Schmoozing and project management
It’s the year 2000, the Twilight Zone has been off the air for over a quarter a century; Captain Kirk is approaching the age to acquire social security; most students in school today were born after George Orwell’s 1984; and the world is embarking on the vast frontier of e-business and the Internet and all sorts of electronic-based projects with geographical-diverse teams and sophisticated integrated technology. So what is one of the key skills needed for the project manager in this brave new world? The skill of recognizing the value in the people on the project and getting all parties to contribute their all to individual projects. Amazing, but this is the same skill that has been required in managing projects science the beginning of time.
I have found that all disciplines have both a science and an art. In the realm of project management, the PMBOK® Guide offers a well-structured outline for the science of project management, but it offers little as far as learning the art. (This is not criticizing the PMBOK® Guide; the vast majority of behavioral management texts also concentrate on the science/technical portion of the discipline.) I had been talking for several years on the “art” of project management and found it very difficult to find the right word to interest people and get their attention. People would say “oh yeah” and then go on with work breakdown structures and time lines. Then one day as I was stuck in a traffic jam in Atlanta, Georgia listening to a radio station, a light came on in my mind.
On this hot day in Atlanta, a local radio station was promoting a book by interviewing its author Aye Jaye (1998). Now I had never heard of Aye Jaye before and the only reason I stayed on the air to listen to the interview was because they said he worked with Penn and Teller and I figured it might be good for a laugh. Well, the purpose of the interview was that Aye Jaye was promoting his book on schmoozing. Before listening to the interview, I framed in my mind that schmoozing meant a condescending way to treat a person so they will buy something from you or do what you want. After a few minutes of listening to Aye Jaye, he changed my mind on that definition. As he described this method of treating people well and making them feel good as a successful way to motivate even the most disgruntled person. I started to compare his experiences to those in my profession. Then it hit me, he had coined this right word I was looking for, and that word is schmoozing.
According to Aye Jaye, schmoozing is an old Hebrew term that defines the authentic practice of treating people well. And that was the art of the project management I was trying to define. The appealing portions of this definition are the word authentic and also the concerted attempt to find value in people. I had know for many years, and there is volumes of research to defend this, that people perform better on tasks in which they feel their contribution is valuable.
After hearing this interview, I needed to buy this book. After going to a few bookstores with no luck and finally getting an order through an Internet site. I received the book, read it cover to cover, and realized that schmoozing was a required skill for project managers. The concept is so simple, treat people well, recognize their value to your project, and the results will be greater. Yet for some reason, it’s hard to do! The book refers to the golden rule of schmoozing and how to use it to improve relationships and use your personal magnetism.
It is probably important at this time to also say what schmoozing is not. Schmoozing is not a condescending act of “kissing up” to a person with the intent of obtaining personal gain! Schmoozing is sincere, while somehow in today’s vocabulary schmoozing has become more a political act than a human relationship technique.
Schmoozing and Project Management
So how does this definition of schmoozing fit into project management? This entire paper is based on the assumption that if a project manager recognizes the value of the members of the project team, and genuinely treats them well, the individuals will produce better work for the project and “involve” themselves into the project.
No matter how technical the project is, no matter how “left brained” the members of the project are, and no matter how technically correct all steps of the project management process are defined, the project still only succeeds through people. And people are not rational numbers driven resources, people are emotional passionate individuals that want to be valued for both who they are and what they offer. Schmoozing techniques allow the project manager to recognize that value in the individual.
Most projects are executed through a matrix management arrangement where a project manager has to work with line managers and “allocated” resources. The project manager needs to be able to get people to complete steps in a work breakdown structure in order to meet the project objectives. Many times this involves negotiations with line managers and line workers getting them to adjust their priorities and commit time. One of the best negotiating techniques is to make the other person feel they are valuable, their time is valuable, and get them to WANT to contribute. Practicing the rule of Schmoozing does just that.
This portion of the paper involves proven schmoozing techniques that help the project manager to recognize the value of the peoples time and to get the most from the people working on the project. The ideas that are presented here are techniques for schmoozing the members of the team. These are not gimmicks to attempt to get one-time completion of a task; they are reminders of ways to genuinely treat people well. If the manager treats these techniques as gimmicks, there may be a one-time success, but over the long term they will fail.
