Meaning


An area often overlooked by project and functional managers alike is the importance of meaning, defined as providing people with a sense of purpose in whatever they do.

Meaning is often lacking on projects for several reasons. People are often assigned to tasks that they do not enjoy, that do not meet their expectations, or that do not satisfy their own goals. The importance of meaning is often overlooked. It is the one ingredient that entices people to accept difficult tasks and weather the most deplorable conditions. Project managers must do a better job in this regard if they wish to be more successful. As Margaret Wheatley notes, people prefer leaders who offer or create meaning behind whatever we do and we tend to respond accordingly . [23]

Whatever the reason, meaning is often lacking, resulting in tremendous costs for a project. Morale and esprit de corps suffer, causing a decline in project performance in terms of cost, schedule, and quality. Why? The team lacks the necessary emotional commitment to complete their work. To them it is just another job.

Inculcating meaning is no easy task because project managers control few variables . Nevertheless, it is an important topic because emotional attachment is often the key to success, making the difference between marginal or outstanding results. Ideally, project managers should inculcate that sense of WOW! that Tom Peters talks about in his books, which he describes as something significant and fills people with zest. [24]

Essentially, it boils down to a question of control, not by the project manager, but by the individual. A person needs to have a sense of his or her own destiny, not one dictated by some extraneous force. This is the desire that the poet David Whyte (in The Heart Aroused ) discusses in which people desire to imbue their soul in their experiences. [25]

To get that sense of WOW! or control is really the desire to provide people with the opportunity to have an intense personal, emotional involvement in their work. Abraham Maslow and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi adeptly described the importance of personal, emotional involvement in work.

Maslow called it the peak experience and describes it as the B-love or mystic experience when people fulfill themselves in whatever they do. [26] People who can have this experience are the ones who self-actualize, which is at the top of his Hierarchy of Needs Theory. In a nutshell , Maslow described five basic needs arranged in a hierarchy. These needs are physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization. For each individual, his or her needs can be satisfied to various degrees. In general, however, if the basic needs are satisfied, then self-actualization plays a salient role. Through self-actualization, people can have the peak experience.

Csikszentmihalyi discusses the peak experience from the context of creativity. However, the concepts are fairly similar and deserve discussion. According to Csikszentmihalyi, creative people achieve "flow," which he describes as an optimal experience. He calls it flow because it involves circumstances whereby a person's attention is invested in pursuit of their goal. [27] According to the author, achieving flow requires focusing psychic energy. This focus is important because it provides the necessary energy to do work and, in doing so, gives an opportunity to release it. [28]

Through flow, meaning becomes possible by providing emotional concentration necessary for goal attainment . Csikszentmihalyi agrees and observes that by providing a challenging goal, people receive the significance that they want. [29] In addition to purpose, meaning also involves intending to achieve a goal and fitting a person's activities with his or her needs. It is the latter point that is important, especially when harmony exists among thoughts, feelings, and behavior, both internally and externally. [30]

Whether calling it a peak experience or flow, project managers must provide the opportunity for it to happen. The only question is: How?

Exhibit a positive attitude towards people. They should subscribe to a Theory Y perspective, accepting at face value that people want to contribute meaningfully to projects. If project managers hold a positive perception, people will perform accordingly. If negative, they will also perform accordingly. This connection between perception about people and the consequent results is known as the Pygmalion Effect, or self-fulfilling prophecy . Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard stress the importance of people having positive assumptions about followers. These assumptions can translate into growth for followers. [31]

Part of this positive attitude toward people is to treat them with respect by understanding their need for dignity and self-worth. As Cohen writes , being respectful towards people builds supporters and increases success. [32]

Give people the opportunity to determine their destiny on a project. Enable them to take ownership of the work to do. Project managers can make that happen by allowing people to determine requirements and assume personal responsibility for results. Hence, they allow people to develop their portion of the work breakdown structure, develop estimates, identify task sequences, and determine appropriate criteria of quality. This approach will almost guarantee a sense of meaning by team members because it is their tasks, estimates, and responsibilities. The peak experience or flow then has a greater opportunity to happen.

