Project Management Institute

Beyond labels



“Contented conformers” can benefit from seeing things from the perspective of “esteem-seekers” on their next projects.


We seem to be constantly seeking to compartmentalize and associate individuals with a label or group of characteristics. In the project management world, team members sometimes make connections between choices made in the context of someone's private life and those made in his or her business life. However, personal preferences often bear little direct correlation to a person's ability to complete project deliverables.

Project managers can tap into various methods to elicit broader perspectives from team members:

  • Gather information in an open format through techniques such as affinity diagramming (a consensus planning tool that helps prioritize issues)
  • Allow individuals to present their ideas and thank them for their contribution
  • Then, elicit other views by using approaches such as Edward de Bono's six thinking hats, in which each color hat represents a different perspective.

Project managers always must consider the origin of concerns from each team member or stakeholder. Maslow's hierarchy of needs provides a trusted basis for assessing likely causes of symptomatic behavior. For example, a team member's reluctance to consider outsourcing may be directly related to that individual's sense of security.

Based on Maslow's hierarchy, the Insight Value Group developed a social value scale of groups. Although it was created in the United Kingdom, the scale relates to people all over the world:

  • Self-actualizers: Focused on people and relationships, they are individualistic, enthusiastically explore change and operate “in a framework of non-prescriptive consideration for others”
  • Innovators: Self-confident risk-takers, they seek new and different things and set their own targets to achieve
  • Esteem-seekers: Acquisitive and materialistic, they aspire to what they see as symbols of success
  • Strivers: They attach importance to image and status as a means of enabling acceptance by their peer group, at the same time holding onto traditional values
  • Contented conformers: They want to be “normal,” so they follow the herd and accept their circumstances. They are comfortable in a security of their own making
  • Traditionalists: Averse to risk, they are guided by conventional behaviors and values. Quiet and reserved, they hang back and blend in with the crowd
  • Disconnected: Detached and resentful, embittered and apathetic, they tend to live in the “ever-present now.”

Every individual has the potential to fit each of these categories. Indeed, project managers often present multiple facets simultaneously. A project manager during a project kick-off may be part self-actualizer as he or she seeks to create a team and part disconnected as he or she strives to maintain a realistic approach.

Each individual must realize labels provide safety, but they also restrict perspective. An innovator, for example, will prefer a new option, regardless of how well a traditional approach may have worked in the past.

As project managers and team members, we can use these labels to help direct group thinking and encourage diverse perspectives. In risk management, ask people to take a traditionalist view to examine how things ordinarily are achieved in a project. We then can tap into innovators to seek potential new threats and opportunities and expand our understanding of the project context and its potential outcomes. PM


Sheilina Somani, PMP, is owner of Positively Project Management and vice president, education, for the PMI Diversity Specific Interest Group.

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.




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