Category Archives: Smart to Wise

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 ProjectManager.com website on 14 October, 2015.

Dr Mike Clayton is the author of The Influence Agenda, published by Palgrave Macmillan – www.theinfluenceagenda.co.uk.

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
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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.

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My Project Management Inspiration

Different people inspire me for different reasons.

The NASA Curiosity Rover team

For example, the NASA Curiosity Rover team demonstrated awesome levels of creative innovation in landing their rover on Mars, and equally awe inspiring technical and project management in making their system work.  It’s one thing to have crazy, off-the-wall, might-just-work ideas; it is quite another to deliver them flawlessly. It was an astonishing achievement.

Ernest Shackleton

I would also single out Ernest Shackleton for his seemingly effortless leadership and management of people under what were, by any standards, absolutes of stress and peril.  But even before then, his instinctive flair for leadership created happy, motivated crews who did not doubt his leadership for a second – many of them called him simply ‘the boss.’

MasterChef

A lot of people see teams as about competing and find that, in making people compete, they get the worst from them, rather than the best.  So I’d also like to recognise the producers and contestants of the TV programme MasterChef.  They are all commitment to developing excellence in individuals and to collaboration, while still competing ferociously.

Gerald Clayton

Finally, I must mention my father, Gerald Clayton.  Shortly after his death I wrote three blogs describing how his example inspired many of my skills and attitudes to project management – despite the fact he would probably not have been able to give a clear answer to what project management is. More than anything else, he inspired me with his common sense and his humanity.

Six Pieces fo Advice for Project Leaders

I was recently asked what advice I would offer to new (and experienced) project leaders.

1. Trust the process – things won’t always feel as though they are working out, but if the process is good – and the right one for the domain you are in – then remain open to adjustments, but fundamentally: ‘trust the process’.

2. Balance is everything, and in the context of project management, this is particularly so in the need to balance your attention to structure, systems, processes and control on the one hand, and getting the people side of projects right, focusing on motivation, inspiration and interpersonal relationships.  I refer to these sides as project management and project leadership but, in truth, it is all one discipline.

3. Everything you learn and do has value, so be an intellectual gannet and collect ideas and inspiration from everywhere.  Then integrate it all, to build creative solutions to the problems and challenges you encounter.

4. Hone you people skills and learn to focus on understanding people. To do this, the three greatest techniques to master are asking good questions, listening intently and becoming comfortable with silence.  Bringing these together with a voracious intellectual appetite – which I mentioned in my last answer, and that will give you the perception to recognise and understand things other people miss.

5. Harness your team.  The power of people is in their diversity, so create environments that allow different people to share ideas respectfully before leaping to solutions or decisions.

6. Things will sometimes get tough as a senior project management professional. So, my final tip is to build your personal resilience. Keep fit, eat well, enjoy a good social life, and make sure you get enough sleep.

More on all these topics in Brilliant Project Leader.

BrilliantProjectLeaderCover.jpg

Truth Decay

The truth is not a constant. Knowledge changes and you must change with it if you are to stay in control.

When I was a child, enchanted by science, I learned about planets and dinosaurs. I learned about the outermost planet, Pluto, and the giant saurischian, Brontosaurus.
Now, Pluto is no longer classed as a planet (but as a dwarf planet, along with Eris, Ceres, Haumea & Makemake) and the name Brontosaurus has been relegated to a curious historical footnote against Apatosaurus (whose skeleton body was once insulted by the wrong head and called a Brontosaurus).

In every field of human knowledge – from astronomy to zoology and from geology to sociology – we make progress when new knowledge challenges old ideas. Consequently, the wisest stance to adopt is scepticism: ‘a tendency to doubt’.

For project mangers, doubt is a valuable weapon in your professional arsenal.  Let’s look at some examples.

Project Planning and Doubt

Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman (whose wonderful book, ‘Thinking: Fast and Slow‘ I have recommended before) coined the term ‘Planning Fallacy‘ to describe the well-observed tendency to assume that the time things will take is pretty close to the best case scenario. I would add to that ‘Planning Delusion‘; a tendency to believe our plans will be a true reflection of events. They rarely will. Doubt is the key to proper planning and preparation – doubt your best case scenario and doubt your plan.

The only rule I think we can rely on here (and notice, I say ‘think’, connoting doubt) is ‘Hofstadter’s Law’:

‘It always takes longer than you expect;
even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.’

This was coined in his book ‘Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid‘.

Project Delivery and Doubt

When things go well, we fall into an optimistic bias that leads us to suspect that we are working on a special project that is an exception to Hofstadter’s Law. What rot. Healthy scepticism keeps your senses attuned to the problems, delays, and general foul-ups that are the very nature of life. The sooner you spot them, the simpler it tends to be to fix them, so the heightened awareness that doubt brings is the key to staying in control of your project.

Risk and Doubt

The nature of risk is uncertainty, so where can doubt be of more value? And there are different types of risk.

  • ‘Aleatory risks’ represent inherent uncertainty in the system – we cannot know where a ball will land when the roulette wheel spins.
  • ‘Epistemic risks’ arise uncertainty the uncertainty due to the gaps our knowledge.
  • ‘Ontological risks’ are those about which we are wholly unaware.

