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Announcing OnlinePMCourses

You’ve probably noticed the change of clothes for Shift Happens! I hope you like it.

For twelve years now, my primary source of income has been live training and seminars. Most of that has been training project managers.

After plenty of experimentation and strategising last year, I decided to commit to my biggest project for several years. I am building a business and a community for training project managers online. This will be OnlinePMCourses.


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It will allow me to expand my audience globally and I shall be launching on 20 June 2016 with my core courses: 3, 6, and 12 hour video training packages, based respectively on my half-day seminar, and my one- and two-day training programs.

Project Manager’s Fast Start Program will contain about 30 video lectures of around 3 hours total duration, based on my three-hour Practical Project Management Seminar.

Project Manager’s Skills Mastery Program will contain about 60 video lectures of around 6 hours total duration, based on my One-day Manage a Great Project Training Course.

Project Manager’s Immersion Program will contain about 120 video lectures of around 12 hours total duration, based on my Two-day Manage a Great Project Training Course.

These will be followed by further specialised courses, and will also form the start of a learning community.

What this means for you

Three things mainly:

First, there will be a whole load more resources coming available, if your interest in this blog is for learning project management skills, getting projects done, or building a project management career.

Second, if you want to learn project management in a structured way that will give you clear, practical project management knowledge, made easy to understand and apply, you will have a great place to go and select the course that is right for you.

Third, whilst I will periodically be adding content to this blog, I shall be migrating my blogging to the new website.

Please visit the OnlinePMCourses Blog, here. There you can sign up to receive blog posts in your inbox or add the site to your WordPress reading list.

Sign up for Mike’s weekly  OnlinePMCourses
Project Management thoughts

And why not signup for my weekly thoughts and get your free copy of our eBook, Decode the Jargon of Project Management. Click on the image below.

Decode the Jargon of Project Management

Decode the Jargon of Project Management

Guide to Motivation, Part 2: How do Project Managers Motivate Themselves?

Your team has someone else to attend to their motivation:
you have to do it yourself.

In my last blog, I talked about how you, as a project manager, can motivate your teams. But what about you? What gets you up in the mornings, with a spring in your step?

Of course, everything I wrote about motivating team members will apply equally to you: the needs for a purpose, to succeed, for relationships, and for respect. But I want to shift the focus a little bit to the way you set yourself up to be self-motivating. Because the difference between you, a good project manager, and your team is stark:

Your team has someone else to attend to their motivation:
you have to do it yourself.

To stay highly motivated you must attend to six important needs that are relevant to our work. Which of these needs are most important to you is something to think about. Most likely, the ones that come to the front of your mind will include those that you feel intuitively are not being as fully met as you would like. However, they are all important, so you should avoid attending to some at the cost of neglecting others completely.

Do Something Worthwhile

The first need we have to satisfy is to do things we believe in. Many project managers are in the happy position (compared to other workers) that we can pick and choose our assignments. It’s not just if you are a contractor; in-house project managers often have the chance to select what projects we put ourselves forward.

Even in the most commercially minded organisations, you will even have one or two credits with which you can decline an opportunity if you have good reasons to do so. As a project manager with management consultancy Deloitte, I declined two assignments (one a spectacularly good career opportunity) on the grounds of ethical preferences regarding the clients I worked with. Do it too often, and your reputation will suffer, but if you do it properly, it is better than working on something that feels wrong to you.

I’m a strong advocate that we when we do take on a project, we should make it the best we possibly can. Find the links to your own value set and look for ways that your project can contribute to what you consider important.

This will be, perhaps, the single most motivating insight. Just doing it for the money is rarely enough here. But, if the money is for something important to you, then make that link. Better still, how will your project further things you care about societally, environmentally, politically, commercially, technically, or personally?

Do Something Well

Doing something and completing it can give a sense of achievement, and we all have a need, to one degree or another, for that. But what you may find even more motivating is the pride in doing something well, or exceptionally well.

When we look at a job really well done, we feel good, and the sense of flow you get while focus every element of your being on doing that job well is immensely satisfying. For some people, the pride, and satisfaction come when others recognize their achievement. But you may not need that: you may feel good just knowing that you have done something good.

The anticipation and the immersion are key elements her and can apply to any element of the project management and leadership process, from preparing a plan, engaging stakeholders, to giving feedback to your team and reviewing a deliverable. Paying attention to the quality of everything you do is hugely exhilarating.

Feel in Control

Let’s start with the opposite end of the spectrum. When you feel out of control, it manifests as stress. Project managers are adept at exerting control over complex and uncertain environments, because this is what our discipline teaches us. But because of this, many project managers feel uncomfortable as control starts to slip.