The key is to get people to think for themselves. Of course, project managers must use judgment. Not everyone will be ready to perform every task for which they volunteer. They must have a level of readiness to perform it. Hersey and Blanchard identified two components of an individual's readiness to perform a task, ability and willingness .

Ability, according to the authors, is the background and skills of a person assigned to do work. Obviously, the more the depth of the background and skill level, the more likely it will be that he or she can perform a task. Willingness is the level of self-confidence and motivation that a person has to perform a task. Obviously, the more self-confidence and motivation one has to perform a task the better. Ideally, a person assigned to a task is willing and able. More often than not, however, the person is sometimes willing and not able or able and not willing or unable and unwilling. [33]

Naturally, project managers want team members, for example, to be willing and able but more often than not they must deal with the other combinations. How can project managers increase the likelihood of people being both willing and able? The answer again is involvement. Project managers can get the involvement by allowing people to participate in planning and even managing aspects of their projects. Examples include having people explode their own portions of the work breakdown structure, determine their own time estimates, and choose to be responsible for the quality of deliverables. People tend to be more committed to whatever they have had a "say."

Admittedly, some people choose a task to perform because they are willing to perform but lack the ability. Project managers, however, can compensate for that situation by teaming the person with someone with more experience or sending him or her to training.

Because they often lack formal power over individuals, project managers must avoid the common tendency to do everything unilaterally and tell everyone what to do by a specific time. This approach makes project management more difficult and can demotivate a team. Again, I cannot overemphasize ” involvement, involvement, involvement.

Fuse logic and emotion when dealing with people. People are the only creatures who think logically and emotionally. They are ruled by the heart and the mind; each affects the other. [34]

Too many project managers think logically, and assume everyone else does too. They fail to realize that logic often reflects the deep emotional needs of individuals. Hence, project managers must be attuned to emotional and logical needs when assigning tasks. While assigning a task to a person may make good logical sense, for example, it may not make good sense from an emotional perspective. That person may not be the right one because of emotional considerations of which the project manager is often unaware. So these project managers find themselves in a struggle between the heart and the head. If project managers assume that people operate on emotion and justify their actions with logic, their task becomes easier. And the best way to fuse the two is to give people the opportunity to determine their own destiny.

Get to know stakeholders, particularly team members, on a personal level. Strive to understand their paradigm or mental maps, their expectations about the project, and the type of work they enjoy doing.

An effective approach is to meet with each person individually. Applying active and effective listening skills, project managers can learn much about a person. They have a better chance of learning what people are willing and able to do or not willing and able to do. They will also gain insight into what truly drives a particular person and their overall attitude. The goal is to learn as much as possible about a person with the idea that project managers can provide the best opportunity to involve that person. Of course, project managers should keep all aspects of the interchange confidential to maintain trust.

When trying to get to know a team member or another stakeholder, a key goal is to empathize, that is, to see and feel the project from their world. Empathy not only furthers relationships but also increases one's social awareness. According to Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, the most effective means for increasing social awareness is empathy. They define empathy as knowing how people feel at a particular moment and responding in a way that mitigates and improves feelings. [35]

This approach offers several advantages. People garner a more personal relationship with project managers. They no longer feel like a "cog in a project machine." People begin to feel that they have an opportunity to grow through participation. Project managers also gain. They get to learn more about the people they must work with in order to achieve project goals. They have a better understanding of what motivates people. They have a greater confidence in dealing with the most difficult part of a project ” people.

Apply good conflict management. All project managers face this situation when people do not want to cooperate with you or disagree with you. Procrastinators and other difficult people will appear and the larger the project, the greater likelihood of their presence. When that happens, conflict management on a one-on-one basis is very important to overcome a potential problem on a project.

