Voices on Project Management

To reach a global audience of project professionals, Voices on Project Management presents a blog post every month translated into Simplified Chinese, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. 

This month's post by Kevin Korterud explores four lessons learned from great leaders: World Cup coaches.

Read it in your language of preference and share your thoughts in the comments box below.



Eliminate the Fear Factor

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A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and most modern management texts emphasize leadership and motivation over directive control. 

Yet if employee surveys are to be believed, around 70 percent of managers still operate in command-and-control mode. These managers rely on authority, discipline and fear to drive performance. And their team's commitment to the organization and performance suffer accordingly. 

It's simply futile to tell people they must come up with a bright idea within the next 30 minutes or sanctions will be applied! Fear damages creativity and destroys openness; frightened people cannot work effectively in a knowledge economy.

If people are scared of being blamed, the last thing they'll do is pass on accurate information about an issue or a problem. And effective management decision-making depends on the open transmission of bad news. Project controls staff must know what's really happening and need honest estimates of future consequences to provide planning advice.

To understand how serious this problem can be, consider that one of the causes of the up to ₤425 million loss so far on the ₤2.4 billion U.K. Universal Credit program -- ultimately credited to "weak management, ineffective control and poor governance" -- was that no one in the development team felt able to highlight their problems to senior management. Fear of being blamed kept the knowledge of the problem from the people who needed to know. 

Trusting and empowering your team, open communication, leadership and motivation are all closely interlinked and in combination create high-performance teams. 

This is not a new concept. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Prussian military developed auftragstaktik (or mission command) under the core tenet of bounded initiative. The leader's role is to clearly outline his/her intentions and rationale. Assuming people have proper training and the organizational culture is strong, subordinates can then formulate their own plan of action based on their understanding of the actual situation. 

What do these ideas mean for project managers?

  • Move from a position of telling to asking. 
  • Work to build open and trusting communication; don't blame.
  • Instead of using control tools such as schedules as a target to measure, use them as a means to collaborate.
  • Be prepared to forgive mistakes -- encouraging creativity always has the possibility of the idea not working.
How do you eliminate the "fear factor" from within your team? 
A relatively new but increasingly important role is emerging: the chief strategy officer (CSO). From Starbucks to Siemens, many organizations now have a designated CSO.

A CSO can be defined as an executive responsible for assisting the CEO with identifying, communicating, executing and sustaining strategic initiatives -- basically, what a portfolio manager does. 

And I would argue that the next CSOs will come through the portfolio management ranks.

Strategy itself is about renewal, and renewal is achieved through transformation. Therefore, a key part of strategy is innovation. That's not just technical or product innovation. It's also managerial, organizational and process innovation implemented through portfolios (and of course, the corresponding projects and programs). 

As with a portfolio manager, the core responsibilities of a CSO include translating strategy into execution:

  • Enabling and sustaining large-scale organizational change -- preparing the organization to accept the change
  • Communicating and implementing a company's strategy internally and externally so all employees, partners, suppliers and constituents understand the strategic plan and how it carries out the organization's overall goals
  • Driving decision-making that creates medium- and long-term improvements through the execution of portfolios, programs and projects
  • Ensuring the portfolio is delivering measurable outcomes, identifying growth and innovation opportunities, as well as monitoring the competitive landscape

There are four main types of CSOs:

  1. Change Enabler: change agent to facilitate cross-organizational initiatives or portfolios
  2. Consultant: a strategic planner and adviser; the formulator of strategy
  3. Specialist: may be focused on a specific type of strategic initiative or portfolio, such as mergers & acquisition
  4. Coach: facilitates the strategy development, consensus-building and translation into execution

What do you think? Are portfolio managers the next chief strategy officers?

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with — or even disagree with — leave a comment.

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