The reality, of course, is that the project universe is vast and much of it, like stakeholder reactions, weather conditions and even technical outcomes, is out of our control. You will be at your most motivated when you turn your focus away from the things you cannot control, towards those you can.

You can control how you engage with stakeholders and how you respond to their reactions. You can control the mitigation and contingency plans you put in place to deal with adverse weather. And you can even control the scheduling, testing and contingency planning around technology development. Believe it or not, robust estimating, detailed planning, and active risk management all contribute to motivation.

One other thing that you can control is your attitude. There are three attitudes that will help you to stay positively motivated through adverse time:

  1. Gratitude for the things you have (while recognizing the challenges you face).
  2. Optimism towards the future (whilst recognizing the realities of the present).
  3. Flexibility in your thinking (which will allow you to recognise when to abandon your plans, if necessary, and find new solutions.

Feel Valued

Your project is not everything in your life. But if you let it become that, then it is easy to lose perspective and feel your motivation drain away in the face of adversity. So ensure that you remain connected to the other things you value in life; interests, people, activities.

We have a deep need to feel valued by other people. Your team has you to recognize their contributions and value their involvement. You should have your project sponsor to provide this for you… but there’s another issue. What if your project sponsor does not provide the support and endorsement you neee-d? What if they seem mysteriously hard to contact when the project hits a roadblock? (Sound familiar?)

Seek out a small number of trusted peers who can provide support and even counsel. These should be people who are at least as experienced and accomplished as you, who have a non-judgemental attitude and will value your ideas and support as much as you value theirs. It is said (and my experience supports it) that we are all as successful as the average of the people we associate with. Find a small group of successful project managers to share your thoughts with.

Work with Great People

The need that we all have for relationships – in and out of work – can be challenging for a leader who may feel a little isolated from your team. Find a way to balance your need to remain objective about the performance of team members, with your desire to integrate at a social level with them. My experience is that project managers are more adept at this balancing act than line managers – probably due to the fluid nature of projects, the lower sense of hierarchy, and the feeling of working together under a level of adversity.

What I have found helpful is to seek out the best collaborators for my project where I can. And, where I have had to accept the resources I have been allocated, to find the passion and talent within the people I have. I recommend you adopt an attitude of curiosity about your team members that searches for anything of interest, any talent, any insights and innovations that you can find.

Create opportunities for your project team to come together and share each others company in ways that are appropriate to the project, to the people, and to the culture within which you are operating. On great projects, it is usually the people you will remember, long after any other details.

Work for Your Future

Finally, you need to be a little selfish and look to your future. Not in a tunnel-vision way that obscures the present, but so that you can put what you are doing into the wider context of your career. Think about the opportunities your project offers to learn, develop, and gain experiences that can help you in the next step of your career.

As you do this, you will see new opportunities to shift the emphasis of what you are doing to bank new professional assets. But never take your eye off doing the very best you can, in the present. Today’s success is by far the greatest asset for investing in tomorrow’s opportunity.

But to make the best of tomorrow’s opportunities you do need to understand the ‘why’ of today’s success. Without a doubt, one the distinguishing features of many of the most successful people, in all fields, is their willingness to reflect on their experiences carefully. Taking time to process and understand our experiences, and to make new connections and distinctions is the principle root to move from being simply smart, to being wise.

As project manager, you know – intellectually – the importance of lessons learned reviews for your team and your organization. But often, the last person to really think about the meaning of those lessons is you. Again, you will conduct a good performance review for your team members, I hope. But who will do this for you? If it is not your sponsor, then make it your support group of peers. Or, if you don’t have that in place, then be sure to do it for yourself. Because you’re worth it.


This article was first published on the website on 14 October, 2015.

Dr Mike Clayton is the author of The Influence Agenda, published by Palgrave Macmillan –

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton
His other books include ‘How to Manage and Great Project’, ‘Brilliant Project Leader’, and Powerhouse‘.

Exceptional video training programmes, based on my best-selling live seminars.

The Effectiveness Academy
The Effectiveness Academy


Guide to Motivation, Part 1: How to Motivate Your Team

People Deliver Projects

It is easy to think of the role of a project manager in terms of tasks, schedule, budget, resources, deliverables and risk. These are the things that many project management books and courses focus on. But it would be wrong: people deliver projects. Your role, as a project manager, is to enable them to do so. Perhaps we might characterize this part of your role as Project Leadership.

