Project Management Institute

Motivating the folks you manage

by Joan Knutson, Contributing Editor

Stephen Covey has written that each of us is motivated on four levels: to live, to love, to learn and to leave a legacy. How can a leader incorporate these sources of motivation into the project team experience?

IN “PROJECT MANAGERS, Who Are You Managing?” (September PM Network), I suggested that you, as a manager of project managers, can aid them by clarifying who they manage. Even though most project managers may instinctively say that they manage only project team members, this is not totally true. Project managers manage four groups of people: themselves, upper management, their peers, and project team members.

Project managers first manage themselves by determining what they do, when they do it, how much time it takes them to do it, and how efficient they (and others involved) are when they do it. The second most important group of people that project managers manage is their management; in other words, those people who are above them in the political hierarchy. These people may include their immediate supervisor, the project sponsor, the customer, the steering committee—whoever is directly involved in the project and is above them in the pecking order. Providing these people with timely information and knowledge about any problems, in time to react in an intelligent manner, is one way of managing them. Project managers also manage their peers, the folks at the same level as project managers, or at a level that has no direct authority over the project. To successfully “manage” one's peers, managers need, among other things, to treat their peers with respect, anticipate their needs and fulfill them before being asked, listen to their side of an issue, and give them due credit when they have been supportive to the project. Lastly, project managers manage their project team members; this is accomplished by offering appropriate recognition, true respect, interesting challenges, and career and intellectual development. So, project managers manage themselves, their managers, their peers, and last but not least, their project team members.

In this issue, I‘d like to focus on this last group—the project team members—and explore ways in which project managers manage and motivate them. Just who, within the project team, should project managers be investing the most time and energy in to motivate?

Motivating team members is a matter of being sensitive to their needs and orchestrating an environment that they can participate in to satisfy those needs.

Who to Motivate? Or course, project managers should address their attention to all the members of the project team; however, because of limited time, some distinction needs to occur regarding the amount of effort you exert to manage different groups within the project team.

Think of any normal project team. One segment is composed of people who are totally committed to project management and to this particular project. Another group of people are the anti-team members; in other words, they are either cynical about project management or are adverse to this specific project. The third category of project team members are those folks who are neutral; they are not adamantly for nor are they adamantly against your project and/or the discipline of project management.

Which group would you suggest is the one that project managers should be “motivating”? My guess is that your instinct is to say the anti-team members. Consider, however, the following argument before making your final decision.

Using a normal bell curve distribution, you can see the spread of these three types of project team members portrayed in Exhibit 1. As you can see, the “committed” team members and the “anti”-team members are at the opposite ends of the bell curve, while the majority of team members fall into the “neutral” team members category. So, let me ask you the question again: In your opinion, where would be the greatest return on investment?

We agree—you should invest your time and energy on the largest group that will make the most difference: the neutral team members. The committed team members are already with you. They should not be ignored, but they do not require the same care and feeding as the others. The anti-team members are going to be a tougher nut to crack and a more compelling argument. The neutral team members, however, involve the most people and are at least receptive to project management and/or to your project. So, go after the neutral team members.

A Motivational Theory. In his recent book, First Things First (Simon & Schuster, 1994), Stephen Covey proposes a management theory similar to Abraham Maslow's needs hierarchy. For those of you unfamiliar with this theory, Maslow speculates that to motivate a person one must fulfill the following stages of needs: physiological, social, esteem, and self-actualization—in that order. In other words, if the lower-level needs are not satisfied, a person cannot be motivated by the higher-level ones.

Covey has taken that philosophy and remolded the stages of motivational needs and capacities to physical, social, mental, and spiritual.

While our first inclination might be to expand effort to bring anti-team members into the project management fold, time is better invested in neutral members. They are more numerous and are not as hard a “sell.”

Exhibit 1. While our first inclination might be to expand effort to bring anti-team members into the project management fold, time is better invested in neutral members. They are more numerous and are not as hard a “sell.”

Stephen Covey's four-stage model of motivational needs and capacities has its roots in Abraham Maslow's “hierarchy of needs” theory

Exhibit 2. Stephen Covey's four-stage model of motivational needs and capacities has its roots in Abraham Maslow's “hierarchy of needs” theory.

Physical represents the base needs of any individual: food, clothing, shelter, and good health. As project managers, you can see that the team members on the project are well rewarded for their performance with as much tangible remuneration as you can influence. You can also offer smaller rewards, such as flowers, time off for their youngster's piano recital, dinner for two, a cleaning service, and so on.

Social equals love, being loved, belonging, association. All team members have some need for association with the team, but each project team member requires a different degree of need for belonging to the group. The job of project managers is to determine each person's level of need and create situations that satisfy it, without imposing on those folks requiring a lesser need. These social needs can be addressed through pizza parties, donuts at the next meeting, or perhaps a day at a baseball game.

Mental allows development and growth. All project team members need to acquire new skills and new perspectives. Project managers can orchestrate assignments to tasks within the project, which provide a view into other parts of the organization or exploration of other disciplines. Team meetings should be set up to provide education/awareness into tools, techniques, and concepts that allow all the team members to grow within project management and other generic business disciplines. These meetings can be presented by various members of the team, by other internal subject matter experts, or even by outside resources. Project managers should be planning career development events and exposures well into the next 9 to 12 months.

Spiritual positions purpose, meaning, and contribution into one's life. We all need a clear sense of who we are and where we are going. From a narrow perspective, that means clear assignments to our project team members, with defined deliverables and agreed-upon time frames. Looking at this need in a broader view, project team members need to know how they fit into the project community and the high-level goals and objectives of the project so that they can relate to how they fit into the bigger puzzle of project management as a discipline and the specific project on which they are working.

A common theme in many of Covey's books has been live (physical), love (social), learn (mental), and leave a legacy (spiritual). If these are the four needs and capacities of our project team members, then project managers must work to provide adequate satisfaction of these needs for each of their team members.

ALL PROJECT TEAM members deserve their project managers' attention. However, the greatest return is not overly investing in the committed team members nor in the anti-team members. The most value will occur by investing in the critical mass of every project—those who are the neutral team members. This investment needs to be through the use of appropriate techniques that will likely increase the ranks of committed team members.

Motivating team members is a matter of being sensitive to their needs and orchestrating an environment and events that they can participate in to satisfy those needs. Successful project managers are those that direct their attention to each team member individually, providing them the necessary degree of satisfaction in their physical, social, mental, and spiritual needs. ■

Joan Knutson is founder and president of Project Mentors, a San Francisco-based project management training and consulting firm. She can be reached at 415/955-5777.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM Network • November 1997

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