There are some rules of caution regarding schmoozing and project management. First the manager must be sincere; the foundation of schmoozing is based on the sincere act of treating people well. Schmoozing is a way of treating the people on the project team, it does not trivialize the project, lessen its importance, intensity, or difficulty. Schmoozing involves human interaction and that always involves a certain degree of risk. A part of a project manager’s job is always to bring team members back to concentrating on the project and the completion of tasks. Tread very cautiously when using any kind of humor. Humor can be a very effective schmooze technique in helping reduce team member stress as well as creating comradely and efficiency; however, humor can also be found offensive and insensitive—so tread cautiously.
The following techniques are just examples of a project manager treating members of the team well. The techniques presented below involve first an approach and them some actual examples of applying these techniques. Just as a carpenter has many tools in the toolbox to complete various jobs, the schmoozing project manager needs to have many schmooze techniques to handle various situations. There really is nothing new here; many of these items are covered in human relationships classes and even in Kindergarten.
Ideas that will be presented include:
Focus on People
In a nutshell, schmoozing involves focussing on the people and not the details of the project.
Make yourself available to members of the team. Many times project managers focus up and not across. Although status reports and executive briefings are important and required, a good project manager must be available to all members of the team. If a team member makes a phone call to the PM and leaves a message, return it, even if after hours and another voicemail message is left. By being accessible, not only does the PM make the members feel their contribution is valuable, it also will allow for more honest communication and allow the PM to be proactive in tackling hurdles and avoiding major problems as the work unfolds.
•Positive comments in status reports
For some reason, it is difficult for project managers to put down in a status report that somebody did a very good job. Highlight successes in the WBS. Do this early in the project and frequently. As people we tend to wait until crunch time to compliment members but there is nothing wrong with making comments early in the project. This should really be accentuated if the task is completed early in a project.
This is self-explanatory. Be generous with SINCERE praise to team members, suppliers, and customers. Promote the team and individuals contributions. Frequently use the word team in discussing the project.
•The power of a cup of coffee
Taking the work away from office for a short period of team is always valuable. I have on many projects tried to take team members out for a cup of coffee or a soda pop for 15 minutes just to talk. Many times the talk starts out work related and wonders into personal. For new members to a company or a project team this is a very valuable use of time. It shows the team member that not only is their time valuable, but also they are valued.
Treat People and Their Time as Valuable
There is an old adage that says, “Talk is cheap”! Part of the schmoozing rule is that you wish to treat people and their time as valuable; therefore, you must practice techniques that follow that rule.
•Always have an agenda—prove to people their time is valuable
This is a business rule 101, but is frequently skipped. I am always impressed with project managers that still have agendas for meetings four months into a project. Many times a PM starts out with the admirable objective to always have meeting agendas, but over time its priority slips and the meeting crispness also starts to slip. The agenda should always be published at least 24 hours before the meeting, or conference call, as well as any documentation.
An elevator summary is a process of focusing the scope on the project into a concise description so it can be explained to the CEO of the company on a 20-story elevator ride. I have successfully used a model of an elevator summary. It uses propositions on the left column and action verbs in the right section to define whom the project is for, what the project is, and why it’s important. I have successfully used this model at the kickoff of many projects. It has several benefits; first, it establishes the scope at a high level. Next, it demonstrates the value of the project to the team, then it shows people that you value their time because you have given them a concise overview they can use with their management teams, finally it is wonderful for a team to think that you have taken the time to help them explain the project to the CEO. The physiological impact of this objective is astounding, it provides the message that the project is important and that you want every member of the team to be able to explain the project purpose.
Keep Interest in Meetings
Perhaps the single biggest communication channel in the life of a project is the dreaded meeting. One of the problems with meetings is getting people to attend them, and one of the biggest reasons for people skipping meetings is the irrelevance of the meeting and how their time is not treated as valuable. These techniques are specifically designed to make the meetings interesting for all participants, keep a focus on the meeting, and to make the meeting time valuable.
•Start with a “weather report.”