A big part of the leadership role is to enthuse and motivate your team. The problem we have is that there are as many motivational factors as there are people; more, in fact. I doubt there is just one thing that motivates you. So if you look at motivational theory, you’ll find many different models and theories, all emphasizing different aspects that contribute to a complex whole.

So, I want to look instead at four general principles that will help you figure out the best way to keep your project team motivated, day after day, in the good times, and the tough.

Principle 1: People are Individuals

Without banging on about the obvious truth that we are all the same, yet we are all different, it is vital to emphasise that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to motivation.

The cultural, social and personality differences among your team are its greatest asset, so why would you try to treat everybody the same, in motivating them? Some people need endorsement, others want rewards. Some need to feel they have power over other, while some just want to work together in harmony.

Get to Know your People

The solution is therefore obvious and, I hope, not onerous: you need to get to know everybody in your team. Find out about what they like and don’t like, how they tick, and what gets them excited. The more you can get to know each person, the better able you will be to allocate them roles that interest them to start with. And, when you need them to do something less enticing to them, or when their morale has dipped, you will have deeper insights and a stronger relationship from which to motivate them.

Motivational Rule No. 1:
It’s easy to motivate someone to something they already want to do.

Treat People Well

The more you get to know me; the more I get to know you. If you treat me with respect and act generously towards me, then I will feel grateful and will like and respect you. The urge to reciprocate loyalty is a powerful motivator for most people. Loo for ways you can do small favours for team members and find ways you can accede to reasonable requests. If you make their lives easy, morale, and motivation will stay at a higher level all round. The alternative, a Martinet attitude to following the rules slavishly, will often breed resentment, distrust, and a feeling that strict compliance is all that your team owe you.

Principle 2: People need Purpose

Small children spend a lot of time asking the question ‘why?’ And so do adults… it is just that we have learned not to constantly do it out loud. But that does not negate the fact that if we don’t get a good answer, then we want to rebel. We certainly are not motivated.

The Power of Because

At the simplest level – tactical, if you like – is the power of the word ‘because’. If I don’t know why you are asking me to do something and cannot see the point, then I may comply, but only because I believe I should. I won’t be motivated: at best, I’ll be frustrated with you. But, if you give me a simple reason why you want me to do this, then you will neutralize all of that demotivation and replace it with a sense of purpose. This is especially to if that purpose links to a higher meaning.

The Need for Meaning

People have a real drive to find meaning and purpose in our lives. We have values and a sense of what is most important to us. If you are able to link your project, or the work packages you are assigning, to a team member’s sense of purpose or their values, then they will be hugely motivated to deliver something that, to them, is important.

Motivational Rule No. 2:
Give people a compelling reason to do what you are asking of them.


There is an old story of three workmen by the side of the road. A traveller stops by the first, who looks grumpy. ‘What are you doing?’ the stranger asks. ‘I’m cutting up rocks to make these blocks’ the worker replies in a surly way, and sits down.

The next worker seems a little less grumpy, and is steadily working with a determined expression. The traveller asks him the same question. ‘I’m creating blocks so we can build a wall’ he says with a resigned air, before returning to work.

The traveller stops by the third man, who is smiling as he works, and puts her question again. The man replies cheerfully: ‘The blocks I’m making will form the first wall of the finest library the world has ever seen – a home for the greatest wisdom and most moving literature.’ He smiles with a sense of pride, and happily resumes chiseling.


Principle 3: People want Success

Some people see failure as a spur to greater efforts, while others take it as a cue to give up. But we all find success motivating.

Motivational Rule No. 3:
Set people up to succeed, rather than to fail. Amplify their success by making tasks hard but possible.

Personal Success

We become demotivated very quickly when we do not feel in control of our lives and our work. So giving your team members control and a level of autonomy in the work you assign them will be motivating for most, as long as the challenge you set them is not so great that the fear of failure takes over. This means you need to fully understand their level of ability and readiness for a challenge. However, it is only when working at the edge of our capabilities that we can achieve flow states of deep, contented concentration.

Getting Better

Another highly motivating feeling for most people is the sense that they are growing, developing and learning. So be sure to deliver a programme of work for each team member that takes them forward in their skills and knowledge. Amplify this effect with positive feedback that emphasizes what they are learning and how they are developing. This will give them two things. First, they will see endorse their progress – and some people need this kind of external validation, whilst others don’t. Second, it will be a way to show you are interested in them and their progress, and that you want them to succeed.

Principle 4: People want to Share their Success

Human beings are social animals and for most of us, success on our own is cold, lonely, and demotivating. We need to share that success with others. Indeed, the need to build satisfying workplace relationships is a primary motivator for many people. Let’s not forget that, for full-time team members, they will spend more of their waking hours with their work colleagues than they will with their partners, families and others with whom they choose to spend their lives. For some, work colleagues form their primary social network.

