Leading for results
Englund Project Management Consultancy
Dr. Robert Lauridsen
The Lauridsen Group
High-performance cultures require leaders who leverage their self-awareness, understand their leadership style, and place value on the power of strong relationships. They are fully aware that sustained effort and achieving project results are a function of interaction and interdependence. They know that developing strong working relationships is one of the keys to sustained success. However, leaders embrace many “enemies” that threaten their relationships, such as succumbing to an inward focused management role and exercising excessive controls.
Managers want results but actions speak louder to say they want control. Is it possible to pursue both control and results—up to the point where the two actually conflict? Are you a leader—focused on where you are going—or a manager—focused on getting things done? Can you lead and manage at the same time? Which will you emphasize when the two outcomes conflict?
Relationships exist in a frame of reference; change the frame of reference, and you can dissolve apparent conflicts between opposing values. This paper provides a new perspective, frame of reference, highlight of tools, and recommendations to work through conflicting paradoxes in order to ensure that greater project results are the outcome in practice.
Are You “In the Game?”
Think about your typical day. You have too many things going on. Not only that, but you are pressured to create greater results with little input from managers regarding what is important and what they really want. Sound familiar? Also, notice you spend the day talking, listening, trying to solve problems, talking some more, writing, going to meetings…with little actual progress or results.
Star performers face similar frustrations and obstacles but know that the secret to sustained effort and achieving project results is a function of effectively managing people and optimizing processes. We say they have a high interaction quotient that complements their high technical quotient. What would it mean to your productivity if you could improve your interaction quotient? Do you want to make these improvements?
You probably answered yes, but are your intentions truly honorable, in that you are willing to adopt a different way of thinking, adapt a new system so it feels natural, and apply it enthusiastically? Okay, this sounds like work. Yes it is. Are you in this new game, realizing that the rules of the game have changed?
There is a growing realization that to survive and prosper, people need more than the traditional analytical tools offered in our schooling and training. In the words of a dear mentor, Fernando Flores, “Our schooling has been focused on the acquisition of knowledge and the application of concepts, but as knowledge becomes a commodity, it is increasingly evident that this is not what we need to cope and thrive in today's world. Instead, we need new practices that are not trivial—practices that allow us to cope with an increasingly global, constantly changing world, where communication is instant, and our identities are examined and at risk at all times.”
Recognized or not, we have all been greatly impacted by the age of connectivity. As our access to information and networks grows, and our capacity to connect to other people expands, leaders and managers alike are generally finding it more difficult to produce and compete. Some people are beginning to realize that they don't have the skills necessary to navigate in a constantly changing world, and they don't know what to do about it.
We sense that many people live in fear and anxiety about the future, and lack confidence not only in their capacity to cope with the reality at hand, but in some cases, with their leaders’ capacity as well. Working harder is no longer leading to the results it did in the past.
Self-delusion and denial are always helpful anesthetics in these moments of dramatic change. However, there are always those who see what's happening and are ready to take action. What is needed but often not realized is a new perspective (new frame of reference) and specific tools to cope and thrive in the reality of our world today. A tired clique goes something to the effect that “What got us to this point won't sustain us.” In this regard, Einstein wrote, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”
This is all well and good, however, our question is “Okay, but what do we do about that?” Authors and consultants exhort us to “think outside the box” but our boxes are not visible, nor can we think outside them on our own, since our present box (our frame of reference) shapes and influences everything we see, think, and say. In order to think outside the box we first must know the box we're in.
As illustrated in Exhibit 1, we need a way of viewing our present box or frame of reference…literally new eyes! Recognizing our present frame of reference is a first step to seeing what has worked, what will continue to serve us, and what needs to be addressed if we are to succeed with today's complexities and new challenges. Then, we can generate a new frame of reference to deal with this world coming at us point blank.
In our work as leaders and managers we are always evolving. There is a natural drift of evolution. The question is, are we evolving fast enough? Or, do we need to accelerate our leadership and managerial evolution by design?
Exhibit 1 – How we view our present box
Two Frames of Reference
In one author's experience with professional organizations sponsoring major events, an inordinate amount of discussion goes into pessimistic forecasting, angst around break-even points, and tasks. After suffering through these discussions quietly for a while, it becomes apparent that actions and thoughts are guided from an individual or self-serving frame of reference. We say this is operating in my own circle, separated from others, and feeling frustrated, almost paralyzed from acting. I'm doing my job, just leave me alone. I know what's best.