A weather report is a “check in” time at a meeting where a role is taken and people report on how things are in their life. Whether it’s stormy, sunny, or calm. It also gives a chance to provide a brief forecast and to say what’s coming up. Now at first this technique seems completely contradictory to the idea of treating people’s time as valuable and a waste of meeting time, but surprising it isn’t as it provides several benefits. First, it treats the person as valuable and acknowledges that there are many influences on their life, second, it gives them a chance to “clear their head” of other side interference and to concentrate on the task at hand, finally, it provides valuable influence into the priority setting of individuals. The PM will need to use discretion on this technique and it works well in both face-to-face meetings and on conference calls, but with teams of more than 10 people it starts to get out of control and loose its effectiveness. One other technique, if this is a face to face, pass a token around the room to grant “the floor” to the person holding the token, on the opening weather reports, the token can be passed around the room as an indicator of who should be speaking. This is of course impossible on a conference call, but the concept of the token is valuable in controlling the discussion in a meeting.
•Break between topics with things such as a TRIBOND.
This is a nice technique to stop discussion on one topic and move onto another. It also is a very positive way to bring people into the meetings that is being held via a conference call. TRIBOND is a registered game in which three things are mentioned and you need to find the common element among all three. An example is: (1) a car, (2) a train trip, and (3) an elephant. The common element is that they all have a trunk! Again the importance of this technique is not the game, but the conscientious break from one topic to another. It can keep the meeting flowing and migrate off a topic that is “being beaten to death”!
•Focus status meetings on status.
This just uses status as an example, but in a nutshell it says create an agenda and follow it. Many projects tend to get into a rut where the same meeting is held over and over again. If the purpose of the meeting is to provide a status of the project, then focus on status. Don’t try to solve all the problems and issues in status meetings, instead schedule time for those items and focus status on status. That technique will more likely bring other managers and executives to the meetings and accelerate many steps with the project communication channels.
•End with a “check out.”
This is similar to a “Weather Report” except it is timed for the end of the meeting. Go around the participants and have them state what they consider their highest priority to do after the meeting and then let them check out. What a powerful underlying message about the value of a person and their time.
Make Status Reports Relevant
Another challenge for a project manager is to get people to report status, and if they do, to get people to read a status report. This article is not intended to argue pro or con whether status reports are even necessary in Year 2000 project management, but it does offer some techniques for making the status reports more viable and useful.
•Give it a newsletter look and feel.
Plain dry monotonous status reports will not be read. First, I am a firm believer that all the information should be web-based and electronic and avoid all paper-based communication. However, if the project or culture dictates paper, provide a newsletter layout with a table of contents and possibly columns. Include graphics if possible.
•Make the Web Status Central a place worth visiting.
The preference for most people now will be to have all status available via a web page.
Status reports here can be easily organized, cataloged and saved via date. You can include hyperlinks to many other resources and information spots. If the project manager has a dynamic web repository for the project, it will become a viable source of information for all. Then the status report will be another piece of information in the repository. If using a web-based status, keep it crisp, have a project member page with phone numbers and e-mails, hyperlink to other documents in the project portfolio, and keep it current.
•Add an interesting bit of relevant trivia in a later page.
One of the by-products of the Internet is the wealth of information available in a hypertext or electronic format. Don’t be afraid to spice up a status report with tidbits of this information. Many people will think its irrelevant and maybe bordering on nonprofessional, but I disagree. Small trivial facts that may pertain to the project provide a means of identification and personality to the mundane details of a WBS. Again, discretion must be applied to maintain a professional repository as opposed to an entertainment center, but little tidbits of nonessential information will encourage visits to the web site.
•List important personal and professional dates in the team members’ life such as birthdays and anniversaries (professional or service).
What better way to demonstrate to team members that they have value than to list the critical dates in their life?
Keep a Stash of Chatch
In defining the Golden Rule of Schmoozing, Aye Jaye frequently referred to the use of chatch. Apparently chatch is an old Hebrew term for items of gratitude. This may include social items such as bringing a bottle of wine when invited to a person’s house for dinner. It is recommended that a project manager keep a supply of chatch on hand to show gratitude for your team members. Some examples of chatch include:
There are several locations on the Internet that allow you to create and send electronic greeting cards. These are nice items for sending a Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary, or Congratulations on completing a major step in the project. They cost nothing to send and only take a little time, but the rewards are significant. It is a way of taking time out to recognize the value of an individual and will inspire them to continue the work.
There are many comic strips both on the web and in the newspaper. If you find a comic strip that may capture a certain aspect of the project or a team member, share it. There is a strong universal appeal to comics and the effort of clipping one out and sharing it with an individual is a small investment in time, but a large investment in showing people their value.