Motivational Rule No. 4:
People need to feel embedded in a social context where both the group’s success, their part in it are recognised.

Going Up

Beyond the need to feel part of a group, some people are strongly motivated by having a clear role within that group. Feeling we are needed is a strong human motivator. In some, this appears as a need for status and recognition of their knowledge, skills and contribution. Where you can, reward people with formal badges of recognition. As a minimum, find ways to celebrate the successes of individuals (this will appeal to those with a stronger drive for status and respect) and of the team as a whole (which will appeal to those whose primary social motivator is to feel part of a group).

For the Team

When team members feel a part of a team that they value, they will also feel a sense of responsibility to their colleagues. This often takes stronger forms, for which we use words like loyalty, duty, and obligation. So, as a leader, you must work hard to create these powerful motivators, by building up a team spirit and feeling of coherence. Regular team activities, collaborative input into planning and decision-making, and some form of home base infrastructure (real or virtual) are all good ways to facilitate this.


There are a lot of things you can do to build motivation among team members as a group, and for each individual within the team. No one approach will work for everyone. So, as with much in project management, a portfolio approach is likely to succeed best. My strongest advice is this. Don’t leave team motivation to chance. Make time to think it through. Get to know your team and plan how you will keep them motivated. Build a strong motivational resilience in the good times, and then work hard to maintain motivation when things get tough.

This article was first published on the website on 7 October, 2015.

Dr Mike Clayton is the author of The Influence Agenda, published by Palgrave Macmillan – – on which this article is based.

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton
His other books include ‘How to Manage and Great Project’, ‘Brilliant Project Leader’, and Powerhouse‘.

Exceptional video training programmes, based on my best-selling live seminars.

The Effectiveness Academy
The Effectiveness Academy


Influence and Persuasion for Project Managers

Influence Without Authority

Unlike day-to-day managers, most project managers have little or no formal authority over our team-members. This means that anything you want me to do, you have to persuade me. For project managers, the arts of influence and persuasion are a core skill set.

Most of us have developed a facility with structured, logical thinking that allows us to easily create a credible and coherent argument for what we plan to do. But have you noticed that being right is rarely enough to persuade someone? Analytical reasoning is merely a starting point for influencing team-members, stakeholders and project sponsors.

How to be influential

A large part of influence lies in your day-to-day actions, your attitudes, and your approach. If people are to follow your lead, they will need to like and respect you, which means you actions must carry your convictions and integrity with them all of the time.

Influential Actions

Start with the absolute basics: courtesy and respectfulness. It costs nothing to be polite, but you will be surprised how much difference it makes in a world where many stressed out PMs have short tempers and feign entitlement to the loyalty of their teams and support of their stakeholders. A generous attitude is also a valuable asset. People remember favours and simple concessions and you may be surprised how powerful the “I’ve scratched your back…” principle can be in building loyalty. But above all, our sense of fairness means that you absolutely must ensure that you follow through on any promises or commitments you make. To not do so would invite a reciprocal approach from others and your influence will drop to zero as people will no longer trust you to keep your word.

Influential Attitudes

Your attitude to your project and your people will be under test throughout. Primarily you should be cultivating the kind of attitudes that people find attractive and lead them to want to follow you. Whilst people respect calm detachment and a realistic assessment of the situation, they are drawn to optimism. So if you can find your own way to balance these two attitudes, you can win both respect and liking. Tenacity is another character trait that we both like and respect, but again, a dogmatic attitude to constant repetition will undermine your reputation, but a robust adaptability will leave stakeholders and team members willing to follow your lead.

A Choice of Approaches

Ultimately the question of what sort of Project Manager you are will come down to the approach you take to influencing people. The three approaches we commonly see can be characterized as “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, and I am sure you have met them all in the course of your career.

“The Bad” is that style of influence that depends solely of assertion. Some projects managers seem as though they cannot help themselves but coerce and compel actions with either the promise of great rewards or the threat of some kind of sanctions. Clearly celebrating success and small appropriate team incentives are a vital part of good project management. But when the promises are hollow and the threats get personal, there is only one name for this behavior: bullying.

Some PMs are far more subtle. They make you feel as though you want to do something for them but, at the same time, you don’t feel good about it. Often, you cannot put your finger on what feels wrong and this is a sure sign that you have been the victim of manipulation. This is “The Ugly”.