We therefore tend to believe that absence of evidence is evidence of absence – and are frequently wrong. Once again, doubt would prevent this mistake. For a summary of these kinds of risk, take a look at my simplified  ‘Four Types of Risk’ infographic.

Stakeholders and Doubt

I am working on my book on stakeholder engagement (publication spring 2014, Palgrave Macmillan) and spoke with a former colleague about his experiences – thank you Paul Mitchell. I loved his tip that:

‘just because they are quiet; it doesn’t mean they agree.’

Spot on – absence of evidence again.

Resistance and Doubt

When people resist our ideas our first instinct is to tackle that resistance – to take it on and aim to overcome it. Wrong! Step 1 is doubt: ‘what if they are right and I am wrong?’ It is a crazy notion, I know, but if it turns out to be true, doubt can save you a lot of wasted time and a possible loss of reputational capital.

Performance and Doubt

I attended an excellent one-day seminar on Positive Psychology in Organisations, led by the inspirational Sarah Lewis. One take away is the doubt we should apply to excellent performance. We tend to consider it to be ‘what we expect’ so we focus on fixing poor performance. One of the vital practices of the best and most flourishing organisations is to focus on this ‘positive deviance’ and work hard to understand and then replicate it.

Decisions and Doubt

Doubt frustrates decision making so it cannot be a good thing, can it? Well, yes, it can. Often, doubt arises from ‘gut instinct’. We know what the facts are telling us, but our intuition disagrees. Daniel Kahneman (yes, him again) will tell us that our instincts are fuelled by bias and faulty thinking, but another excellent thinker, Gary Klein (author of ‘The Power of Intuition’) reminds us that in domains where we have true and deep expertise, that intuition may be working on data we have not consciously processed. Doubt should lead us to look more deeply before committing to an important decision.

Time Management and Doubt

One of the reasons clients most value my time management seminars is that I don’t have a system. Which is good for them, because their people have numerous interruptions in their working day, meaning that any plan they draw up will be stymied by necessary reactions to events. I do advocate making a plan; but I also advocate reviewing it frequently. Sticking to an out of date plan, based on yesterday’s priorities is worse than having no plan at all. This is, of course, a cornerstone of good monitoring and control for us as project managers.

Stress and Doubt

Doubt causes stress, because doubt robs us of control. Is the solution, therefore to work hard to eliminate doubt? It could be in some circumstances, but the solution to removing stress is to regain control, and this need not require you to remove doubt, but to embrace it and make it part of your process. That way, you keep the value of doubt, but take control of how you apply it.

Wisdom and Doubt

Doubt and scepticism suffuse my whole concept of wisdom. It arises from the combination of perception – noticing new evidence – and evolution – altering your world view in accordance with your new knowledge. It features in conduct and judgement, and even in fairness. And what authority can you have, if you hold fast to old certainties in the face of new realities? For more about my concept of what wisdom is, and how to develop it as a professional, take a look at my book, Smart to Wise.


This article was first published in June 2013, in my monthly newsletter/tipsheet, ‘Thoughtscape’. Why not subscribe to my Thoughtscape newsletter?


Emotional WIsdom

Emotional Wisdom by Mike Clayton

Smart to Wise was my hardest book to write, so far.

And this includes the new book I have just sent to my publisher, Pearson, which is by far the most complex of my ten books to date.

One of the reasons why Smart to Wise was so difficult to write was the discipline of sticking to my editor’s specification of 25,000 words.  Compare this with the word count of a typical business or self-development book that you would also find on the shelves of your local WH Smith or Waterstones: these are typically between 40,000 and 50,000 words.

So the test was to write concisely.  Yet my goal was to pack Smart to Wise chock-full of interesting ideas and I believe I succeeded.  I hope you will agree.  Many reviewers did.

There is an awful lot of content in Smart to Wise, but a lot of ideas were, necessarily, left on the editor’s floor – or, more accurately, in the fat notebook I started when I began the project.  And yes, I think of Smart to Wise as a project and, indeed, as an ongoing one.  I have over one hundred pages of notes and ideas, including enough material for a double length extended version of the book, a Smart to Wise Journal, and a handful of short supplementary eBooks.  There are also ideas for over 30 blogs.

One of the many topics that I had to cut from the book, as it finally appeared, was “emotional wisdom”.

This is a concept I have worked hard to define, and to distinguish from emotional intelligence, which is widely known and written about.  I developed a framework for this based on evaluation and re-evaluation.

Yesterday, I released the first of the added-value products: a short eBook called “Emotional Wisdom”.

It will be available, free to download, for eight weeks.

Click here to get it.

Becoming More Resilient

Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin

I recently did two interviews with Elizabeth Harrin.  The first was about managing project risk, on the Gantthead website.

More recently, I also did a short interview about resilience.

This appears on the TalkingWork website and is titled:

“Becoming more resilient:
interview with Mike Clayton”

Resilience

This vital topic is the subject of the last chapter of Brilliant Project Leader“Tough Times: Tough Leader”, in which I look at resilience, emotional leadership, political leadership, and staying tough.  These are topics I will return to in more detail in my forthcoming book, Smart to Wise, which is due out in mid June.

Smart to Wise by Mike Clayton

Smart to Wise