A new perspective is possible—to operate in a different circle or frame of reference—where I connect with others in order to achieve a greater outcome. That means I speak up and remind the group of the First Law of Money: money will come when you are doing the right thing. I refocus the discussion on why we are doing the event, reinforce that its purpose is to contribute to the professional community (not just prevent the organization from losing money), and engage others in clarifying the value the event offers, both to promoters and participants. If the value is indeed there, we can charge appropriately for the event, and people will come. We need to be enthusiastic about the project. It is that enthusiasm, and its source, that will be contagious, bringing others in to participate and making the project successful. I have shifted from managing myself to leading for results, where it is necessary to interact with other people.
This example highlights the two circles—individual and connected—that form a revised way of thinking (Exhibit 2). The trick is to be aware in the moment about which frame is driving current thoughts and actions. Perhaps the other frame would be a more effective and appropriate approach. For example, I may be fixated on completing a management report that is required for an upcoming checkpoint meeting (individual circle). I forget to solicit inputs and review of the report by the client or team members (connected circle). Failing to include others may create morale or trust issues that impact the outcome of the project to a much larger extent than fulfilling the output task of completing the report. It may have been expedient to make this decision on my own rather than engage others. On the other hand, a reset in thinking may drive me to take the time and effort to get inputs from other stakeholders, realizing that I gain more respect and cooperation when functioning in a collaborative mode. The report may improve dramatically when others point out errors, omissions, or new ideas. An opposite example is operating in the connected circle where “group think” takes over and people stop thinking on their own. It is at this time when an individual may need to shift to the other circle and become a maverick. Using this frame of reference as a personal tool entails that I become aware of what circle I am operating in now. I then need to ask if that's the best way to handle the current situation. I now have options to switch circles and act differently. A question is not which circle is better. The point is, I have a full range of options available to me, and I need to think about which frame of reference is best for this situation.
Exhibit 2 – Frames of Reference
People face dilemmas similar to this example in which two deeply held values are in opposition: Do I want to control costs or create value? There are no easy answers because the conflict is a matter of right versus right. It is necessary to both control costs and create value, but there are situations when investing in more time or more resources or adding to the scope may go way beyond the budget but represent an extraordinary value opportunity. The ideal situation is to have optimum controls that achieve desired results. Desired results are usually identified by purpose, vision, and mission statements, by elements in the project charter document, and by discussions with key stakeholders. The optimum controls to achieve those results, however, are often less clear and may even be illusionary since the “project universe” is far too broad to control. Deriving a practical set of project controls may come from experience, discussions among project teams and sponsors, or by accident. When controls are not present, the results appear chaotic, meaning the deterministic aspects of project performance are lacking. When controls come from what feels right for an individual without assessing the impact on others, people may only do what is being measured and underperform because their innovative spirit is deflated. Excessive controls, which are present more often than not, lead to undesired results. Project leaders need to be clear on their values in order to navigate this difficult territory. Leading for results means assessing and using the full range of options that are available by choosing from which circle to operate.
Setting a Context for High Performance
The managerial system that we recommend is based on using commitments to manage processes, projects, and work across units and geographies. We have found that the standard workflows and information flows that cut horizontally across organizations are missing something. That something is people. When a process goes awry, we're left with very few (if any) moves to fix it. Using a human-to-human (H2H) perspective to map commitments reveals steps to locate and diagnose breakdowns (e.g., missing requests, missing commitments, “what by whens,” or absence of designated responsibility) and then intervene to fix them. The ability to map and analyze the value created or destroyed within projects, processes, initiatives, and employee networks is part of the new management model. Everything is done in language and through conversations. This means work is done by people making offers, requests, and promises to each other.
The framework for this context consists of three cornerstones: alignment, integration, accountability (Exhibit 3).
