Project Planning, Scheduling & Control–Chapter 20: Dealing More Effectively with People


In chapter 19, Dr. James Lewis talked about project managers and their vertical relationships in the upward direction, that is, with senior managers.   In this chapter, he talks about project managers and their vertical relationships in the downward direction, that is, with the project team members.

Dr. Lewis starts out with the observation that we generally know more about getting high performance out of our capital equipment that we do about getting it from the people who run the equipment.   An additional problem in the IT application area is that many individuals who have strong technology focus are introverts who often lack people skills.

Peter Drucker once said that a manager must get people to go beyond the minimum acceptable performance level in their jobs, because that minimum acceptable performance level is the survival level.    However, since the company is competition with other companies that are constantly moving forward, the organization needs to constant improve itself in order to survive vis-a-vis that competition.

1.  BELIEFS ABOUT PEOPLE

One place to start is to start thinking about what your beliefs or your paradigm is with regards to people in the workplace.   Answer the following questions:

  • Do you think most people want to do a good job?
  • Do you believe most people are motivated by pay or by the work itself?
  • Do you trust most people to keep on working even if you aren’t around?
  • Do you think that most people are pretty “straight” with you, or that most of them have hidden agendas that they are trying to advance?
  • Do you believe that you must protect yourself from political maneuvering by other would-be managers?
  • Do you think people will take advantage of you if they get a chance?
  • Do you think you can depend on most workers to do what they say they will do?

Were your answers mostly negative, or mostly positive?   Dr. Lewis contends that the attitudes you have will dictate what kind of behavior you find in those who work for you.

One thing that reinforces our beliefs as outlined above are the processes which filter the information we receive, the processes of deletion and distortion.    We either do not allow into our awareness information that would contradict our beliefs, or we take the information and distort is so that it conforms to those beliefs.

2.  MOTIVATION

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs postulates that our human needs can be placed in five categories, listed below in order from lowest to highest:

  • Physiological
  • Security
  • Social
  • Esteem/Recognition
  • Self-Actualization

Most recognize the truth in this model, but our incentive schemes often don’t match that realization.   Most organizations concentrate on reward systems that emphasize the lower two levels, and give employees external rewards that meet their physiological and security needs.   However, Daniel Pink in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us (2009) makes it clear that research indicates that all true motivation is internal to the person.   You don’t have to pay a person more to do something that he or she is already driven to do.   To achieve high levels of motivation, a person must be given work that in and of itself meets his or her internal drives or needs.

3.  NEGOTIATING AND INFLUENCING

Each of these topics require entire books to do justice to them, so Dr. Lewis recommends the following books:

  • Cialdini, Robert B.  Influence:  The Power of Persuation (New York: Quill, 1993)
  • Patterson, Kerry, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler Influencer: The Power to Change Anything (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008)
  • Fisher, Roger, and William Ury, Getting to Yes (Penguin, 1991)
  • Stone, Douglas, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, Difficult Conversations (New York: Penguin, 2000)

4.  DEALING WITH POLITICS

One of the first things you find out as a project manager is that dealing with stakeholders is often more challenging that dealing with project team members or senior managers.   The reason is that stakeholders often do not understand the nature of the project or worse, don’t care about the project.    Communicating with them in a way that makes them understand the project and care about its outcome is challenging.   Even more challenging is the fact that some of the stakeholders are at odds with each other so there is literally no way of satisfying them all.

Dr. Lewis recommends that for larger or more complex projects, project managers have assistants that can take care of many of the administrative tasks involved in project management in order to free them to deal with political issues.

5.  SKILL BUILDING

For those who feel they are not good at people skills, Dr. Lewis closes the chapter with a positive note:  like anything else, dealing with people is a skill that can be developed by anyone.   However, it is not a technical skill, but more of a performing art.   One unconventional suggestion that Dr. Lewis gives is from John Grinder, the cofounder of Neuro-Linguistic Programming who says that good managers should all take an acting class!   You won’t win any Academy Awards for your performance, but it will increase your performance as a project manager.

 

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