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Understanding Where You Stand Today (I bet you don’t actually know … yet)
This article is designed specifically to help you identify the right PM—as opposed to the left one—starting with bridging the gap between your perceived needs and your actual needs.
Congratulations! You just won a new client, It’s a multimillion-dollar deal, and you’ve decided to hire or resource a Project Manager (PM). You’re smart enough to know you can’t juggle all the moving parts of this hefty goal without one.
Whether you’re instigating a search through a recruiter, or requesting a PM through your existing Project (or Program) Management Office, there’s still some upfront work you need to do before picking your metaphorical PM rabbit out of a hat. And that starts with being realistic.
I often meet executives who have crafted a deck and pitched a presentation. The presentation has gone well, and they believe their presentation deck is comprehensive enough to ensure a seamless transition to a project manager who will then be expected to deliver on the goal.
Guess what? It’s not. A successful presentation may be a green light to move forward on a project. It may generate excitement and infuse passion, but without a thoughtful and practical execution plan, which includes requirements, schedules, budgets, and often more, all you have is an unqualified idea that is attached to a strategy that has not been validated against any inkling of reality. Ouch.
I know it hurts to hear, but let me say it one more time because it’s important: a sales deck is not a vision, a strategy, or a plan. It can have elements of these things, but the goal of such a deck is to win business, not to deliver final results. The real “what” and “how,” therefore, is missing.
OKay. You get it. I hear you.
From a resourcing perspective, this means you need to hire a project mind-reader and certified therapist, not only to transcribe your pitch into a decipherable language but to dream up the “what” and then translate and deconstruct that dream it into tangible buckets that you can work on.
Functionally, the role of project managers teeters between transcriptionist and wild and visionary producer/therapist. That’s a big spectrum. If you need a lot more of the latter and you get “transcriptionist” you will be left with one big ugly mess. If you hire for “visionary” when what you need is “secretary,” chances are, he or she will realize they are out of your league, and move on.
So let’s take a step back. Do you want to know where you stand today? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Is your vision a host/combination of products and services)? Or is it a program or portfolio?
- Where are you in the development of your product(s) and service(s)? Are you concepting? Do you have a prototype? Have you gathered requirements? Have you vetted them with credible people?)
- Is your vision flexible? What about your strategy? What about your promised product(s) and service(s); how flexible are they?
- Do your tactical plans and high-level plans map back to one another? Are you aware that both of these plans are of equal importance? Are there significant gaps between these two plans? How well do they align with one another?
- Is this the first time you’re working on a project of this nature? Did you consult with qualified people? Did you evaluate similar types of projects? Did you build in contingencies? Did you build in dependencies?
Now, even after you identify your actual needs, there is another challenge recruiters know but rarely tell you: you could be stuck with whoever shows up. Gasp!
So why not skip this step altogether and spare yourself a headache?
Well, anyone who has ever handed off a boatload of work to the wrong person can tell you just how painful this can be. It not only sullies your reputation when the hire screws up but spending twice as much money and effort to clean up after someone else’s mistakes is irritating.
Sure, you may never find the perfect project manager, and that can be sad, but by going through this process, you:
(1) get to make informed decisions about how to resource against missing skills and abilities
(2) prevent issues from arising that you could have foreseen
(3) mitigate against an outright “bad” hire, which means less exhaustion, less frustration, less depression, less turnover, and more happiness, along with a higher probability of success.
So, let’s get started you, you open-minded-intelligent-business-guru. Where is your project in its evolution, really?
Did you find this useful? Have suggestions? Have questions? Contact me on LinkedIn.
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You’re sitting in a meeting when two influential colleagues hijack the conversation and turn it into a high stakes game of chicken with your project.
You’re not quite sure how you let it happen, but sheer terror emerges as you recognize overconfident people are loudly and speedily sharing semi-logical information. Yes, semi-logical: sh*t logic wrapped in a delicious layer of good logic.
If you let them continue, the phony information will spread like wildfire. If you interrupt, you’ll be a casualty of involuntary ego-cide, career death by egotistical recklessness. You don’t stop a tiger fight by sending Bambi in as a moderator.
