James M. Cusimano
Can a leadership training program change the way project managers work with engineers and other technical professionals? Can its results be documented?
Scott Beth, manager of project management training for Hewlett-Packard Company Palo Alto, California, answers both questions with a resoundding yes.
“The five-day program created dramatic changes in the ways the managers work. It avoided lengthy lectures and used video models to build skills. For any training program to succeed, it has to have sound methodology,” he comments.
“Moreover, measurement of results must be accurate. A real evaluation can't be made with the traditional ‘smile sheets’ and they can't help sell a program internally.”
The program evaluation was conducted with project managers of a Hewlett-Packard group responsible for developing networking software. Mr. Beth describes it as one of the most important training programs the company has undertaken.
Called “Technical Leadership: the research-based program was developed and implemented by the Technology Division of MOHR Development, Inc., Stamford, Connecticut, a leading training and development firm. The program was customized in part to meet the group's specific needs
Hewlett-Packard research concluded that the most significant factor separating average from exceptional program managers was the ability to motivate, coach, support and lead team members.
The five-module program taught participants to improve the effectiveness of their direct reports by coaching for peak performance, facilitating self-management, expanding individual productivity through teamwork, orchestrating professional development and running organizational interference.
There were breaks between the second and third days of training, the third and fourth days and the fourth and fifth days. The purpose of this was to give the managers a chance to apply the skills they learned on the job.
Results were measured at several steps during the process and following it. Most significant, Mr. Beth says, was the use of a unique testing vehicle.
Three judges from Hewlett-Packard viewed videotapes of the participants handling leadership simulations before and after the training. The videotapes showed the participants in action with technical professionals who were trained to play the roles of direct reports. Judges were not told which tapes were made before training and which were done after training.
Each of the participants was videotaped handling one of three scenarios
- Presenting the subordinate with a non-negotiable and undesired change that can be demotivating.
- Identifying a subordinate's undeveloped idea—one that could easily go unnoticed by an unskilled manager—and encouraging the idea's development.
- Delegating a responsibility that seems undesirable.
The judges viewed the unlabeled videotapes in random order. The acid test:Would the judges recognize which tapes were pre-training and which were post-training? They did, with 100 percent accuracy, and they made highly accurate qualitative evaluations as well!
The trainees also were asked to evaluate their training immediately after videotaping the post-training simulations. Here are some of their comments:
Before training, I did a lot of telling and not asking (technical professionals) their opinion about what needs to happen. I now know I can ask more and play back more of what was said and draw them out.
The training helped me focus on communicating relevant benefits to technical professionals and how to spot new ideas. It provided me with a structured mechanism.
Others described how their skills increased in areas such as reinforming innovation, setting deadlines and deliverables, protecting the time of engineers and encouraging upward communication.
Close to a year after the training, participants report the skills they learned are constantly being used.
One project manager, for example, had been supervising an engineer who was constantly falling behind in his work and creating a departmental backlog. Before this program the manager would meet with the engineer weekly to see how the work was progressing. Now the manager and engineer set a weekly goal and follow up each goal at the succeeding meeting. “The backlog was chipped away within a month,” the manager says.
The module that was particularly helpful in meeting this challenge was coaching for peak performance, according to the manager. He adds that learning six motivational skills also supported his efforts:
- Maintaining and enhancing self-esteem;
- Focusing on specific behavior and its outcomes;
- Using reinforcement techniques;
- Using listening skills;
- Communicating benefits; and
- Setting goals and follow-up dates.
Another manager reports she is “coaching people to take risk—challenging the status quo to look at how things can be done differently—and reinforcing risk as a value, the silver lining in the cloud.”
The skills she found particularly useful were initiating change; managing change; and aligning individual and organizational goals.
A number of the participants who reported on the program's results discussed the importance of aligning individual and organizational goals. ‘This is a particular challenge for managers of technical professionals,” according to Dr. Bernard L. Rosenbaum, president of MOHR Development.
“Technical professionals have a strong desire for autonomy. They tend to identify with their profession even more than with their companies. Managers have to show the professionals how to meet their goals while also meeting the company's goals.” he says.
A major reason for the program's success, Mr. Beth adds, is it recognizes that technical professionals need a different kind of management than other employees do.
James M. Cusimano has been a training and marketing communications writer in New York City for over ten years. Prior to that he was a writing instructor at the University of Wisconsin.