“The Good” influence has total integrity. You offer genuine choice, and people accept your ideas and act as you ask, because they want to. You have made your case and they feel good about supporting you. Often, when people feel tis kind of loyalty to a positively influential colleague, they will more for you than you ask. Investing over the long-term in your reputation as a generous, respectful, and optimistic leader, who perseveres sensibly and addresses their own commitments consistently is perhaps the best professional investment you can make.

Ten Persuasion Tactics

No matter how positively influential you are, it always helps to have a few handy persuasion tips up your sleeve, so here are ten of my personal favourites, from my book, ‘How to Influence in Any Situation (Brilliant Influence)’.

The “Your Doctor would Tell you to…” Principle

Why do we trust doctors and follow their advice? We trust them because we know that they have had years’ of relevant training and experience. Well so have you. As a project manager you have gained the scars and war stories, and will also have access to the experience and knowledge of your senior team members and experts. When you deploy these together, you have a massive level of credibility. Wear it lightly, but do ensure the people you need to persuade are aware of it.

The “Jiminy Cricket” Effect

Do you recall that, in the movie, Jiminy Cricket was appointed to be Pinocchio’s conscience? You, me, and everyone* has a Jiminy Cricket organ – a part of our brains that makes us feel bad if we are about to break or promise or renege on a commitment. The most important part of triggering the Jiminy Cricket effect is to secure a clear commitment, and the more prominent it is, then the stronger the effect will be. Look them in the eye and ask for their commitment. Step up the effect by doing it in a formal setting and, better still, in front of other colleagues. Amplify it to the max by ding it in writing. Then, courteously remind them of their commitment two or three times in the run-up to your deadline.


* Actually, not quite everyone. Some personalities lack the feelings of guilt that most of us have, when we let other people down. Sadly, these people are not susceptible to most forms of influence and subtle persuasion and are most easily influenced by compulsion or self-interest.

The “Eight out of Ten Cat Owners” Principle

In my childhood, a UK TV advert asserted that “eight out of ten cat owners, who expressed a preference, said their cat prefers…” Why did this advert work? Well, because despite loving their pets, few cat or dog owners taste their pet’s food. So how do they know what to buy? But, if other loving pet owners have made their choice, then perhaps the safest option is to go with their judgement. This is known as ‘social proof’ and, where the stakes are low and we think we are like the crowd, then we feel good doing what they do. It saves making a decision for ourselves.

The “Follow Me” Effect

People like to follow crowds, and leaders too. So, if you show enough confidence in yourself, and confidently expect people to follow, they often will. Leading from the front or “role model leadership” is a powerful persuader. Often, the most powerful way to deploy this is to not even ask: just do.

The “WAM” Principle

WAM stands for “what about me?” This is the most basic persuader of all: self-interest. Where you can properly align your request with my self-interest, I will comply readily. So put yourself in other people’s shoes and ask “what’s in it for you?” When you understand the answer, you will have the basis for easy motivation and persuasion. This is the fundamental approach to the influence aspect of stakeholder engagement [link back to my previous blog].

The “Who are You to Tell Me?” Principle

Without the WAM factor, there is almost always one thing you need to establish before you try to persuade anyone of anything: “who are you to tell me?” We want to know the credentials of anyone who is trying to persuade us. Can we trust them? Do they understand our position? Do they know what they are talking about? Are they one of us? Watch any half-way competent professional politician and you will see that they spend more of their time on these aspects of persuasion than they do on mounting their argument for any particular policy or position. And the reason is simple: if they fail to establish their character and credibility, we won’t listen to anything else.

The “Structured Response” Effect

When you make your argument, you must make it in as clear and concise a way as possible. The more confusing you are, the less I’ll be persuaded. The more you repeat yourself, the lower your influence will be. So take care to structure your advocacy or responses with a clear context, point of view, and reason.

The “Why Should I Care?” Principle

People rarely make their choices based on the facts and the logic. What we do is decide based on our emotional response to the situation, and then use the analysis and evidence that you give us, to justify our choice – both to others and to ourselves. As an influencer and persuader, you neglect the emotional dimension at your peril. It is simply not true that emotions have no place in project management.

The “Welcome the Ah but…” Principle

Project managers fear resistance from the team members and our stakeholders. But in truth, it’s a good thing. It means you are getting genuine engagement with your ideas. Listen to it, because you may just learn something. But if you believe you are right, the simple strategy is always to keep inviting every last objection. When you’ve dealt with them all; when you’ve ‘emptied the hopper’, then there will be no resistance left.

