Leon Gettler: Managing projects



Sooner or later, every organisation will have to manage projects. The plan is to get the project done as quickly as possible. Project management takes ideas and converts them into a planned, resourced and funded outcome. It is the art of making things happen. Skills for managers in that area become absolutely critical.

Scott Berkun at Microsoft offers some guidance on how managers should handle projects. He says there is nothing innate about it. “Some people are able to apply their skills and talents in whatever combination necessary to move projects forward, and others cannot, even if they have the same or superior individual skills,’’ Berkun writes. “The ability to make things happen is a combination of knowing how to be a catalyst or driver in a variety of different situations, and having the courage to do so.”

He says the most important tool managers should have is the ability to prioritise and creating lists.

“Typically, these ordered lists have one important line dividing them into two pieces. The top part is priority 1: things we must do and cannot possibly succeed without. The second part is everything else. Priorities 2 and 3 exist but are understood to be entirely different kinds of things from priority 1. It is very difficult to promote priority 2 items into priority 1. This priority 1 line must be taken very seriously. You should fight hard to make that list as small and tight as possible (this applies to any goal lists in the vision document as well). An item in the priority 1 list means “We will die without this.” It does not mean things that are nice to have or that we really want to have: it gives the tightest, leanest way to meet the project goals.”

The Canberra Institute of Technology says there are six steps: work out exactly what’s required; plan in full detail the scope, time, cost, quality, human resources, communications, risk and procurement; be completely familiar and at ease with all the software management tools; make sure you delegate appropriately as the project manager’s role is to guide and lead the project, not do all the work; know how to manage change and co-ordinate a set number of resources to achieve the desired outcome in a specified time frame and finally, build a top team and work to support them.

The Enterprise Project Management site identifies the following project management skills: the ability to conduct analysis, communication, budgeting, teamwork, intelligence and razor sharp time management.

Project management specialists say they have to work as both leaders, who share and communicate a common vision, and managers who have to make sure the work gets done. They also need to be team builders and team leaders, excellent communicators, great organisers and planners, problem solvers and negotiators and influencers.

Alternatively, the AIM offers a courses like this one in project management.
What would you say are the essential project management skills?


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Leon Gettler: Handling emotions in the workplace


We’ve all been through it before. You run into people who never have anything positive to say, their negativity sucks the energy out of anything positive. A project you’ve been working on has been cancelled or sabotaged. Suddenly your best friend has just been laid off. Or you’re having trouble getting everything done. Sound familiar?
Now, if any of that started happening in your personal life, you might start yelling or making a big fuss. Or you might just go off in a huff and feel sorry for yourself. But you can’t do that in the workplace as it could damage your reputation and undermine your productivity. So how should managers deal with emotions at work? And what sort of impact do emotions have?

According to a study from US management professors Sigal Barsade and Donald Gibson, Why Does Affect Matter In Organisations,  employees’ moods and emotions have an impact on job performance, turnover, leadership, creativity, decision making, teamwork and negotiations. They say emotions in the workplace matter because “employees are not isolated ‘emotional islands.’ Rather, they bring all of themselves to work, including their traits, moods, and emotions, and their affective experiences and expressions influence others.”

Emotions might not be rational but they have a very real impact. Tony Schwartz at the Harvard Business Review warns that emotional contagion can take down an entire team.

Dennis Nishi at The Wall Street Journal says it’s important to keep emotions under control. “Don’t vent at work. Excuse yourself if necessary and go home. Lean on your personal network, a therapist or even a career coach who can offer some objective advice. You can also try writing about the incident from the point of view of your antagonist. Stopping to reflect will allow you to cool down, deconstruct the problem and find ways to move forward by understanding why your antagonist acted the way he or she did.”

So how should managers handle emotions in the workplace? How do they handle things when people fall to pieces or blow a fuse? Management expert Anne Kreamer says managers should not wait until things blow up. Tackle it when you see early warning signs.

The American Management Association has some good advice: keep your composure, let people vent and acknowledge what they’re going through without necessarily agreeing, use their name several times to affirm their individuality and importance, ask for more details, lead them to discussing a solution, don’t let them interrupt when you are speaking and, if necessary, suggest you take a brief break.