•Simple awards / rewards generated by you on your PC
This is self-explanatory. There are scores of PC products that allow you to print out a certificate of appreciation. A word of caution, use these sparingly as you don’t want them to become a routine joke, make sure they have meaning and sincerity.
Make it a WOW! Project
This term is stolen from Tom Peters. A WOW project by definition is one that people want to be a part of. A project manager needs to make their project a WOW project and let everybody feel they are contributing to something big and important. Make it a project that when the members are done, they can say they were part of something enjoyable that recognized their value and they felt good about it!
A final word of caution. Using the rules of schmoozing hinges on pure sincerity. Do not bore everybody at a meeting by taking time out to do a role call of members and saying thank you and struggling to find something nice to say about everybody—that lacks sincerity. Instead schmoozing is an everyday, not out of the ordinary, behavior. Many of these schmooze techniques can be done in private or without any fanfare at all. Schmoozing is not intended to draw attention to your project management people skills or part of a checklist; it must be a sincere behavior that shows people you recognize their value.
Many project managers fear that practicing the rules of schmoozing may be seen as giving up authority or losing respect. First of all, authority and respect are not granted by title; they are earned by behavior and knowledge. That’s why this is referred to as an art. Schmoozing is a behavior, you can still schmooze the team and recognize value, yet be stern and authoritative if tasks are not being completed on time and with quality. If the project team needs to concentrate and settle down then the project manager needs to entice behavior to do that. Critical encouragement can happen without a disregard for the value of the people. A well-structured WBS and defined tasks and all the technical aspects of a project manager’s role are key in showing an individual that they are not meeting their commitments.
One last comment on schmooze techniques. It seems many men feel this is an emasculating technique best suited for females. I submit that is not the case. Schmoozing works whether your or man or a woman and it does not not emasculate.
Why Does a PM Need to Schmooze
In the hectic “Internet speed” world of 2000, schmoozing is becoming an increasing important tool in the project manager toolbox. I have been asked the question before, “Why would a project manager need to schmooze?” and I have several reasons:
People Have Worked Hard Before and Felt Unappreciated
Perhaps the biggest reason a project manager will need to practice schmoozing is to get enthusiasm from disgruntled workers that feel unappreciated. This is a significant problem in today’s workforce and many times a project has a mix of burnt out team members as well as over zealous people. The project manager will need to practice schmoozing to make these people feel valuable and to also recognize the value of other team members. American culture specifically fails to recognize many years of experience; and instead of someone becoming a knowledgeable resource, they become an old fogy. Practicing schmoozing recognizes that experience and shows its value to the project and to you as a person. In the same vein, an overzealous person could become a liability on the project and schmoozing is a way of recognizing their value and positively channel that passion.
It’s a Technology Project
As stated earlier, it is people who get projects to work. There are some groups that will flat out state schmoozing gimmicks will not work in my organization, it will all be considered fluff and a waste of time. I offer that it is with technical groups that schmoozing techniques are most important. It is important in technical groups not to flaunt schmoozing and to lessen some of the more “corny” side of schmoozing, but technical people thrive on their work being recognized and valuable. Although you may get a grumble on the electronic birthday card, or it isn’t even read, it doesn’t mean it isn’t recognized and appreciated.
It Makes People on Your Project More Involved in the Project
This one has been explained throughout this paper. You succeed with people!
Schmoozing works, practicing schmoozing as a project manager will encourage people to feel their contribution to a project is valued and important. Yes, some techniques in schmoozing are corny, but they work. And not all techniques should be used at all times in all projects. Schmoozing is a behavior of genuinely treating people well and recognizing their value. Schmoozing one of the most prolific acts of enthusiasm possible for a project manager. It is a constant hard working strong acknowledgement that you are not alone, there is an interdependency among team members and that as the manager of the project, you are fostering that interdependence and proclaiming you are a valuable part of this team!
Finally, enthusiasm is contagious. Schmoozing is an enthusiastic behavior that a project manager uses to recognize the value of the people on the project. And when people feel valuable, they will be more involved in the project. These components are all important ingredients in making the project a WOW project!
Jaye, Aye. (1998, October). The golden rule of schmoozing: The authentic practice of treating others well. ISBN: 1570711291. Sourcebooks, Inc.
Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
September 7–16, 2000 • Houston, Texas, USA