The “Make ‘em Feel Smart” Principle

Most project managers and all of the experts and specialists on your projects are smart, very smart. And you all have a tendency to show this off and use long words, jargon and even formulae to prove it. Wrong! People won’t trust you if they don’t fully understand you. And if they don’t trust you, they won’t do or think as you ask. You will fail to persuade them. On the other hand, if the think they understand deeply, because you have explained clearly, in simple terms, with analogies, pictures and simple lists, then they will feel smart, they will trust you, and they will say to themselves “yes, that’s right; I get it.”

This article was first published on the website on 26 August, 2015, as 10 Ways to Influence Without Authority.

Dr Mike Clayton is the author of The Influence Agenda, published by Palgrave Macmillan – – on which this article is based.

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton
His other books include ‘How to Manage and Great Project’, and ‘How to Influence in Any Situation’.

Exceptional video training programmes, based on my best-selling live seminars.

The Effectiveness Academy
The Effectiveness Academy


Do you give a GRAM of Motivation?

Projects are very much a human endeavour.

People plan projects, work on projects, and deliver projects. For all of the technology and methodology, it is your team of people, and how they interact with the stakeholders around them, that are the most important contributor to the success of your project.

The big challenge that many projects face is that they represent a disruptive influence on an existing culture. And, whilst that culture may not be highly productive nor deeply enriching, it is often comfortable for the people involved. A project can shake up cultures and present people with an uncomfortable challenge.

So, for project managers, the so-called ‘hard skills’ of scoping, programming, risk management, and project control are barely the start of your skill set. These represent nothing more than the barriers to entry into the profession. The measures of your long-term success will be largely in how you handle the human factors of project management.

It is worth examining what these human factors are. The best project managers put substantial work into their projects, from day one, in creating the culture that they need; whether it is stable, innovative, supportive, or hard-driving. At the heart of a strong culture is a clear articulation of a vision and values for the project.

These PMs support this with an unremitting focus on communication; with their immediate project team, and with their wider stakeholder group. These processes establish trust and build the working relationships that foster true collaborative working. Finally (in my quick list), is committing to developing the people for whom the project manager is responsible. Good PMs use the project as a vehicle for learning, skills development, and reputation building.

A lot of this can be bundled up under the heading of ‘motivation’. Any capable PM will have a good understanding of how to get the best from their people, day-to-day, through the ups and downs of a long, complex project. And there are two levels, first articulated by Frederick Herzberg, that you need to be mindful of.

People cannot be motivated by their work when they are actively demotivated by aspects of it. As a project leader, you must prioritise taking care of what Herzberg termed the ‘Hygiene Factors’. These are the little things that bug people. Fight for the conditions and the resources that allow people to get on with their work without constantly feeling ground down by frustrating peripheral issues.

There are four big levers you can pull, to provide a GRAM of motivation

Only when you have done this can you start to really motivate people. There are four big levers you can pull, to provide a GRAM of motivation – a handy acronym for a busy PM who wants a reminder of the principal ways of motivating your team.

G is for Growth: the need we have to feel we are learning and getting better at what we do. Set people challenges that allow them to increase their skill levels and feel that your project is a step towards a higher level of responsibility, mastery, or status.

R is for Relationships. Our workplace relationships are every bit as important as those outside. Largely, this is because they occupy more of our waking hours than relationships with family, friends, and even life partners.

A is for Autonomy. When we do not feel we have sufficient control of our lives, we experience stress. By giving control and allowing people to manage a part of their own workload, we remove a potent source of stress, and therefore under-performance.

Finally, M is for Meaning. Without a clear purpose and meaning for what we are doing, we find the ‘why?’ blocks all motivation. Which brings us back full-circle to the need to create a strong vision and values that give your project a real meaning to the people involved.

This article was first published in the Summer 2015 edition of the APM (Association for Project Management) journal Project. It was later re-published on the APM website, on 11 August, 2015.


Exceptional video training programmes, based on my best-selling live seminars.

The Effectiveness Academy
The Effectiveness Academy


One Word to Rule them All

One word is more powerful, more annoying, and more challenging than any other. And when you understand how to use it, it becomes a huge asset for any project manager.


Yes, that’s the word. We all know how much young children love to torture their parents and carers with it, but we don’t stop asking it as adults. We just forget how powerful it really is.

Of course, Tennyson suggested that in some walks of life we grow out of why: “Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die”. Whether this is true anywhere in the modern democratic world, I don’t know. But it should certainly never be the case when managing projects. So, let’s look at five of the blades of the Swiss Army Word that why is.