Your heart races. Your palms sweat. You’re not prepared to take on these tigers. You’re not a superhero. You’re a down-to-earth person who values quality and kindness. This is your project. What are you going to do? How are you going to defuse the situation without looking like tasty tiger bait?
Lesson One: Merely witnessing an ego-trip can throw you off balance. It can make you feel demoralized, unappreciated, confused, angry, fearful, and weak. BUT YOU CAN RECOVER IN THE MOMENT.
When this happens, and it will, take DEEP breaths, kick back into your seat, and cross your arms up behind your head like you’re the boss.
Okay, I know it sounds silly, but you can’t underestimate the profound impact these moves have on your psyche.
Studies indicate diaphragmatic breathing reduces stress hormones while power poses (such as crossing your arms behind your head) increase testosterone, stabilizing your flight or fight response and giving you confidence.
You need confidence, a steady heartbeat, and an open mind to turn these tigers into kittens. So take a deep breath now. And another. And another.
Feeling better? 🙂 Good.
For an added boost of confidence, I like to think about an SMBC comic by Zach Weinersmith where he plots a persons willingness to opine on a topic against their actual knowledge. For your enjoyment, here it is.
It’s a funny image to remember when ignorant VIP opine on topics they don’t know enough about. Keep it in your back pocket. Now take another deep breath.
So what do you want?
- To defuse the situation
- To correct information without collateral self-damage
Now think, does speaking loudly and speedily make a decision rational? Does it make it any easier to understand?
Probably not. Hence, it’s not in your best interest to let confidence transform you from Bambi into a tiger, unless it’s this one…
The truth is these colleagues need someone smart and buoyant–like you–to swoop down and gently nudge them over the edge of Mount Stupid into the valley of enlightenment. But how?
Lesson Two: “Help me understand” is a kinder and more modest way of saying, “No, you irrational, impolite bullies, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
With this approach, your colleagues backpedal to retrace their steps. The sheer act of stepping back with the intent to educate forces a person to confirm their own logic. It presents an opportunity to reflect while at the same time confirming validity. If a gap exists, you (and others) will spot it, and seek remedy.
If the logic is sound, you avert damaging influential relationships. (Hey, you can be wrong, too.)
That said, sometimes, even when the logic adds up, something still feels fuzzy.
Lesson Three: In conversation, we often experience a self-imposed sense of urgency. Saying, “Let me reflect on that” buys precious time.
Don’t let the fallacy of urgency back you into a corner. If your gut sends a signal, explore it! In other words, let curiosity, reflection and research drive the decision-making process, not a false deadline. If others are in the room, you may want to say, “Let’s reflect and reconvene.” Others will nod willingly if they’re in the same boat. Some will spread misinformation anyway. Don’t fret. You can’t control everyone, but you can ensure a thoughtful call to action by fostering an environment of reflection.
Lesson Four: It’s easy to marginalize people. It’s hard to empathize, particularly when you are threatened. But where there is conflict, there is room for pause.
Here’s the thing. What you value may not differ greatly from your cohort. People often share overlapping values and still end up in situations like this one. How you process and prioritize those values, on the other hand, is where conflicts arise. In the moment, even best friends who share the same values can completely miss the bullseye. Here’s an example.
John values politeness and health. He also values caring and kindness. He values Jane’s friendship. He wants to be there for Jane. So here he is sitting at Jane’s meeting, on time.
Unfortunately, he’s been stuck in back-to-back meetings all day due to an urgent client request. He missed lunch and drank a big bottle of water to fend off hunger. He’s jittery and hungry. It’s hard to think straight when nature calls.
What he should do is apologize, excuse himself, relieve himself, and return to Jane’s meeting. He should tell Jane he didn’t have a chance to eat. But he doesn’t want to leave her meeting. He doesn’t want to be seen as impolite. He doesn’t want to offend her. He cares about her.