Exhibit 3 – Three cornerstones
Alignment is how goals and projects link to and execute the organizational strategy. Integration refers to the way people work together, ranked in four levels: breakdown…conversing…cooperation…collaboration. Accountability is how people make promises to deliver on commitments to each other and then either deliver or re-negotiate…as opposed to a slippage culture where people make promises to deliver to each other then either deliver or don't deliver. A leader needs to make an initial assessment of how people in the organization view themselves with regards to these three cornerstones. That assessment inevitably leads to realizing that an effective communication system is lacking, such as a strategy exists in stealth mode, invisible to most people, individuals are not collaborating, commitments are loosely conveyed, and promises are not kept. Projects suffer by not delivering all requirements, costing more than budgeted, and taking longer than scheduled. All fingers point towards human interactions.
Historically, organizations have focused on two processes—material and information. We have shifted from an industrial age to an age of information…and now to connectivity. Conscientious managers have been looking for efficiencies and have done a great job. Technology has exploded…the world has changed…the game has changed…. but management science has not kept up. Overlooked is a third process that is actually senior to the first two, and that is the interactions among individuals—what's happening at the micro level of interaction. However, improving interaction effectiveness is not just something a leader can declare, like be more innovative. It calls for creating an environment that is supportive to open communication and generating structures that encourage accountability and collaboration. Organizations are run by processes, and people run the processes.
In today's global organizations, productivity and efficiency demand effective collaboration within and across functional, physical, and hierarchical boundaries. In our experience, executives are concerned with external relationships but often pay little attention to assessing and supporting linkages among employees within their own organizations. These “invisible” interaction networks don't appear on any formal organizational chart—yet significantly affect performance and innovation. While companies know interaction networks are important, they are not aware of how these networks really work. Because of this, a great deal of time and money are wasted on blanket approaches to promote collaboration that yield disappointing results.
Exhibit 4 – Enemies of Change
This context is further hampered by enemies of change that have infiltrated our human psyche—see Exhibit 4. Leading for results means being cognizant of, and overcoming these obstacles. Some of these enemies might be ingrained beliefs, harbored by people over a lifetime of experiences. We cannot change those beliefs; we can only change the believer. The way to do this is to implement a communication system that achieves greater results, and is simple yet powerfully—and universally—effective.
Gaining a Competitive Advantage
As an initial application to apply this system, use the following questions as a means to gauge your interaction quotient:
- Do I believe I am successful and have confidence that I'll continue to be successful?
- Is it possible that as I become more successful, it is harder to deal with feedback that is inconsistent with the way I see myself?
- The more I believe in what got me to where I am… am I more likely to ignore, rationalize, or deny the cues I get from others that I could do better?
- Can I get what I want by operating as usual?
- Are people honoring my requests and delivering to my conditions of satisfaction?
- Am I “in the game,” ready to change, want to “dance”?
If the assessment, goals, and intention are in alignment, you are ready. The steps in the process are:
- See a problem… and have exhausted all other moves;
- Intend to make change;
- Adopt a new perspective;
- Do an assessment of now condition;
- Visualize the desired condition;
- Implement the perspective and tool set; and
- Achieve optimized results.
The perspective has been addressed by this paper. The tool set, or H2H System, will be addressed more fully in another paper. The seven tools are depicted in Exhibit 5. The essence of the commitment system is to make requests in the form of “I need [what] by [when].” Get one of four possible responses: yes, no, counter-propose, agree to commit later. Use operating agreements that include alerting the requestor if you are not able to honor your commitment. Track these agreements dogmatically. Seek out, or map a series of, interactions to demonstrate that all people in the organization are “in the game.”
Exhibit 5 – 7 Tools of H2H System
Use the following set of action steps to begin the process.
|•||Question:||Can I get what I want by operating as usual?|
|•||Ask:||Do I intend to change?|
|•||Consider:||Do I need to alter my perspective regarding my interaction with others?|
|•||Observe:||What is stopping me from acting different?|
|•||Antidote:||Increase my ability to observe|
|Over next few weeks, notice which frame is sourcing my thoughts, actions, and|
|•||Practice:||Applying new processes and tools.|
- Use the three cornerstones and the fundamentals for building a high-performance culture and developing effective working relationships both onsite and across distance. Develop an aligned, collaborative team that pulls together.
- Tap the power of a commitment based managerial system; elevate the levels of personal and team performance by shifting from activities to commitment-based management.
- Make a powerful shift in the effectiveness and efficiency of daily interactions; save time by reducing wasted conversations while increasing commitment to goals and objectives.
© 2009, Randall L. Englund & Robert Lauridsen
Originally published as a part of 2009 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Orlando, Florida, USA