The Razor-sharp Blade

First, let’s understand the razor sharp blade that cuts to the heart. When you ask “why did you do that?” it strikes at my very core; my values. It asks what was important to me when I made the choice. It challenges my decision, and it challenges me. Consequently, you will often get defensive answers to that kind of why question that are of little use in making progress. Use it with great care and, to avoid defensiveness, ask questions about my process instead, like “how did you make that decision?” or “what were your criteria?”

The Big Blade

Second is the big blade that we use most often. Why exposes meaning and purpose. We ask why of our sponsors and clients to understand the reasons for the project, because we know that if we cannot give our team an answer to their why questions, we will fail to motivate them. Because is the answer to why, and it confers meaning. If you don’t know why you are being asked to do something, you want to rebel and at best, you do it reluctantly. Because is one of the most powerful motivators.

The Pointy Blade

The third blade is that pointy thing that works stones out of cracks (and hooves, my non-equestrian dad told me). Use why as the first step in finding solutions to problems, by asking “why?” and “why?” and “why” to expose root causes. Without understanding what is at the core of causing the problem, any solution you find can only be a temporary patch. The “five whys” technique (for which, incidentally, five is not a necessary number) is fundamental to a project manager’s toolkit.

The Tweezers

The tweezers are often derided as a tool in a pocket knife, but I find myself using them a lot. They are a useful tool for picking up little things and examining them in detail – your knife may also come with a small hand lens. Why is the agent of curiosity. Use it to learn new things, because greater knowledge leads understanding, and understanding leads to mastery. Curiosity is not merely a joy: in the harsh world of projects, it is a survival skill.

The Saw Blade

Finally, there is the saw blade that can hack off the branches of untested assumptions and the limbs of hares running out of control. Why is the question we ask when challenging myths and received wisdom. Why does not accept excuses, it decries arm-waving arguments, and it laughs in the face of “because that’s the way we do things around here.” Why demands a higher standard of rigour: testing, data, and hard evidence.

So, let’s hear it for why… the most powerful of words and the sharpest of tools.

This article was first published in the Spring 2015 edition of the APM (Association for Project Management) journal Project. It was later re-published on the APM website, on 10 July, 2015.

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Plan your Stakeholder Engagement Campaign

You are a project manager. You care about getting things right. So you plan meticulously, identify threats and take steps to mitigate them. The only thing that can get in your way now is one thing: people.

What all experienced project managers know is that it is your stakeholders who will ultimately determine whether your project is deemed a success… or not. So you need to be equally rigorous in planning your campaign for engaging with your stakeholders, to learn from them, build their trust, and ultimately influence their attitudes.

So what are the components of a stakeholder engagement plan, and how can you determine the best strategy for each?

Identify the and Understand the stakeholders with whom you need to engage

In my previous blog, I discussed techniques that will help you to identify and analyse your stakeholders. For major stakeholders whom you choose to prioritise, you will probably want to create a detailed engagement plan for each of them. For others, you will want a plan that has several strands, clustering approaches and messages around groups of stakeholders with similar needs, perspectives or other characteristics.

Determine the message you need to communicate, and the right tone to adopt

For each stakeholder, the next step is to consider the message or messages that you need to convey. Over the course of a long project, you may need to build up a narrative that evolves as more information becomes available, or as the stakeholder’s attitudes shift. One tip project managers can usefully take from the political campaigning process is to devise a ‘message calendar’ – a week-by-week (possibly even day-by-day) schedule of the messages that you want to put out or the engagement process you want to pursue.

As important as the message itself is the tone of voice you adopt. Do you wish to be consulting or commanding, informing or instructing, requesting or requiring? With each stakeholder and at each stage in your engagement plan, the tone may be different. But it is vital that you determine the right tone before creating your message. This way, you can test out how it comes across before publishing. Let’s face it: how many of us have sent an email and not thought about tone, and then discovered the receiver reacted in a way we had not expected nor wanted?

Decide what medium will get your message across most effectively

One of the joys of project work is the vast array of options you have for how to communicate a message. Aside from the world’s best medium (face-to-face, communicating in a shared first language) and its worst (email) media, there are many to choose from. And your job is to select those that best meet the needs of your audience; your stakeholders. Don’t simply pick the most convenient to your team.

An early consideration in choosing media is the extent to which you want many stakeholders to get the same message at the same time (broadcast media) or for each stakeholder to get a highly differentiated message (narrowcast media). Some media, of course, can offer both options (for example, many web technologies).

You will also want to note that some media are better at informing and explaining, while others lend themselves better to consultation and involvement. Still others are well-suited to genuine collaboration and partnering.