He’s completely distracted by the urge to urinate, so he speeds up the conversation, and engages in bursts of dialogue. When Jane’s meeting ends, he’s thrilled! The bathroom break afterwards feels like a reward for making it through the day. He rushes out of the office to grab a sandwich.
Jane hangs her head. She is disappointed with the confusing mandates that arose in the meeting, and the dismissive attitude she received from her close friend John.
As you can see, there are a slew of factors guiding how we prioritize. Some situations demand immediate action–like the call of nature or a phone call you receive from a client who says he’ll pull the plug on your business if you don’t provide a solution in an hour. Others don’t. Sometimes we prioritize our values well. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we don’t have the fuel to think straight.
I don’t know a single person who has not experienced a similar situation. So remember, empathy matters. We all make mistakes. We’re all imperfect beings.
Lesson Five: Addressing observations leads to self-awareness.
When you draw attention to your observations, you create an opportunity to address them. By saying, “I’m experiencing a sense of urgency. Let’s step back. What am I missing?” you create an opportunity for others to self-correct or share. You provide an opportunity to confirm observations.
Either the urgency is real (e.g. the client called and demanded immediacy) or the urgency is false (e.g. “oh, sorry, buddy, mind if we break for a few minutes so I can run to the little boys room and grab a sandwich? I was slammed earlier by that client thing.”). You may even realize you’re slower today than usual… You were up all night with a sick child.
Where there is awareness, there is realization. Where there is realization, there is transformation.
I hope this helps. Good luck! You got this!
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Whether you’ve realized that you can do your boss’s job or that a 4-hour daily reverse commute to an office overlooking a park-n-ride isn’t your idea of a satisfying career, lots of people will tell you that there is no need to quit your job. That a job is a job is a job is a job. And it all comes down to what you make of it.
True, you can wisely devise a plan to create a new role for yourself in your existing org; discuss new options with your boss to telecommute; find a new gig; or you may even go so far as to launch a formal complaint with your HR department to get that internal bullying issue resolved. But let’s face it, you, the only change you have control over is “you”– whether you’re going to own your life or be a jackass in someone else’s.
And that’s a pretty tough dilemma, particularly when around every nook and cranny is another white-faced lie disguised as opportunity.
How do I mean exactly? Say you create a new role within your org or land a new gig, here are some common lies disguised as opportunities.
They say: “We don’t care how you do your job as long as you meet our goals.”
You think: “Autonomy! Perfect!”
What they mean is: “We can’t be held responsible for remedying any of our own mistakes. Good luck finding that unicorn! Have we mentioned we don’t care about you?”
They say: “We are looking for thought-leadership from our employees.”
You think: “Hooray! People who think!”
What they mean is: “We need to trick others into believing our leaders think. How would you like to ghostwrite for our illiterate sales team?”
They say: “We’re thrilled to have you on board!”
You think: “My dream job!”
What they mean is: “You don’t mind doing something other than what we hired you for, right?”
Sure, everyone takes one for the team sometimes, and on occasion (though far less often than one would assume) an honest pitch comes along. But if you find yourself reading countless articles filled with corporate smog about how you can be a successful mogul by leaning in some more, or by throwing one more giant to-do onto your list of already equally important competing to-dos for people who don’t share your values, and you’ve leaned in so hard you’re flirting with a merman, you, my friend, may be a closet…
What I mean is, pack up. It’s time to come out of hiding and forge your own path. If you’re gonna put your head down and work till you’re dead-tired or half-dead, it may as well be toward your own vision, your own goals, under your own values, and dag-nabit from your own mistakes.
So here’s a shout-out to you, you closet entrepreneur. May you take a leap of faith. May you scramble to make a living worth your dignity. May your goals belong to you, and your belonging to your loved ones and your clients. May you over-promise and over-deliver. Who knows, you closet entrepreneur, maybe YOU are the unicorn.
And heck, if it doesn’t work out, there will always be another carrot out there for us well-deserving donkeys!
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I love rainy days.
When I was a child, my teachers would ask the class, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”
I would tell them, “I want to be a peacemaker.”
