Creating and Building Loyalty

Loyalty Is the Fuel that Drives Agendas: Without It, Your Project Will Go Nowhere



Project managers must be secure, authoritative and responsible enough to keep their organizations apprised of progress and tackle negative situations head on.

YOU ARE THE BRIDGE between upper management and the project team. If you can't deliver both good and bad news with confidence, your leadership actually may be a roadblock.

“Loyalty starts with the free exchange of ideas, opinions and project developments, both positive and negative,” says Jim Triompo, group senior vice president for process area project management worldwide for ABB. The Swiss company is a technology-based provider of power and automation products, systems and solutions employing about 103,000 people in more than 100 countries. “When the road gets rough, project managers must have the confidence, and executives the maturity, to handle the potholes.”

It's easier said than done: Project managers must be secure, authoritative and responsible enough to keep their organizations apprised of progress and tackle negative situations head on. Executives must examine the issues, processes and solutions brought to them, without shooting the messenger.

“Likewise, project managers must provide this same trustful environment to every team member; they must monitor and guide their teams toward successful project execution, and when things go bad, provide true leadership in addressing and resolving issues, without blaming the individual,” Mr. Triompo says.


Jean Dames, who directs program development and implementation for principals and managing principals within Xerox Global Services, says candid communication is one sure way to foster team loyalty. While some companies believe it's not polite to raise negative issues in the interest of team-building, Ms. Dames believes nondisclosure is a deterrent to authentic project team loyalty. “I have a bias toward frank conversations, because we can fix only the things we know about,” she says. “I've seen project managers struggle, then withhold information because they're afraid to rock the boat or hurt people's feelings. At Xerox, I foster team loyalty by seeking full disclosure by all parties as to how what I do affects them and their agendas, and ask them to invite the same from me. It takes some strong egos, but the more intimate the communications, the greater the trust.”

Honest, open communications may not make project managers popular with executives who are impatient for results, but sooner or later, negative news will come to light. In the end, honesty wins the trust of the most demanding executives, stakeholders and the entire team, says Judy Balaban, PMP, director of Dow Jones' project management office (PMO) in Princeton, N.J., USA, whose office supports 80 project specialists. “Project managers and especially those with the Project Management Professional (PMP®) credential are hired for a reason: their qualifications,” she says. “If they have to stand up and say, ‘This is what went wrong,’ or ‘No, we need do it that way,’ then they must do so and be advocates for their professions.”

Ms. Balaban believes project managers must be willing to buffer unrealistic expectations and turn them into constructive plans of action. “If my CIO pounds on me because another project comes up and I say we can't make the date, my team knows I'm willing to take the lumps—that I won't agree to an unrealistic date then drive them crazy to meet it, or designate every project as a priority and create chaos. They know I'll support them by being forthright and realistic, and this builds trust in me and loyalty to our projects.”


It takes skill and hard work to manage a staggering project portfolio crossing all business silos without over-extending the team and creating a frenetic and disloyal environment. That was the situation facing Andrés Carvallo before he initiated a PMO and new IT governance structure at Austin Energy in Austin, Texas, USA, the United States' 10th largest community-owned electric utility. Every project was ranked first, executives moved resources without knowing the effect on other projects, project managers fought political battles instead of concentrating on work, and disloyalty to the ever-changing goals was palpable. When Mr. Carvallo stepped in to “get control of the chaos,” more than 200 projects were on the docket. Now that number is down to 50, he says.

“You can't give project managers all the responsibility and none of the authority over project ranking and resources,” says Mr. Carvallo, CIO of Austin Energy. “Today, our project community is very happy and extremely committed and loyal,” he says. “There's new passion in their involvement—and measured output has increased 50 percent—because a new PMO and IT governance structure has created a formal project initiation process and provides complete project transparency. Everyone can see the alignment of each project and how it relates to business objectives and strategic long-term corporate goals.”


Encouraging maximum participation of all team members in the decision-making process is one way to build deep team loyalty. However, there are very definite boundaries among the decisions a leader absolutely must make, those the team can make alone, and those requiring a combination of team and leader input and corporate goals.

“The single most important aspect in developing and maintaining loyalty is to involve your team as much as possible in the decision-making process,” says Eric Morfin, who directs the the PMO in the blood testing division at Chiron Corp., a $1.7 billion global biopharmaceutical company based in Emeryville, Calif., USA. “However, this needs to be done well, or your team may select a course that is completely contradictory to what the organization is pursuing. Therefore, the degree to which I involve team members in decisions has more to do with the uniqueness of each situation than with my preferred communications and leadership style.”

His step-by-step process to manage involvement in a rational way entails five different leadership styles, from autocratic (deciding alone) to participative (letting the team itself decide):

STYLE 1 I am the leader. I decide alone. I do not need your input. There is “zero” involvement. This is the most autocratic style, but sometimes necessary.

STYLE 2 I am the leader. I still decide alone, but I am asking my high performers for specific factual input, not opinions. In the end, I will make the final decision.

STYLE 3 Similar to Style 2, but now I need team members' opinions, too, in addition to the facts.

STYLE 4 Similar to Style 3, but now I am asking the entire group, not just my high performers. I may be influenced, but in the end, I will make the final decision.

STYLE 5 The group itself decides. I present the group with a situation, perhaps with some boundaries, and accept its recommendations. This is the most participative style, with all power going to the team, and generates extreme loyalty, but certainly can't be used in every situation.

When applying any of these leadership styles, “let the situation, not your seniority, drive the method you choose to best build team and client loyalty,” Mr. Morfin says.