If there is one issue that frustrates project managers more than anything, it is dealing with difficult people. I believe, however, the reason that it creates so much frustration is the approach that many project managers take. Rather than treating conflict as an opportunity to open doors between two people, it turns into a power struggle between project manager and stakeholder, often a team member. Many project managers, who often lack formal command and control over people, act as if they have it. Many project managers, in turn , attempt to "force" a person into submissive response. A submissive response, according to Robert Bolton, in People Skills , occurs when a person demonstrates a lack of respect for their own needs and rights. What results, of course, is compliance, not commitment.

Sometimes project managers do not get submissive but aggressive behavior, reflecting the more they push the more reaction returned. Bolton says people who exhibit aggressive behavior tend to be abusive , sarcastic , and often hold a grudge. [36] If an aggressive person does accept a task, it often results in poor quality or work or noncooperation.

Ideally, project managers want people to willingly accept the tasks assigned and not be forced to do them. When conflict does arise when assigning tasks, even after people provide their input, project managers should seek a Win-Win agreement ” a person feels that their needs are being satisfied while, at the same time, fulfilling the needs of a project.

Whenever dealing with conflict, project managers should remember three useful insights that Bolton identifies in his book:

  • Treat the other person with respect. Avoid forcing people into submission or rebellion.

  • Listen to the other person. Strive first, as Covey notes, to understand before being understood . This involves not only understanding them logically, but emotionally.

  • State their own views, needs, and feelings as well. The exchange between project managers and stakeholders is reciprocal; both parties need to understand where the other is coming from and what their needs are. [37]

There is a final insight on how managers should address conflict and it is from the perspective of solving a problem. In Leadership Effectiveness Training (L.E.T.) , Thomas Gordon identifies six steps that can lead to a Win-Win result. They follow closely the approach taken to make decisions that was described in an earlier chapter. The steps are: (1) identify and define the problem, (2) generate alternatives to solve the problem, (3) evaluate the alternatives, (4) make a decision on the best alternative, (5) implement the solution, and (6) conduct the follow-up. [38]

Of course, this approach is very logical when solving the problem. There is also an emotional side to consider. The key is to keep the locus of responsibility for solving a problem in the hands of the stakeholder. This approach will provide a person with the opportunity to commit to tasks. It also encourages people to exhibit assertive, not submissive or aggressive, behavior. Bolton describes assertive behavior as one that affirms a person's sense of value and dignity. [39]

[23] Margaret J. Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science , Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 1994, p. 135.

[24] Tom Peters, The Project 50 , Knopf, New York, 1999, p. 15.

[25] David Whyte, The Heart Aroused , Currency Doubleday, New York, 1994, p. 17.

[26] Abraham H. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being , 2nd ed., Van Nostrand, Princeton, NJ, 1968, p. 73.

[27] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow , HarperPerennial, New York, 1990, p. 40.

[28] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow , HarperPerennial, New York, 1990, p. 33.

[29] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow , HarperPerennial, New York, 1990, p. 216.

[30] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow , HarperPerennial, New York, 1990, p. 217.

[31] Paul Hersey and Kenneth H. Blanchard, Management of Organizational Behavior , 6th ed., Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1993, p. 189.

[32] William A. Cohen, The Art of the Leader , Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1990, p. 142.

[33] Paul Hersey and Kenneth H. Blanchard, Management of Organizational Behavior , 6th ed., Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1993, p. 191.

[34] Antonio Demasio, Descartes' Error , Avon Books, New York, 1994, pp. 191 “196.

[35] Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership , Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 2002, pp. 5 “6.

[36] Robert Bolton, People Skills, Touchstone , New York, 1986, p. 123.

[37] Robert Bolton, People Skills, Touchstone , New York, 1986, pp. 218 “222.

[38] Thomas Gordon, Leadership Effectiveness Training (L.E.T.) , Bantam Books, Toronto, 1980, pp. 194 “197.

[39] Robert Bolton, People Skills, Touchstone , New York, 1986, p. 125.




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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