The students would laugh.
I would return home and see the desperation in my mother’s eyes. The longing.
Even if you could get away from it, the Iran-Iraq war was always on television. Taunting us in its journey of suffering.
In the beautiful land where I was born, bombs fell outside my nursery room window. I was a baby floating in love. I am lucky. Perhaps that is why my heart always beats so fast.
Rainy days, the violence stopped. At least, I imagined it did.
Gurus and scientists say consciousness is a matter, like the air you breathe, and the water you touch. Just think, your thoughts are swimming fish in a fast-moving ocean. You are part of a wave. You can stop wars. You can part seas.
Do you notice how so many people call in sick from work on rainy days?
Maybe it is true. Maybe you are sick. You numbed it until nature told you:
“Temporarily Down for Maintenance. Your Soul Needs Repair.”
I wonder, how many reflective thoughts come from a rainy day?
Two. Two Trillion. The ripple of infinity.
How much innovation germinates? How much floats? How many old ways degrade, leaving space for new?
I want to believe that I am self-sufficient. That within my ingenious female ecosystem lies impenetrable savvy.
The kind of savvy that will propel me into a position of leadership. A position worthy of a proper title.
After all, I am a strong candidate. A formidable opponent. A listener. A learner. A friend. A skilled and self-sacrificing businesswoman.
All in the name of the greater good.
I’m not self-sufficient. In fact, I’m incredibly dependent. Even in my singularity, I am utterly vulnerable and squeamishly reliant.
I labored with my first-born for 72 hours. No drugs. No cesarean. No doctors. My body produced the fruit. My husband never left my side. Not in presence, nor in spirit. I wanted to quit. He believed in me. I believed in him.
My mother and father left everything they knew to raise me here. They were afraid. They were alone. But then again, they had me. They had my sister. We loved them unconditionally. They were not alone. They had each other. We believed in them. They believed in us.
How truly this translates into every vision, every goal.
It is hard to admit the intimacy of it. That I need you.
I need you.
I need you to believe in me.
I need you to speak up on my behalf.
I need you to endorse me.
I need you to volunteer my name.
I need you to neutralize the naysayers.
I need to you to open your heart.
I need you to believe when I can’t believe.
When believing hurts.
Because at some point, something beautiful occurs.
The kind that makes you forget it was hard.
The kind that elates.
The kind that grew from you trusting me.
And me trusting you.
You need me, too.
I believe in you.
I challenge you to seek truth by asking yourself the following questions:
- Have I witnessed a situation where I could have supported someone and didn’t?
- How could I be impeding someone’s progress?
- How could I be impeding my own progress?
- By doing or not doing these things, what were the subsequent outcomes?
- Am I happy with these outcomes?
- What do I believe is true?
Personally, I struggle to ask for support, particularly when in pain. I’m constantly swept away by the notion that leadership and loneliness must go hand-in-hand, and that leadership necessarily requires perfect confidence. It’s paralyzing and false.
Leadership, in its nature, arises only from these three things: knowledge, compassion, and a sense of “belongingness” to one another. Yes, leadership is hard, but it shouldn’t be lonely. I’m with you.
By speaking my truth, I hope you will find the courage to seek yours.
I know an executive who makes his associates work 24/7. Oh, you know him, too? The arrogant, or ignorant, or insecure one who parallel-paths every workstream with the sort of fast and loose inefficiency that makes you want to weep in your sleep?
But this story is not about him. This story is about you–the mid-level manager who gets sent in to do the dirty work whenever executive’s huevos are too full, and he doesn’t want to be seen as “the bad guy.”
Today you sit with a group of young, red-eyed associates. Your mandate is to yell. To teach these darling fledglings that blinking an eyelash on Saturday at midnight over a false deadline after enduring a grueling work week is unacceptable. In fact, no eyelash-batting shall be permitted ever since “Excellence demands unwavering focus.”
How do you approach it? What do you do?
You surprise us. You don’t bring up the executive order. Not a peep. You know the mere mention will cause more harm than good. You tell us, “I care for your well-being.” You explain that sometimes people lose sight of the big picture. That they grow hardened by the pressures around them.
