Understanding People Pays Off

So what happens when project managers have a good understanding of people?

Managing a project becomes easier, not harder. Project managers do not have to exercise close oversight or apply negative techniques to "force" people to perform. They recognize and apply the techniques that get people "synchronized" with the work to perform by seeking a greater match between the personality, talents, and abilities of the individual and their work. When this occurs, people have greater confidence, ownership, and accountability as well as experience more enjoyment on a project. It is almost a guarantee that less turnover , rework , and negative conflict, e.g., power struggles, will occur. A greater tolerance will arise for other people and their ideas because people will feel unthreatened. Naturally, better schedule and budgetary performance will result as well as improved quality of work.

What is meant by motivating positively? In a nutshell , project managers subscribe to McGregor's Theory Y rather than Theory X approach towards managing people. Under Theory X, project managers negatively perceive people, viewing them as unmotivated and lazy as well as requiring close supervision. Under Theory Y, project managers take a positive perspective, viewing people as self-motivated and who like to work without close supervision.

Most management theorists of today subscribe to the Theory Y approach. But the question is: How do project managers make that happen?

Synchronicity. They match a person to the right tasks to feel good about their work and their performance. Project managers achieve synchronicity by enabling people to self-actualize, to use Maslow's term , and have a sense of "flow" that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discusses in his works about creativity. Flow, according to Csikszentmihalyi, is an optimal experience when people feel a sense of enjoyment and excitement in what they do. [2]

Project managers will not find this effort easy because it requires an integration of the personality and motivations of each team member with the goals and objectives of their projects to give people meaningful participation. Understanding people presents some tough challenges to project managers. The biggest challenge is to get "inside the heads of other people" and figure out "what makes them tick." No way exists to do that unless you are a psychologist or psychiatrist and even then considerable disagreement exists. However, project managers can employ some models to help them understand people better.

Avoid stereotyping or "boxing in" people. Few people fall completely into one category or another; they usually fall on a continuum. The different classifications of people and their talents and abilities described in this chapter are only tools to help project managers to deal with other people in a general sense. This insight, however, does not lessen their value. These models serve as a means to an end to manage the complexity behind human behavior that is multidimensional.

Recognize that people are dynamic, not static. Each person is a complex organism that changes to a degree. People behave consistently with their personality, manifested via belief, values, and action. However, over time and circumstance, people can change but not easily. As living, open systems, people must interact with their environment and other people. Such interaction can reinforce as well as alter human behavior.

Assume the "best in people"; look for opportunities to help people exercise their strengths while pursuing mutually beneficial goals and objectives. Look for opportunities for people to apply their talents, skills, and knowledge in a manner that garners contributions towards achieving the goals of a project. Project managers must not force people ” over whom they often have no direct control ” but influence them. They achieve that through involvement up front and sustain it throughout the life cycle of a project.

Encourage people to step beyond their "protected wall." These walls, a term popularized by the psychologist Carl Rogers, can be mental maps, paradigms , or psychological blocks. Whatever the form, project managers need to encourage people to "take one step out" to "see things differently." This task is not an easy one, but project managers can achieve it by coaching people while navigating into the unfamiliar, by taming, training, and emphasizing the need to focus on the "big picture."

Accept diversity as the norm rather than the exception. Diversity goes beyond the physical characteristics of people. It also includes how people think and perceive reality. The importance of diversity is frequently overlooked, and does more damage to morale and esprit de corps than a budget cut or impractical schedule. Lack of acceptance of diversity often results in intolerance, arrogance , and a loss of opportunity to capitalize on the different strengths people bring to a project.

Build an atmosphere of openness and trust; allow people with different thoughts and talents to contribute to overall goals and objectives. If this openness and trust fails to exist, people will retreat behind their walls. This retreat results in inefficiency and ineffectiveness as well as people "holding back." Project managers end up with an "army of soldiers" rather than an "army of warriors." The difference is that the former merely follow orders to do the minimum while the latter take the initiative.

Influence, not coerce, people to take on tasks. For good reason, as Cohen notes, by saying that domination does not guarantee anything but recognition of not being the leader. Trust, so crucial to leader-follower relations, can crumble.

[2] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow , HarperPerennial, New York, 1990, pp. 1 “8.

Leading High Performance Projects
The Photoshop CS2 Speed Clinic: Automating Photoshop to Get Twice the Work Done in Half the Time
ISBN: 193215910X
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 169

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