Selecting a Communication Medium according to your Strategic Posture

Selecting a Communication Medium according to your Strategic Posture

A final consideration will be the nature of the message itself: what is the degree of emotional content (which suggests a personal versus impersonal medium) and what is the level of complexity and sophistication of your message, which will determine whether long-form or short-form approaches will work better.

Find an approach that will motivate the change you want to encourage

A lot of your stakeholder communication will be targeted towards encouraging a change. We shan’t consider the skills of influence and persuasion in this blog. But what I do want to suggest is that, in motivating a change, you do need, as a project manager, to properly understand the range of different motivators that you can deploy.

The range starts at the bottom, with the most fundamental motivators, the needs for safety and security. However, these motivators have something of the ‘if you don’t do this, something bad will happen’ flavor. Whilst aversive motivation is powerful, it is largely a bullying tactic and therefore one to avoid if you possibly can. I would say that this is even the case where something bad really can happen, as in the case of health and safety, or compliance, projects.

Of course, people like rewards and motivating with the promise of a personal gain or benefit of some sort will appeal to the ‘what’s in it for me?’ factor. However, a lot of recent research shows that this is a poor motivator and fairly ineffectual, unless the person you seek to motivate is either craving the reward on offer in advance, or they feel no other reward is on offer.

Social motivation factors, like enhanced status, strengthened relationships, recognition by peers, and respect, are powerful and have integrity. And feeling of being part of a social group also creates other powerful motivators like preservation of reputation, loyalty, and duty. These motivators are powerful assets in a project manager’s toolkit – not just for stakeholder engagement, but team leadership as well.

Finally, intrinsic motivators are the most profound of all. This is where you lead others to doing something for their own reasons, pride, achievement, or a sense of contribution, maybe. The three most widely used in project environments are giving stakeholders a sense of control, making clear the underlying purpose and value of the project, and creating opportunities for stakeholders to learn, develop and become more capable. Once again, these motivators are also valuable to project managers in the team leadership role.

Set up your engagement schedule

What would a plan be without timescales? Schedule your engagement activities into your wider project plan. It is best if you treat this as a work-stream within a master plan, rather than a wholly separate activity. It is also wise to avoid integrating engagement activities with other activity works-streams, because in that way you risk mixed messages and mis-timings occurring between communications with different stakeholder groups who may, nonetheless, be in contact with one-another.

Allocate responsibilities for components of your plan

A dedicated work-stream needs a work-stream leader. If you are to take stakeholder engagement management seriously on your larger projects, then you will need a Stakeholder Engagement Manager. Whether you have one or not, like any other project activities, each engagement activity needs to be clearly allocated to a named individual. As project manager, you will inevitably be drawn into a lot of stakeholder engagement activities (this is not strictly true – see the box) so take care to ensure that you only allocate to yourself those stakeholder activities that only you can really add value to. In addition, stakeholder engagement is a great opportunity to fully engage your project sponsor in contributing to your project in high-value ways that less senior and well-connected people cannot.

Front-of-house and Back-of-house Project Managers

One nice model of project management job-sharing is not used as much as it could be. It clearly requires a great relationship, high levels of trust and immaculate co-ordination between the role-holders, but it can work magnificently.


This is the idea of two project managers who face in two different directions: one inward, to the team, and one outward, to the client and external stakeholders. The former, back-of-house PM may be a logical, detail focused, task-oriented and technical expert with a bent for administration. As long as their team respects them, they do not need to be a gregarious, confident communicator, if that role is filled by the front-of-house PM.


‘Who is the project manager?’ you ask. If you ask the team members, you will get a different answer to that you will get from the stakeholders. But working together can free each up to excel in one arena.


Create a mechanism to receive, evaluate, and act on feedback from your stakeholders

Have you ever sent a message and wondered if it had arrived? Or, if you know that it did, did it get opened? Or read? Or understood? Or acted upon? There are so many ways for our communication to go wrong that it is vital that you set up a way of gauging the results of your engagement process continually. You need to find ways to listen to your stakeholders, and hear their feedback. You will want to take that and consider carefully what it is telling you and, crucially, if you do this, you need a way to channel what you are learning from your stakeholders into your wider project decision process.

This is why we engage with stakeholders, rather than simply trying to ‘manage’ them. These are the people who will determine the success, or not, of your project. Their perceptions, insights, and ideas are the raw material from which you can turn a good idea into a successful outcome.

This article was first published on the website on 24 June, 2015.

Dr Mike Clayton is the author of The Influence Agenda, published by Palgrave Macmillan – – on which this article is based.

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton
His other books include ‘How to Manage and Great Project’.

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