Tag Archives: communication

Tips for Project Leaders

There is a wealth of great concepts and tools that project and change leaders can apply to your professional or personal practice.  Here are seven of them from one of my ‘Thoughtscape’ newsletter tip-sheets.

1. Get people to Honour Commitments

We all have a conscience: let’s call it Jiminy Cricket.  One of the biggest problems leaders have, at all levels, is people letting you down by not delivering on their commitments.  So let’s see how the Jiminy Cricket effect can help you.

It is Jiminy Cricket that nags us when we know we need to do something to honour a promise or commitment that we made.  So to boost the Jiminy Cricket effect, when you secure a commitment, you must ensure Jiminy is awake.  Do this by asking for the commitment directly, and doing so in a more formal setting.

2. Maintain Motivation with Milestones

Project managers think of milestones as a valuable planning and monitoring tool.  Project leaders use them also as a powerful tool to motivate too. Impending milestones give a great sense of urgency and pressure.  Missed milestones – if you are unfortunate – create an opportunity to rally to the new deadline, and milestones met offer the chance to recognise and celebrate achievement. People feel more motivated when they have a sense that they are making progress.

More milestones = more motivation

3. Communicate Setbacks Effectively

Setbacks are a part of life, and a challenge for leaders.  It is is easy to lead when everything goes well, so we measure leaders by how they handle adversity.  The first skill to learn is how to communicate the setback.

In communicating, honesty is not the best policy…

… it is the only policy.

So start by setting out clearly and objectively, how things are.  Then paint a picture of how you believe things can be.  The challenge is to bridge the gap, so lay out how you plan to do this.  Then call people to action with a clear next step, and close by making the link between their actions and the  enticing future ahead.

4. Get Comfortable with Resistance

Mike’s first rule of change:

“Resistance is inevitable”

So why is it that so many leaders fear resistance and look upon it as destructive?  In truth, it is simply a part of the process – and understanding it will make it easier and more comfortable to deal with.

My “Onion Model” sets out six levels of resistance: you can read more about how I created it on my main blog and, of course, it is summarised in Brilliant Project Leader. It is fully described in my little book, The Handling Resistance Pocketbook.

5. Understand Patterns of Conflict

Conflict and psychological game-playing are a constant part of our lives and a wise leader needs to be able to be able to analyse the patterns and break the cycle.

Brilliant Project Leader and The Handling Resistance Pocketbook cover this in some detail and discusses one of my favourite tools for analysing unhelpful interactions between people: “the Drama Triangle“.

Use the Drama Triangle to recognise three roles that habitually recur in conflict and manipulation situations: “the persecutor“, who feels good by making you feel bad; “the victim“, who feels good by loading the responsibility for their troubles on you; and “the rescuer“, who feels good by offering you  way out of your discomfort.

6. Teams Need a Name

Part of giving a team a sense of identity is giving it a name.  A well-chosen name can confer purpose, identity, mystery, style, and clarity. Examples of good and bad choices (you decide which) come from the team names chosen by candidates in the UK and US series of The Apprentice.  You can see the list here, and try to guess which were used in the US and which in the UK… and which were chosen by men and which by women.  I think some will surprise you.

7. When things go Wrong:
. . . SCOPE the Problem 

Knee-jerk reactions are rarely resourceful. But you don’t have time for unfocused thinking.  So use the SCOPE process to handle a tricky situation:

  • Stop: Take a deep breath and a mental pause.  Maybe stop for longer if you need to.
  • Clarify: What do you really know about the situation?  What do you need to know? Gather data.
  • Options: More options = more choice = more control.  But having generated options, assess them and make a decision.
  • Proceed: With a decision made; proceed with determination and vigour.  Commit as though no alternative exists.
  • Evaluate: Continually evaluate progress – if you aren’t getting the results you need, then Stop, Clarify and look at new Options.

If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe to my ‘Thoughtscape’ newsletter.

Brilliant Project Leader

What the best project leaders know, do and say to get results, every time.

Brilliant Project Leader
Order here

“This has the ability to greatly enhance your effectiveness and capability.  It is a must read for all current or aspiring project leaders.”
Charles Vivian
Head of Programme and Project Leadership
North Highland, UK

In Memory of Judith Wilks

My friend, Judith, died last week.  In fact, she as often called herself “Wilks”.

I worked with Judith for seven years at Deloitte, in the Programme Leadership Team where she was a Senior Manager until she lost her long battle with cancer. I still remember first meeting her on, I think, her first day.

But what really sticks was the lesson she taught me about communication.

Project Communication

We were working on a major project for BAA plc, where I was leading the Deloitte Team and Judith was managing our most significant work-stream, working with a the client IT programme manager Alan Walker.

I needed to keep up-to-date with the IT programme that Judith and Alan were working on, to help form a wider picture across the whole of BAA and t prioritise group level work and the contributions of our consulting team.  There was a huge amount of information and my natural inclination was to synthesise it into simple, actionable chunks.  I was impatient to get at the facts.

My regular briefings from Judith did not go well, with frustrated me professionally and pained me because Judith was a mate and I wanted us to work together well.  It was Judith who figured out what was going wrong.

“The problem is, Mike,” Judith said “that you want to see the world in black and white, but I can only see it in many shades of colour.”