You apologize. You admit you may have once behaved in such a manner. You thank us for our continued service. You ask us to be open with you if something bothers us. You tell us, “I am honored to have you by my side, and to be by yours.”
When finished, you run out and buy a cup of chamomile tea.
You return to your huevos del diablo of an executive. You hand him the tea, and say, “For you, on me.”
He nods. You nod back. You say, “It’s done.”
Ladies and gentleman, this is what we call a paradigm shift. It is how you change the culture of your company in a single moment.
Yes, in a single moment you set the example of “what good looks like” and it cascades. And, for the first time in what feels like eons, your team feels appreciated. And they work more happily and more efficiently than they ever have.
So, how do you go from henchman to hero in the workplace exactly?
- Use your own moral compass to guide your behavior, regardless of the opposition you face. You don’t need to fight the bully. Start by not letting yourself become the bully.
- Step in to help a failing co-worker through coaching, training, redirection, or chamomile tea, particularly when others would rather add insult to injury. And by the way, some call “redirection” “firing” or “sorting.” I like to think of it as helping a tourist find his way around the map, so he can figure out how to get to where he wants to go because you never know when you’ll be lost in a foreign city. It happens to the best of us.
- Acknowledge that how we individually see the world is unique and deeply personal. How you experience life matters just as much as how I experience it. The better we consider, console, and celebrate each other, the more passionate we grow. We innovate. We make more money. We live longer. We live healthier. We live happier.
- Give credit where credit’s due. For hard work. For excellent work. For a new haircut. For a cool shirt. For a sassy dress. For a hilarious joke. For a thought-provoking question. For a tasty sandwich. For a nice tie. It doesn’t matter what. All that matters is you mean it.
Now that we’re on the same page, I’ll go first, and then you …
Thank you, mid-level manager, for your “insubordinate act” of workplace kindness. You gave me an opportunity to write this piece, which is a mostly true story.
Do you know someone that could use a kudos? An average person in need of a smile? An extraordinary person that deserves a shout-out? An executive del diablo that could use a cup of chamomile? Share this blog. Make their day.
Everyone remembers that scene in Meet the Parents when Ben Stiller makes a sweeping generalization about being able to milk anything with nipples, and Robert De Niro hilariously responds, “I have nipples, Greg, could you milk me?”*
That’s the thing about sweeping generalizations. They’re only true sometimes. Sure, I happen to be a breastfeeding mom, and yes, you can milk me. (Well, not you specifically.) But that’s beside the point.
The point is this: people who don’t know me are speaking on my behalf. They are sharing studies in which I did not participate. They claim to understand my values. All because I was a young adult in the year 2000.
Before I continue, I know what you are thinking. “Oh goody, another entitled millennial speaks up.” And to this, I roll my eyes and say, “indulge me.”
With the loot companies are spending on unlocking the secrets of my enigmatic soul, why not? Better you hear it from the horse’s mouth. Heck, maybe we can work something out. After all, I am somewhat of an expert in all things me, and you are a brilliant and open-minded business guru.
So, without further ado, here are 15 requests I’d like to make of all employers, bosses, and the working community at large:
1. See me for what I bring to the table and not what an arbitrary number of years of experience says about me. Be honest; you have too much work to do, and your HR person posted a generic job description he found on the Internet. I have strengths and abilities that surpass generic job roles. Get to know me, and I’ll get to know you. I’ll learn your challenges; you’ll learn mine. Together, we’ll design a role that optimizes for our strengths and mitigates against our weaknesses. Let’s get that work done.
2. Hierarchy matters, particularly in large companies. So does meritocracy. Hierarchy is designed to turn chaos into order. And meritocracy ensures that those who carry the knowledge are making the decisions. Meritocracy is not merely a credential. It’s what makes you credible–like living in the weeds on a project, even as a junior. Know the difference. Apply what makes sense. Respect all.
