I attended a training by an industrial psychologist Keith McGregor covering topics on why people behave the way they do and how to use strategies to get the outcome that you desire. For the first few hours, I was thinking this is a total waste of time. By the end of the second day, I had changed my mind. While I am still not convinced about the entire content of what was presented, I did take away some strategies to help me get the outcomes I want from my project team members. Here is a quick summary of what I have taken away from the training.
Keith gave one example that stayed with me after the training. He was talking about a four year old child of his neighbour’s who constantly asked him questions about everything when he went to tend to the trees in his backyard. It got so annoying for him that he only used to go tend to the trees on Sunday mornings, when he knew the child’s parents would take him to Church. Here, a four year old child is dictating the behaviour of a trained psychologist. Now think of the opposite end of the spectrum. Many organisations have office admin workers who have to chase up after people to get the correct paperwork, so they can balance the ledger, or process the monthly payments, or reconcile the accounts. Most people have the tendency to look them as annoying. There is always someone in the organisation that is considerate to them. When the time comes for them to do something for the staff (i.e. order supplies), they will always remember those that help make their lives easier. If you paid attention, you’ll notice they always receive their supplies first, and do not have to ask for this. People consider other people that help them as their leaders at an emotional level and are usually pleased to return the favour.
A second reflection from the course was the concept of “feeding the monkeys.” The idea comes from an article published by William Oncken Jr and Donald Wass in Harvard Business Review in 1974. Here the monkey represents the next required action on a particular task. The project manager is responsible for planning, delegating, monitoring and controlling all aspects of projects, and the motivation of those involved, to achieve the project objectives within the agreed tolerances of time, cost, quality, scope and risks. Project Managers should not end up owning actions on deliverables of the specialist products produced by the projects. Project Managers must ensure that all communications end with the delivery team owning responsibility for the next action and actively remove tendencies to be told what to do. Otherwise tasks stall for the Project Manager to make a decision and project team sits waiting for it. Monkeys should be fed or shot (task cancelled), they should never be starved. Delegate tasks on projects and grow capability in the team.
The project team members usually comprise of different personality traits. There are largely six different types of personalities and you need to temper your communication according to their dispositions. The example here was when a school child was asked what did you learn today the inevitable answer was … “nothing.” However, when the same child was asked “did you have fun today?” she could not be stopped. You can deliver the same message to different groups, with a minimal change in emphasis to get your point across. Remember, no one belongs to a single box. Observe people, find out what levers to pull.
The biggest impact a Project Manager can have is on how they respond to behaviour of the people that are working on their projects. There are only three possible responses to any behaviour. Behaviour can be rewarded, punished or ignored. When behaviour is ignored, by definition it is being extinguished. Expect the intensity of the behaviour to increase. Punishment is what will get the quickest results. However, if that is to be used to improve behaviour, it must be done where the self-esteem is not destroyed in the process. Done too often, it will cease to have any impact. Rewarding is the most sustainable response to encourage the behaviour you want. It is best to thank people, rather than praise. Praise does not allow someone to understand what is being appreciated and why. Always state the behaviour, the impact it hand and then thank. Instead of saying “you did a great job,” say “I understand you stayed back last night to help Amanda complete the release. It meant we managed to deliver the product on time. Thank you.”
As human beings our tendency is to always pay attention at the worst moments. There is maximum attention when the project is headed south. Little or no attention is paid when things are on track. We also spend most of our energy dealing with the problem children and tend to leave the well performing ones alone. This is a recipe for discontent. The biggest risk in projects is the good people will be disaffected and leave. Do not water the weeds while the plants wither away and die.
Content Acknowledgement: Keith McGregor.
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