Austin Energy's PMO is responsible not only for traditional PMO duties but for representing internal and external customer relationships and account management. Unlike some companies with no official business flow chart depicting how decisions get made, “our IT governance starts with a formal project management process in which we focus on the selection stage,” Mr. Carvallo says. “A steering committee including key customers, managed by the key project manager assigned to that business unit as relation manager, selects and prioritizes projects and resources, manages schedules and controls the project through closing. We have an objective way to rationalize resources to priorities, and there's healthier dialogue across all sponsorships, with no secrets or hidden agendas.”


Mr. Carvallo says that governance allows project managers to be more assertive and influential and to do their jobs in a more straightforward way. He earned his project teams' loyalty by taking control of their chaotic environment, sanctioning their authority and creating a clear vision of how their deliverables influence overall corporate goals.


At Metlife Mexico, Mexico City, Claudio Vivian, CIO, who leads a group of about 25 project managers, underscores the importance of maintaining and communicating a clear vision of the desired goal. “When project managers perceive that what they are doing is vital to an overall and significant end result, they will show loyalty to their leadership,” he says. “To maintain that loyalty, you must also demonstrate continuous interest in your team's performance, deliverables and concerns.”

He views his key role as support for his project managers. “That is, my responsibility is to provide project specialists with the proper conditions for performing at maximum levels. Even when I am sure I can't help, it is important to show support and keep project objectives in clear view, thereby fostering team loyalty.”


John Alley, director, project management office (PMO) at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, defines loyalty as not having to sell your team on your decisions, because team members trust you. However, “you can only earn team loyalty when you are loyal to your team,” he says. This entails:

img Never taking credit for the work of your team

img Making sure each team member is recognized for his or her contributions

img Looking out for each member's best interests

img Creating successes by orchestrating projects that evolve effectively

img Celebrating successes.

In addition, Mr. Alley says to “embrace your team's mistakes,” at least the first few times. “I promote the concept that mistakes are good as long as we learn from them. A mentor of mine once said, ‘The only person who doesn't makes mistakes is the person who does nothing.’”

Internally, first talk privately with the offenders to be sure they learned from the mistake. Then talk with the team about what happened, in a positive light, and share what was learned. “Outside of the team, always take the blame for a team member's mistake; you will be amazed by the positive reaction when you take the heat instead,” Mr. Alley says. “Team members take greater ownership of the error, learn from the mistake, realize you accept it and will work harder to avoid letting you down again.”

When mistakes happen and you accept responsibility, team members really begin to thrive without wasting time looking over their shoulders, and this translates to better results for your customers.


One powerful technique for fulfilling customer expectations and building loyalty is to involve clients in the hard questions up front, according to Darrel A. Raynor, PMP, former COO and co-founder of the PMO at Rational Software, Cupertino, Calif., USA. Because there are hundreds of project decisions and trade-offs made on a daily basis, it is better to have the hard conversations upfront with customers about priorities and the triple constraints of scope/quality, time and cost than to learn by trial and error that clients really wanted something else.

“Customers tend to clump all their wants and needs together, making every one a priority. Part of a project manager's job is to help clients prioritize their expectations and requirements, then spend more time on the top level items and less on the bottom ones,” says Mr. Raynor, currently the program director in Austin, Texas, USA, for the St. Edward's University Professional Education Center, Project Management Program. “Involving customers right away in these tough decisions not only helps customers get what they really want, but establishes loyalty and trust. If you let customers think that everything will be handled equally—when, of course, nothing ever is—then you've led them to believe that they'll have it all for the set parameters of scope, quality and time and cost. You need to hone it down with hard discussions upfront.”

Mr. Raynor also notes the importance of one-on-one focused client communications to avoid the egos and emotions that dim the project view. “In years past, you took a client out for a round of golf, but in today's faster, more complicated world, project managers just don't have the time,” he says. “But we do have the time to sit and listen to what's really on people's minds when they express certain feelings and opinions. Try to get past positions and back to the interests of the clients' concerns and goals, and you will go far in developing their loyalty.”

Many clients only see a project once it's finished, but Ms. Dames likes to involve customers throughout the process, especially at critical decision points. “That's where a lot of project managers go wrong: They think a project is theirs, but it's really the client's,” she says. “They need to seek continuous feedback on their work to constantly improve deliverables and maintain client loyalty to their efforts and results.”

Patricia Brewer, vice president of human resources and learning within a division of Xerox Corp., emphasizes that having key customers and stakeholders actively involved in critical decision points and sign-offs is vital to building project loyalty. “When executives get involved only at these points, they are unaware of the underlying decisions and issues that led to milestone results, and potentially can derail the project,” Ms. Brewer says. “Frequent, shorter updates throughout the mission's lifecycle help executives be more effective at the larger decision points. These summaries not only keep executives and clients informed, but also more appreciative of the project's complexity and helps build loyalty momentum during project rollout.”

Digging even deeper, Ms. Dames adds, “After the kickoff meeting and other formalities, the real loyalty-builders are the informal discussions we have with internal and external clients,” she says. “Some managers are project experts, but never really get intimate with their stakeholders and external clients. They don't know how to express what they're really thinking and still keep the project on target. It's in the sub-conversations outside of the official status meetings where honest, heated discussions reveal the true issues behind the problems, and where the bar is raised on the project and with the client's loyalty.”

When conflicts do arise and personalities clash, personal agendas must be put aside. There's only one agenda, and that's the project's successful completion. Ms. Balaban says you know that you've achieved loyalty when your clients keep coming back, and your team says they'd work for you again. “After all, when you look at loyalty, it's really the result of good leadership.” PM

After the kickoff meeting and other formalities, the real loyalty-builders are the informal discussions we have with internal and external clients.

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