3. Sometimes it’s not your talent that gets the job done; it’s your high-ranking title. I’ll say it again. It’s your high-ranking title. If you are my supervisor and I engaged you for your title, please don’t get confused. The work is in good shape, except that an individual or protocol is blocking forward progress. Please help remove this roadblock by making the phone call or sending the email that I scripted for you. Don’t get me wrong, you are talented, but I need you to understand the distinction between needing you for your rank and needing you for your expertise. In most cases, someone else’s ego is blocking the progress of your project, and I simply need you to pull rank so we can move forward. I am happy to talk through it with you for as long as it takes.
4. Don’t put me down for asking you to clarify the logic behind a decision. Clarify. Let’s get in sync. My curiosity is not an attack on your intelligence. It’s why you hired me.
5. Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. A person can be both kind and strong at the same time.
6. Don’t mistake my directness for insubordination. A person can be both honest and deferential at the same time.
7. Let me work where I will be the most productive. I’m not cattle, I don’t need to be herded into a bullpen. I’m not a convict, I don’t need to be watched. Work is not jail, nor is it Studio 54. If my work requires solitude, and you park me in a cube next to the loudest person you know, I won’t be able to give you the quality you are looking for. It might be cool to have a big open office, but it’s not cool to put me in the middle of a call center when I am tasked with writing 100 pages of legal fine print. And if I’m sitting alone in an office with no windows when I am tasked with identifying patterns of social behavior, there will be a lot of guesswork involved. Personally, I’d like an office with real doors, quiet, and a window, so I can turn my thoughts into something tangible. But I know that’s not always available. Hey, I didn’t say you needed to own the real estate. Flexibility goes a long way.
8. Allow me to eat lunch at lunchtime, and go to the bathroom when the urge beckons. Your meeting is important. My health is important, too. Don’t force me to choose between my health and your meeting. Be courteous.
9. Leverage my abilities. My strengths are your assets, not your enemies. Treat me like how I operate and what I am capable of, and not what my title says about me. (Remember what we discussed earlier about job roles being copied from the Internet?)
10. If a policy or process doesn’t make sense, help me break it gracefully, and let’s fix it so it does. We can do it by committee. We can do it on our own. Rules are made to solve problems, not to create them. I can do the work alone, but I need you to have my back.
11. Pay me what I am worth. It’s the right thing to do, even if you are not being paid what you are worth. I will carry you on a pedestal and lift you while I climb.
12. If I make a mistake or am failing in some way, tell me immediately and politely. I will address and correct it. There is no bigger way you can fail me than by withholding important information about my performance. I don’t like ketchup on my face, just as much as you don’t like walking around with your fly down. But you don’t need to shame me either. If I’m busy feeling lousy about myself, I won’t be focused on the goal.
13. Don’t lie or gossip behind my back. Let me rephrase that, please be honest with me.
14. Trust that what I am telling you is true, especially when we have a history of trust between us.
15. Finally, the only way you will ever know what motivates me and benefits you is through deep listening. Ask yourself: Am I being open-minded? How am I being open-minded? Am I asking the right questions? Care about my well-being as though I am your dearest friend. In return, I will do the same for you, and we will flourish.
As my friend Colin commented, “What I wonder is, do these differ greatly from what baby boomers wanted at our age? It seems these things can be summarized in ‘treat me with the respect that should be afforded to all other humans.'”
Sure, I may use the Internet to research products before I make purchases, and am skeptical of advertising, but fundamentally, we’re not so different, you and I. Yes, the Internet changed the world. That’s what technology does. And who wouldn’t be skeptical of an industry that told us cigarette smoking was good for our health?
The fact is we’re growing smarter together, thanks to you. You taught us to lean in. To throw some skin in the game. To care about making the world better.
I hear you. I’m with you.
Author: Tara Makhmali
Contributors: Evan Fensterstock, Nika Makhmali, Colin Regnier
*Meet the Parents. Dir. Jay Roach. Perf. Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Teri Polo. 2000. Universal Studios. Video, 2001. DVD.
Do you agree? Disagree? Please share your thoughts and comments.