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Vroom and the Capability Principle

From Sharing the Project Vision to Successfully Delivering Projects

I still meet many project managers who just state that sharing a project vision (if ever there is one) is a waste of time and that the project team should just concentrate on what they are asked (told ?) to do. This always reminds me of my first project management courses, more than 30 years ago (dinosaurs were still alive), when I was told that: “the more information people have about a project, the more veto power we are giving them…so it is important to keep information sharing to the strict minimum, using as a strict yardstick of information distribution “direct-task-oriented need-to-know information.”

I am appalled to see that this primitive belief still endures today, since it shows so little understanding of how human minds and hearts really work. I am also appalled that, each time I ask about Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation i (dating back from the early 1960s) and it’s significance to project management audiences (including many PMPs), I find out that it is still mostly unheard of or, when it is known, it rings no bell about the relationship between sharing a project vision and mobilizing project teams to ensure project success. This is very unfortunate since Vroom’s simple theory:

  • Holds the explanation to most “resistance to change” situations (the 9th waste of bad project management, identified by Bodek ii)
  • Shows, subsequently, the inescapable way to individual motivation and subsequent team mobilisation
  • Tells you, consequently, how you can deliver your projects faster
  • Gives you the ultimate behaviour-influence recipe for fast, mostly resistance-free, successful project delivery

What Vroom reveals to us is what I call the “Capability Principle,” which I describe as follows:
“A person will do something only if that person is convinced that he/she is capable of accomplishing what is asked from her/him.”

So when one is asked to do a task or to accept a new situation (a “change” in project management jargon), one must first answer a firm YES to the question “Can I do this/can I function in this new situation?” before even considering the usual existential pros and cons of the WIIFM iii type. Unless one understands fully where one’s project tasks and own ultimate fate fit in a project plan and in the subsequent vision this project serves, one cannot answer a firm YES to this question. The answer will be: “I do not know enough about this stuff, I am in no position of knowing if I am really CAPABLE of doing this or stand this….so I’ll wait and see and won’t accept personal responsibility or accountability for any of this”. So the project manager, who does not clarify nor share the whole picture of a project and its underlying vision, will end up either doing this other person’s work or telling this person exactly HOW to do everything; and, in so doing, this project manager won’t we able to share accountability with the project team.

You think that sharing a project vision is a waste of time? Well, the “Capability Principle” will prove you wrong. You will experience, first-hand, massive resistance to change and unshared accountability on your projects. And you will end up being the only one, all alone, caring for this project, the perfect scapegoat for a disaster in the making?

iii What’s in it for me ?

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