Management experts say managers should get employees to identify the problem and how it affects them. You then need to get them to identify what they wish would happen instead, focusing not just on what a satisfactory end result would be, but also on how you would get to that outcome. You then ask them to identify what you need to do as a first step, something practical and achievable, to be taken toward achieving that result.

How should managers handle emotions at work?

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Leon Gettler: Influencing skills

Influence has always been the number one management skill. Influencing is not about being pushy. If you’re a manager, it’s a matter of setting direction and creating change as you bring others along with you. You have to know how to win the backing of those around you.

The Harvard Business Review says that you can only do it when you’re assertive and follow three steps:

“Assertiveness often gets a bad rap. People who are self-confident and forceful can be cast as pushy and annoying. But when balanced with other critical skills, being assertive can help you excel at other things:

• Fostering teamwork: Teams thrive when their members are able to express not-always-popular points of view. Use your self-confidence to set a tone that allows other people to speak up.
• Leading change: Constructive change requires bold moves. Be assertive and break through the resistance that often arises during a change effort.
• Acting with integrity: When coupled with honesty, assertiveness gives you the courage to stand up for what you know is right.”
In other words, assert to gain influence.

In her book The Power of Networking, management writer Robyn Henderson says influence grows with your networks. Simply put, the more people you know, the more people you can influence.

According to the UK-based firm The Impact Factory, it’s a question of how you’re perceived. Focus on that and you go a long way. “An interesting point about people who use their influencing skills well is that people like being around them. There’s a kind of exciting buzz, or sense that things happen when they’re about … Influencing is about understanding yourself and the effect or impact you have on others. Though it can, on occasion, be one way, the primary relationship is two-way, and it is about changing how others perceive you.”

Management experts say people who know how to influence bring a number of things to the table: energy and enthusiasm, a calm and even-tempered disposition, the ability to be flexible and adaptable to different people and situations, strong listening and observation skills, the ability to build rapport, knowing how to act impartially and remaining neutral. They also need to display self-confidence and gravitas, demonstrable empathy, and present themselves appropriately. Strong communication skills and just being yourself are crucial.

Anna Tims in The Guardian gives some good tips. The first is to use your imagination. Speaking as someone who used to go in and negotiate deals, I would agree with that. The most important part of any negotiation is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and see what they want to get out of it. Show that you understand their point of view and they’re more likely to come over to your way of thinking. Secondly, you need to learn to listen. A sympathetic ear builds trust. Also, let people take credit for your plan. Be patient and finally, watch your body language.

How do you exert influence?


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Leon Gettler: Workplace trends

Watch a program like Mad Men and you will be struck by how different the workplace is now compared to the 1960s. Which raises an important question – what will the workplace look like 50 years from now?

One thing for sure – it will be shaped by forces coming in from many directions and that’s happening right now. More people are telecommuting and there is a growing army out there of contract workers, many of whom were forced to reinvent themselves in the wake of downsizings. All these trends will challenge managers. What workplace trends should tomorrow’s managers watch out for?

Writing in Entrepreneur, Michelle Rafter identifies 10 forces changing the workplace. The first is mobile devices with employees using their own iPhones, iPads and other devices for work instead of company-issued computers or laptops. They can use these anywhere, anytime. The second is telecommuting. Another is companies reconfiguring floor plans. With fewer employees coming into the office, many are setting up more communal areas with fewer traditional, walled work spaces. Text messaging and social networks are replacing emails, there’s more web-based software in day to day operations and we are seeing reverse mentoring where younger people are helping older workers master software, social media and other modern workplace skills. Add to that the growing army of independent contractors. We are also seeing more co-working spaces opening up where home-based workers can hire a desk and Internet connection for a few hours. And last but not least are those corporate culture initiatives to attract and keep employees. Going green, socially responsible procurement, work-life balance initiatives are all part of that particular trend.

The Office of the Future site canvasses many of these trends but adds that employees will be working more hours over the next 10 to 15 years. Also, “emotional intelligence” will become more important in the workplace, something that all managers need to be aware of.

