Archives for category: culture

Getting things done through others can be the most satisfying or the most frustrating part of our work life.

As a Project Manager, I am often responsible for reporting to stakeholders on the progress the team is making on the project. My job is a whole lot easier when the individuals accountable for the work get the work done when they committed to get it done, at the quality expected by the organization.

Things get difficult when that work doesn’t get done as committed to.  As the the person accountable for reporting status my role becomes a bit of a verbal balancing act. I have to let my stakeholders know that the work that was committed to get done by a certain date is not done. At the same time I can’t throw the team member under the bus who failed to deliver the work as promised. The whole thing starts to boil over for me when the person who failed to deliver is unapologetic and dismissive of letting the team down.

The above scenario isn’t a singular anecdote from one frustrating project. In my 17 years of leading projects I’ve seen it occur many times.  As the Project Manager, I have a responsibility to work with the challenging party. Sometimes, the organization itself enables the behavior. There are tools to help the Project Manager, such as RACI tables (Responsible | Accountable | Consulted | Informed.) But tools only take us so far.

I suggest that creating a strong culture of accountability will significantly increase project success. Aligning individual performance appraisal with project performance helps. Enlist the help of the team member’s manager to ensure that she is aware of what their direct report is accountable for on the project and determine a realistic game plan for successful delivery.  Be sure that the team member is aware that his lack of accountability impacts the entire team and doesn’t go unnoticed.

What has been your experience and what has worked for you?

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If you’re willing to accept failure and learn from it, if you’re willing to consider failure as a blessing in disguise and bounce back, you’ve got the potential of harnessing one of the most powerful success forces. – Joseph Sugarman

In 2002 I left a fairly successful consulting career to take over ownership of a coffeehouse in Philadelphia. I had plenty of personal reasons about why I thought this was a good idea, although I had no experience in the retail food industry. Long story short, a little under two very long, challenging, stressful years later, I had to sell the cafe and return to consulting.

Had I persisted longer would the shop been successful?  I doubt it. I believe I had persisted long enough (I know my wife definitely believed so.)  What it came down to was that this particular venture was a failure. A pretty significant one for me. At that moment I was not looking at it as an opportunity to learn as Mr. Sugarman above instructs. Honestly, I was looking to forget about it.

Surprisingly, one of my brothers provided the most insightful comments from the whole experience. He said, “Just think how much you wouldn’t have learned if you were successful.”

The truth is that when failure hits, it is tough. We all fear failure and many of our behaviors reflect that fear.  So much is written about learning from our failures and being persistent in the face of failure.  I agree. Life goes on. It took a bit for me, it still stings a little even today. I have been able to look back and gain learnings from my experience.   I think we all have that capacity.

We don’t need to always celebrate failure as some suggest.  When projects fail it sucks and we feel accountable. What we can do is create a blameless environment that allows for honest and open communication about what happened and what can we learn from it. That doesn’t only mean what will we do different next time, but also what knowledge was gained from the failure. Everyone knows the story of how Post-it notes were created. There is knowledge in failure. In that we all can gain resilience and a more persistent attitude.

[Note: This is the 6th in  a 12-week series of posts that will discuss “choices” from the book Monday Morning Choices by David Cottrell.]

In late December I posted an excerpt about how organizations seek ideamongers, but foster a culture that protects the status quo and finds comfort in predictability.

In what is most likely a set of interesting coincidences for which I am allowing myself to be aware, I am finding all sorts of situations, experiences, and readings that resonate this thinking.

The quote below from Leo Tolstoy (1897) is one such reading.  Upon reflecting on what Tolstoy is saying it hit me. Much of the challenge that I face in bringing ideas that are new to an organization (not new ideas necessarily) are grounded in the preconceptions of those already here. Management’s own preconceived “answers” to the questions they hired me to assist in answering are creating the speed bumps to organizational change. No matter my experience, knowledge or communication skill – they are the most difficult to persuade.

The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him.

I also recognize that I fall into the same trap. Now, how to escape?