She was right, of course.  My desire to synthesise her strands of information with many others meant I was trying hard to simplify it all, rejecting what I saw as unnecessary detail.  To Judith, the detail was the colour to life – which enabled her to get totally immersed in whatever she took on.

Incidentally, Judith and her husband never owned a TV, so would not have seen QI (a quirkily British quiz show: QI stands for “Quite Interesting”).  But Judith would have loved the QI Philosophy:

“Whatever is interesting we are interested in. Whatever is not interesting, we are even more interested in. Everything is interesting if looked at in the right way.”

A Solution to the Problem

How to reconcile my need for black and white with Judith’s need for colour?
We found a way.

Once a week, I went to visit Judith and her team (Sabina, Karen, Jane and others) at their offices at the far end of Gatwick airport.  I would go just before lunch and bring top quality sandwiches.  I never saw or heard of Judith brook anything less.

We’d eat and chat.  Judith would fill me in on all the detail – the colours, tones and shades of the situation and the politics.  For me, it was just chat, and not work, so I was no longer impatient.  For Judith, it was a chance to share all of the details in glorious Technicolor.

Then, when we finished lunch, I would summarise what I had heard into high contrast black and white.  That gave me what I needed, quickly and efficiently.  And Judith was no longer frustrated that I would rush past all of the detail.  We were both happy, my reports became better, subtler, more nuanced, and I learned a lot.

Mike’s Second Rule of Communication

Communicate with people as they like to communicate.

Goodbye Judith

Judith could not see the world in black and white.  So it came as no surprise that, in inviting friends to a memorial service and reception, her husband, Jason, said:

I ask men to wear jacket and tie or a suit but not a black tie – Judith would have frowned on such inelegant neckware. Ladies, I leave the choice to your natural style, but remember that Judith will be looking down with a critical but affectionate eye. No jeans please and black or dark colours are neither obligatory nor banned; please wear the colours with which you feel comfortable.

No black tie, then, and I shan’t wear a white shirt either.  That’s as it should be.

Goodbye Judith.
I miss you.

More Samurai Wisdom for Projects – Hagakure Part 2

Recently, I took three paragraphs from The Book of the Samurai – Hagakure – and showed how their wisdom can be useful to a project manager.  Here are three more.

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Speak Truth to Power

Honesty is simple, but it is not always easy.  Among the hardest things a change leader or project manager has to do, are those conversations that relay uncomfortable truths.

It is not just because we don’t like the discomfort of it all, or because we cherish our popularity; there is a real risk that, if it goes badly, the conversation can derail the whole project or initiative.

Hijacked Agenda

Giving people bad or uncomfortable or unwanted news can flip their focus from the rational to the irrational, and their response can become unpredictable.  The one message can become the whole deal for them.  And if they have sufficient power, they can hijack a whole agenda.

Continue reading

True Vision or just Good Words

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the poverty of language used in corporate environments.  People seem to swing to one of two extremes:

  • Complex, jargon heavy language, wrapped in convoluted syntax
  • Simplistic statements that tend to hyperbole and cliché

On the one hand, authors of management drivel seem to think that the more jargon they can use and the longer their sentences, then the more intelligent they will appear.  Either that, or they are afraid that they will expose their own weak understanding of a complex situation, if they tried to explain it clearly.

On the other hand, some authors take the commendable “keep it simple, stupid” message to extremes.  They move from simple to simplistic in one smooth sashay and, in so doing, lose the meaning or distort the truth.

Whatever happened to style and structure?

Yes; I am aware that, on this topic, I am sitting in a glass house, throwing stones outwards.

It’s a Vision Thing

Many organisations have picked up on the need to create a compelling vision to drive their change programmes.  Some project managers have even embraced the value of articulating their project goal with a clear vision.

The problem is that most vision statements contain no vision.  They are often crafted by a committee, following a “visioning” workshop, or are put together in a rush, as an afterthought.

For a vision statement to have vision, it must create images in our minds.  Let’s look at two versions of a powerful vision statement and see how they compare on those stakes.

Version 1.

“I have a vision for an ethnically diverse society in which everybody has full equality of opportunity and where we can harness the synergies of a multi-ethnic workforce, collaborating to construct an enhanced society.”

Version 2.

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!”

No prizes for knowing whose is the latter version.  The question is, how inspired would people have been by version 1?  It cover all the right topics, but it is devoid of the vision it claims.


Let us Compare the Two

What is it that Dr King was able to do with his rhetoric?  I am no expert, but it is clear that the real difference is that King’s words create images in our mind and sensations in our bodies.

Phrases like “sit down together at a table of freedom” and “sweltering with the heat of injustice” and “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls” lodge in your mind and cannot be moved.

Move People

If you are trying to move people, I think your language needs an emotional charge; I think it needs to be precise; and I think it needs to engage the senses.

It seems to me that, when thinking about creating change, and the need to move people’s attitudes from one place to another, it is no coincidence that the word “move” has two meanings.

I can move you physically and I can move you emotionally.  Can you move your people from one culture to another, or from one way of doing things to another, without also moving them emotionally?

How wonderful language is.  Let’s use it to its fullest extent.

The “so what?”

Take a look at the words you use to describe your project and the vision you have created for your change programme.  Does it move you?  Do the words craft magic, conjour images, entrance and captivate?  If not, you have a job to do.

Remember, the pen is mightier than the keyboard.  Take a fine writing implement and a fresh sheet of paper.