Certainly, the lines between work and home have been blurring and we can expect that to continue. John Challenger in The Futurist describes the landscape we are now seeing: “Offices are becoming homes, just as homes are becoming offices. Child care and eldercare centres in many offices today mean that workers’ families can always be close by. The only home-oriented things missing from the twenty-first-century workplace are churches and synagogues, though they may be the next additions to the office landscape as some businesses accept and even nurture spirituality in the workplace. Increasingly, we cannot get away from work even when we are not there. Since the film 2001: A Space Odyssey debuted three decades ago, we have been wondering when computers would become human or superhuman. What sneaked up behind us was the opposite: Humans are becoming electronic. We’re turning into robots. We carry our cell phones, e-mail, PDAs, and laptops – our office – with us at all times. Our cell phones are ringing off the hook. Commuting to an office is no longer downtime–there are customers and clients to be called. On the morning or evening train there used to be a subtle taboo about talking on the cell phone, but that’s disappeared.”

This will create a number of challenges for managers. Workers who are constantly telecommuting will be more detached from the company. As Challenger says, companies will have to create work spaces that encourage collaboration and teamwork while at the same time ensuring people maintain their identity within the office.

What workplace trends do you see ahead? How should managers deal with the changes?


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Leon Gettler: Buzzword bull


On the same page, thought leadership, paradigm shift, out of the loop, result-focused, total quality, ballpark, ticks in boxes, value-add, touch base, think outside the box, stretch the envelope, put this one to bed, close the loop, at the end of the day, hot button, interface, killer apps, focus collectively as a group, user friendly, bells and whistles, benchmark, slippery slope, win-win, bandwidth, brainstorming, teamwork, shared goals, human capital, strategic fit, zero sum game, leveraging, tool kit, tool set and upscaling.

These are just a few examples of all the management jargon and buzzwords creeping into everyday language these days. If you want to get a feeling for how prevalent it is, check these Dilbert cartoons. “Let’s schedule a scenario-based-roundtable discussion about our enterprise project management.” The askthemanager site lists other annoying phrases like, for example, low hanging fruit (in other words, easy), take it offline (as opposed to discuss it later),  action item (meaning task) and so on. Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, more managers are using these sorts of expressions. Now, every profession has its jargon but management jargon is particularly insidious because it creeps into our day to day work. More than 60 years ago, in his essay Politics and the English Language,  George Orwell said the aim of jargon was to mislead. He wrote: “When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink”. The other problem, he said, was that it stopped people thinking. “Every such phrase anaesthetises a portion of one’s brain,” Orwell said. He could have been talking about some of those business buzzwords.

The Australian Institute of Management has addressed this by releasing a version of Buzzword Bingo and some handy software, delightfully called Bullfighter, which detects jargon and complicated language and then suggests an alternative word or phrase.  Forbes has even developed a bracket where people get to vote via Twitter on the single most annoying example of business jargon and, by doing so, thoroughly embarrass all who employ it.

Not bad ideas, they’re a good start. But tackling business jargon actually takes a lot of work. As a manager, you need to understand the impact it’s having on people and the reasons why people use it. “People use jargon because they want to sound smart and credible when in fact they sound profoundly dim-witted and typically can’t be understood, which defeats the purpose of speaking in the first place,” author Karen Friedman told Forbes.

In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, author Dan Pallotta says that business jargon is “not a value-add” (which is jargon in itself but let’s play a straight bat to that).  He says jargon puts barriers up that prevent us from understanding anything. Managers who want to avoid jargon need to be authentic, he says.

Pallotta goes into more detail here: “You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble if you internalize this. Observe it, deconstruct it, and appreciate just how ridiculous most business conversation has become.  You will gain tremendous credibility, become much more productive, make those around you much more productive, and experience a great deal more joy in your working life if you look someone in the eye after hearing one of these verbal brain jammers and tell the person, ‘I don’t have any idea what you just said to me.’ ”

What are some of the worst examples of management jargon you’ve come across? How should it be managed?

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