Some years ago we conducted some research into high performers in project management, and one of the outstanding differences between them and the control group was a significant behaviour we called Leaning to People. The high performers seemed to get their results because they gave time to the critical relationships around themselves.
This behaviour was an important discovery. We began to practise this ourselves, prioritising our time with others, and found we got much better results in our work.
However, this was not emphasised enough - and still isn’t - on most project management curricula, training and bodies of knowledge. This lack of stress on relationships is understandable but is harmful. Project management as a discipline has a heritage in construction and engineering. However, the overarching worldview of these disciplines tends to reduce people to either resources or obstacles. It’s quite dehumanising.
So I wrote Practical People Engagement: Leading Change through the Power of Relationships. That was nearly five years ago, and it is still my best-selling book. Shortly after it was published, APMG-International adopted it as the core reference for their qualification in Stakeholder Engagement.
Again, old project management mindsets can creep in here by referring to people and groups as stakeholders. Worse still, project managers still use the term stakeholder management. Who among us likes to be managed and controlled, especially if that person is not our boss? Often, efforts to influence and achieve positive outcomes can often fail right there.
Developing the skill of Leaning to People, is not primarily an issue of learning a technique, a process, acquiring management tools or models, although these are all useful resources. No, a high-order Leaning to People skill is beyond that. It starts with a mindset. This video illustrates this.
I’ve been working on a new approach to what I have been calling Exploring People Engagement (EPE), an online workshop. This new approach will be an online seminar that I will be launching soon. The new seminar is about leading people through change. In the seminar we explore a superior mindset, and how we work that out in better ways on our own changes, leading people to better outcomes.
What would happen if we all developed this skill? What if we were able to lead people to change more easily and realise better outcomes? What if we were able to develop that Leaning to People skill to high order in our daily lives? That would begin to shift things for the better, wouldn’t it?
I want to equip people to lead their change better, to become world-changers.
I have a friend, Rachel, who is a world-changer. She does this in small groups of people at a time. She takes broken women, broken through loss, grief, through domestic abuse, and gently leads them to a wholeness of self-identity and hope. What she does is truly transformational. She is a world-changer, one group at a time.
If you’d like to know more about this, use the form below.
In my post last week, I wrote about a particular leadership skill - some would say the critical leadership skill - that of engaging and influencing people well. I looked at how the wrong mindset can get in the way, or even overlook people engagement as anything important.
But there is another problem in our developing this skill. And that is training.
Now, for latter part of my career I was heavily invested in face-to-face business training. I built a company where I recruited the brightest and the best in project management training, people who could take an otherwise-boring subject like project management and transform and energise the room. Our delegates loved it.
In what follows, I describe the emergence of a sort of industry that caused me and my colleagues a lot of pain. You'll see why as you read on.
The killer seemed to be that our corporate clients, particularly those in procuring training, didn’t see the value of an excellent training experience. They wanted the cheapest commodity. That’s how they regarded training: a commodity, something that had to be done, that you could source like for like, so it was best procured as cheaply as possible, and delivered in as short a time as possible.
Does this sound familiar?
What we saw was the emergence of a training factory. In this factory, trainers would take professionals and subject them to a sort of Death by PowerPoint. Schedules were brutally shortened, for commercial reasons. I heard of one trainer in another company saying to his delegates at the beginning of such an experience,
“If you don’t ask questions and don’t interrupt me, then we can get through this material in time for your exam. And you want to pass the exam, right?”
Of course they did. The delegates were there to get their qualification.
But can we call that a positive learning experience? Is this something likely to improve the skill and practice of project manager? Of course not.
We found that great project managers might get the badge that way, but honed their skills in other ways.
And then there were the exams themselves. These became mostly tick-box assessments, albeit sometimes fairly sophisticated. But what do they test? Ultimately they test the candidate’s power of recall, pattern recognition, and use of logic. If Mr Spock of Star Trek saw one of these exam papers, I imagine he could have said to Captain Kirk:
“It’s a skill, Jim, but not as we know it.”
I remember a senior client, a Portfolio Manager, coming out of one such exam as saying, “This is supposed to be a Practitioner exam! Is that it?!” I can’t blame her for this reaction, or defend the assessment. But it was the industry in which we had to work in order to offer our clients the routes to these qualifications.
Well. this commoditisation eventually drove us out of business. Because we refused to compromise on the value to delegates.
Not all professional assessments are like that. In my previous email I referred to the APM. Their blue-chip qualification, what was called the RPP (the Registered Project Professional) involved an exhaustive submission of experience, as well as a thorough interview by peers. The APM Practitioner Qualification (APM PQ) is, in my opinion, a qualification worth having. I saw the process improve my clients as they went through it, and it meant something to have gained that qualification at the end of it.
In fact, it was at APM that I came across a different way of looking at skill. Watch this short video.
So we have been working on how to help people develop the critical skill of leaning to people, stakeholder engagement, as it is often called, beyond merely the Advanced Beginner stage of skill development; beyond merely being Competent, to Proficient, and perhaps even to the so-called Expert level.
I'm invested in helping people change the world - in small ways and big - for the better. That's my mission. But becoming a world changer will require something rather more than an online training course.
It certainly won’t be achieved by a factory approach that can be standardised as a commercial model.
If you’d like to know more about this, use the form below and we'll keep you abreast of the launch of the new seminar.
According to Professor Bruce Lloyd of London's South Bank University, “The critical issue is not change but trust.”
This is consistent with research by Patrick Lencioni’s Table Group, San Francisco. In his, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, Lencioni illustrates how in an executive team trust is a fundamental platform for a co-ordinated effort forward.
The critical issue is not #change but #trust. Professor Bruce Lloyd
It is interesting how little attention is given to the matter of trust in so much of the literature and training about Leadership and Change Management. Perhaps this is because academics and methodologists look for clues in the wrong places, in ‘objectives’ and other less ‘emotional’ areas. Perhaps it is because many in senior management still subscribe to situational ethics in dealing with people, and look to quick, expedient remedies.
However, evidence has been there for some time now that trust is necessary for leading change, and it is built up over a period of time. I believe that trust is the oxygen of change. Where there is no trust, you might see change through, but as one of my American friends would say, "You leave a lot of blood on the trail."
Trust is the oxygen of change
One of the most powerful relational metaphors is the relational bank account, the idea that in any relationship we have, there is a kind of bank account. We can do things to top up that account - such as serving people, going out of our way to be kind to them - as well as do things that make withdrawals. Once the account is empty, you can't make any further withdrawals. You can't ask favours that will be looked upon kindly. Trust is similar, but damage someone's trust and the account can be emptied quite suddenly. On the other hand, always delivering on your promises, for example, builds trust.
Danny Silk, in his book, Keep Your Love On, explains this in terms of boundaries. Healthy relationships are created, grow and are maintained with clear boundaries. We all have these boundaries. These might be illustrated thus:
We don't allow most of the world into our intimate spaces, nor should we. By the same token, we should not expect the people we are trying to influence, our stakeholders, to allow us in all the way. Just because I'm interested in your product doesn't make us best buddies. Healthy relationships are built on these graduated boundaries in our lives. These boundaries are not walls, but are permeable. Most us are scanning the people around us to decide whether we let people through into the next level. Managing these boundaries is not uncaring but is healthy social behaviour.
So, we may want to consider an influencing strategy with some key stakeholders that take us at least from the outside of the circles, where they regard us a one of their tribe.
If you have a Stakeholder Engagement Strategy, is there any measure of how you are doing in terms of trust from your key stakeholders?
Are you measuring trust among your stakeholders? If so, how are you doing this? Let me know in the comments below.