Measuring the intangibles
BY SANDRA A. SWANSON
When organizations take a close look at the ingredients for project success, one thing becomes readily apparent: Technical expertise alone isn't the answer. Project managers must be able to mitigate conflict, build trust within their teams and manage emotions—their own and those of stakeholders.
“It's easy to get lost in the mechanics of project management, but projects are not driven by Gantt charts; projects are driven by people,” says Murray Duke, PMP, project manager at Citibank Japan in Tokyo, Japan.
According to the 2012 Workplace Issues Report by emotional intelligence training firm Six Seconds, only 23 percent of the 775 global leaders and employees surveyed use emotional intelligence as a leadership solution. Those that do, however, see real benefits: They outperform their peers by 32 percent in leadership effectiveness and development.
But improving emotional intelligence, or EI, doesn't come easily. EI is a seemingly unquantifiable characteristic, and to gain buy-in for EI training, executives need to talk costs. Yet by investing in EI training, organizations can determine who is most likely to benefit from training, what type of training to use and whether the process has worked.
FINDING THE BASELINE
Companies still tend to hire the most technically competent candidates for project management roles, says Chuck Berke, principal, Berke Associates LLC, a leadership training firm in Fairfield, Connecticut, USA. Typically, new hires aren't trained on the importance of EI, and the employer assumes employees will pick up these important skills on the job. “Unfortunately, they often are led by others who have no real training in the importance of EI either,” he says.
To change that, organizations need to determine their EI baseline. “If you can't measure something, you can't manage it,” says Jim Liautaud, clinical professor and program chairman of the Liautaud Graduate School of Business, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), Illinois, USA. When organizations make the effort to measure EI, they can create tailored training or coaching programs to enhance it in the areas it is most needed, he says.
EI is a seemingly unquantifiable characteristic, and to gain buy-in for EI training, executives need to talk costs.
Three common tools for measuring EI are:
Mayer, Salovey and Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test:
Measures four skill groups of emotional intelligence: perceiving emotions accurately, using emotions to facilitate thought, understanding emotions and managing emotions.
Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i): Evaluates five types of skills: intrapersonal, interpersonal, adaptability, stress management ability and general mood.
360-degree assessment: In addition to a self-assessment, 360-degree assessments gather EI feedback from an employee's managers, direct reports and peers.
Since it can be cost-prohibitive for organizations to enroll every project manager in EI training at once, executives must prioritize who gets what teaching. The baseline EI metric established for each individual can help determine which employees will benefit most—maximizing ROI for the time and money spent bolstering their EI.
While it may sound counterintuitive, Mr. Liautaud suggests focusing first on those with the best existing skills. Project managers with the strongest EI skills generally are unaware of what makes them so engaging and enjoyable to work with. “The training helps them understand the ‘why,’ allowing them to be more effective at teaching others,” he says. “It's that awareness that moves the EI needle the quickest.”
Post-training, these top performers can pass down their EI knowledge to other team members—both formally and informally. Larry Gard, president, Hamilton-Chase Consulting, Chicago, Illinois, USA, suggests EI-trained project professionals ask questions that tap EI skills of their colleagues during team meetings. Questions might include:
- How can we collaborate more effectively with one another on this project?
- What reservations do you imagine the client will have, and how can we address them?
- How has this project addressed the needs of all the stakeholders involved?
More formally, EI-trained project professionals can be assigned as mentors to those who have not had official training. Mr. Berke suggests pairing mentors and mentees who work on the same project. The caveat: If the mentee does not have a high level of EI, he or she may interpret being assigned a mentor as a criticism or failure.
To avoid this risk, he says the mentorship should be presented upfront as a developmental opportunity and the mentee should be at least somewhat junior to the mentor to nullify some of the competition that might exist.
Transferring knowledge to all team members is key because all project professionals should have the opportunity to improve their EI. “Frankly, only providing training to some project managers is short-sighted and misses the point of how it can really make the difference between a robotic project manager going through the motions, and a lively energetic one who provides the cohesiveness and leadership needed to drive a successful team,” Mr. Duke says.
TECHNIQUES FOR EI IMPROVEMENT
Choosing the right type of EI training ensures that an organization gets the most benefits possible from its efforts.
UIC, for example, offers a two-year graduate certificate that encompasses four attributes of EI: social awareness, relationship management, self-awareness and self-management. The training process includes a team of six participants who attend 12 three-hour meetings that take place every two weeks. Everything that's said in the meeting room is confidential—a necessary step to create a comfort zone where participants can speak candidly about personal issues.
Mr. Berke begins EI training sessions by having project managers share their personal feelings about conflict—and what they are afraid might happen when disagreements arise. “Once these fears are on the table, the team starts to feel far more comfortable discussing items that were previously not discussable,” he says. “Once they can do this effectively among themselves, they are able to begin to appropriately challenge stakeholders from other teams, and projects begin to pick up speed from that point on.” He uses the same process for other EI topics, including accountability, commitment and trust.
Margaret Haffenden, business leader at ThirdLevel, Bath, England, hosts six- to nine-month EI training programs that start with a 360-degree assessment for each team member. Individual EI strengths and areas for development are then identified using the assessment report.
The programs also begin with a kickoff session in which the fundamentals of EI and its relevance to the project environment are explained. In subsequent sessions, core EI skills are translated to situations and techniques relevant to the team's work environment and interpersonal issues.
Finally, Ms. Haffenden leverages a “buddy” system for EI programs so team members can share their learning with someone in a similar situation.
For organizations unwilling or unable to invest in intensive EI programs, training courses not specifically labeled as EI development can still help. “Any soft-skills training will have at its core a focus on improving EI scores,” Mr. Berke says. This includes most team-building efforts, and courses on trust and collaboration.
IT'S EASY TO GET LOST IN THE MECHANICS OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT, BUT PROJECTS ARE NOT DRIVEN BY GANTT CHARTS; PROJECTS ARE DRIVEN BY PEOPLE.
—Murray Duke, PMP, Citibank Japan, Tokyo, Japan
SEEING IT THROUGH
Evaluating the effectiveness of EI training—who has benefited from training and how it should change their role—can be tricky. Because there are no universal EI standards, organizations are, in some respects, aiming at a moving target.
Mr. Berke is wary of using EI assessments to match project managers with projects. After all, it's just one of many measurements that are important in choosing a leader.
In addition, when promotions or increased leadership roles are tied to EI growth, some employees might attempt to game the system by skewing the results in their favor. Organizations conduct follow-up assessments to spot these people. “Considering the abstract nature of emotional intelligence, the ability of staff to manipulate the evaluation process is high,” says Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance in Chicago, Illinois, USA. He uses video and phone interviews to help get a full picture of how the training has influenced the target's EI.
“This way, I am able to gauge the emotional intelligence of that person through their verbal answers, along with analyzing their facial expressions, body language and other nonverbal forms of communication,” he says.
Even if it's possible to fool an evaluation system, it's not possible to fool bosses, peers and direct reports long-term. “Behavior is the most sincere form of communication, particularly under stress when the worst we have to offer often appears,” Mr. Berke says. PM
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