be heard in some development management circles.
Scientists say “if you cannot measure it, it does not exist”. Development management is about change (positive, preferably). So if we cannot measure change, it does not exist. Now, let’s go with that to the Project’s Board or, even better, the project’s beneficiaries. Yes, right…
Developing, agreeing on and monitoring project’s indicators is not an easy fix. It is a necessity. All stakeholders need to know and see the progress towards the objective of the project. It is true that in development projects we deal with institutions (in the sense of an established law or practice) and concepts, such as governance, corruption, transparency, accountability, empowerment, access to justice. Thanks to extensive research over the last two decades+ and due to efforts of organisations such as the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, Freedom House, Council of Europe (through its Commission for the Efficiency of Justice), OECD and many more it is possible to measure. These institutions are no longer abstract concepts they have dimensions we can grasp, measure and report on. Let’s look at the six dimensions of the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) of the World Bank:
- Voice and Accountability: measuring political, civil and human rights;
- Political Stability and Absence of Violence: measuring the likelihood of violent threats to, or changes in, government, including terrorism;
- Government Effectiveness: measuring the competence of the bureaucracy and the quality of public service delivery;
- Regulatory Quality: measuring the incidence of market-unfriendly policies;
- Rule of Law: measuring the quality of contract enforcement, the police, and the courts as well as the likelihood of crimes and violence;
- Control of Corruption: measuring the exercise of public power for private gain, including both petty and grand corruption and state capture.
When you start to develop a project, I learned how important it is to give to the performance metrix the time and effort it deserves. My experience helped me put together a couple of road signs in this respect, which I share below:
a. Identifying, selecting and agreeing on project progress indicators is a collective exercise and should be done in a participatory and inclusive way.
b. Discharge things you cannot measure or, if you are keen on them, double check on them during the inception phase of the project.
c. Use data already available from credible sources. Creating your own set of data and measurement tools is costly and time consuming.
d. If there is no data and the project absolutely needs a tailor made measuring stick, make sure to budget for it.
e. For measurements designed specifically for the project, make sure you take the measures (right) at the project start. It will give you a reliable baseline.
f. Regularly monitor progress for signs of trouble or delays. Use your performance metrix as a tool. It can help you “measure twice, cut – once”, as illustrated by the old adage, or “measure constantly, optimize continuously”, as the context of your project demands it.
g. And perhaps, the most important the performance metrix serves the achievement of the project objective (and not interests or circumstances).
Post inspired by: “Myths and Realities of Governance and Corruption”, by Daniel Kaufmann World Bank, https://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWBIGOVANTCOR/Resources/2-1_Governance_and_Corruption_Kaufmann.pdf
“Kaufmann, Daniel; Kraay, Aart; Mastruzzi, Massimo. 2007. Measuring Corruption : Myths and Realities. Africa Region Findings & Good Practice Infobriefs; no. 273. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/9576 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.”
“Playing with the numbers “just this once” may well be the CEO’s intent; it’s seldom the end result. And if it’s okay for the boss to cheat a little, it’s easy for subordinates to rationalize similar behavior.” (Warren Buffet, Letter to Shareholders, 2018).
Paraphrasing the above in the project management context: playing with the numbers “just this once” may well be the project manager’s intent; it’s seldom the end result. And if it’s okay for the project manager to cheat a little, it’s easy for team members to rationalise similar behaviour.
Merete Wedell-Wedellsbort explains the psychology behind unethical behaviour in her article published in Harvard Business Review (12 April 2019). I very much recommend to read the article. It raises the awareness of own behaviour and explains others’ behaviour next time you find yourself in an environment prone to unethical démarches.
As Merete Wedell-Wedellsbort puts it “three psychological dynamics lead to crossing ethical lines. First, there’s omnipotence: when someone feels so aggrandized and entitled that they believe the rules of decent behavior don’t apply to them. Second, we have cultural numbness: when others play along and gradually begin to accept and embody deviant norms. Finally, we see justified neglect: when people don’t speak up about ethical breaches because they are thinking of more immediate rewards such as staying on a good footing with the powerful.”
In project management, your “audience” is neither experts of any sorts nor politicians/commentators. Your audience are the tax-payers (in development management) or the shareholders. The numbers that flow up to you as a project manager should be the ones you send on to those who gave you the money to implement the project. They send auditors to attest to that. The above applies not only to money. It also applies to relationships with stakeholders; communication with the public; rewards for team members and many other aspects of project management.
Case in point:
Upon arrival on the team as a new project manager, Avril (not real name) learns that the donor will send an audit in two months. The last financial report raised a number of questions. She realised the report was made to match the numbers and did not reflect accurately the actual spending. Avril knew the report was done to please the previous project manager, who believed the rules of accountability do not apply to him (omnipotence). After discussing it with the financial assistant, it became clear that the later admired the project manager (cultural numbness) and played along (justified neglect).
Avril prepared all the supporting documents required by the auditors in advance. Upon the arrival of the auditors in the morning of the appointed day, she acknowledged the mistakes made in calculations, exchange rates and the like. There was nothing to hide and the numbers had to be corrected before the final financial report. The auditor tuned in Avril’s readiness to correct it with “you are glad we are here”.
As a result, the implementing organisation was spared of the need to repay a six figure amount and the reputation of the project was restored.