Author: George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, PMP, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

Decision Making: Check in with Your Body

Decision making is a critical and complex process.  Unconscious drives and biases, interpersonal issues, fear of making a mistake, over confidence, increased tendency to misunderstand the nature of fact and truth, and too much or too little data and experience are all factors.  It occurs in personal relationships, in politics and government, in organizations, and in projects.  Here we address projects, though the same principles apply across the board.

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Putting the Power of Process Thinking into Action

Process thinking, the understanding that everything is the result of a process, is the key to performance improvement. 

 

If you want to perform as effectively as possible, or at least not get worse, look to the process.  This article highlights the place for process thinking in operating, managing, and directing projects.

Process

A process is a set of steps connecting a trigger or initiating event to an outcome.  

The outcome on an organizational level may be the success or failure of a project, chronic overtime, conflict, poor or effective decisions, or customer complaints.  On a personal level, speech, body language, action, inaction, or physical symptoms like tension or relaxation are the results of processes.

Processes exist even when you might think they do not – they can be unconscious, “below the surface.”  though, being conscious of the processes that affect us is critical to success.  Processes do not need to be documented nor standardized, though when it comes to project work, some formalization is useful. 

The Case of the Incorrect Spec

Office furniture is needed to complete a project to refurbish an office space to make it more effective in promoting a combination of individual and collaborative work in a hybrid on-site and remote work environment.  The office furniture has a long lead time, and its installation is critical to project success within the schedule.

The furniture arrived on time, but it will not fit in the allocated space.  A bit of research uncovers that the vendor complied with a written specification that resulted from a series of meetings, measurements, and selections.  The vendor representative had prepared and submitted the spec to the furniture manufacturer and to the project team lead responsible for furnishings.  The team lead never officially signed off on it. 

Who or What is at Fault? 

In an earlier article, Stop Blaming: Focus on the Process to Achieve Optimal Performance (https://www.projecttimes.com/george-pitagorsky/stop-blaming-focus-on-the-process-to-achieve-optimal-performance.html), we pointed out that blaming is an ineffective way to manage performance.  Though, in a case like this, finding the person at fault is important to determine monetary responsibility – who will pay for the useless furniture, and will there be a penalty for delaying the project.

The manufacturer’s representative argued that he assumed that the team-lead approved the spec and that he submitted it without an official sign-off to expedite the delivery.  His company was willing to take responsibility and to pay for the mistake. 

The team-lead said that she assumed the spec reflected the work that had been done to create it and had rough notes to show that the correct measurements were agreed upon with the rep.  Her company, the client, agreed to share the financial burden, owning up to their failure to properly review the spec and officially sign off.

Thanks to clear thinking and a long relationship, the accommodation between vendor and client avoided court or arbitration.

Learning from Mistakes

What does this have to do with process? 

Every outcome is the result of a process, a set of steps, under a set of conditions.  Analyzing the process one can learn from mistakes and improve future performance.

When it comes to figuring out what went right or wrong, focus on what was done (or not done), why it was done, how it was done, and why it was done that way.  Then learn from what happened to continuously improve.


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In the case of the furniture spec error, the processes involved were quality management (review and sign-off of specifications) and relationship management (the ability to review the issues and come to a resolution that as much as possible satisfied all the stakeholders.)

Avoid the blame game, hero worship, and defensiveness.  Blaming and defensiveness get in the way of sustained, continuously improving performance.  Hero worship rewards reaction vs. prevention.

Instead analyze the process to determine the causes of problems and successes. Improve the process.

Categories of Processes

There are two broad categories of processes, internal (intrapersonal) and external (collaborative).  While the internal processes have a direct effect in the external ones, in most teams and organizations they are left to the individual.  The external ones are observable – speech, behavior, and outcomes can be seen, felt, and analyzed.

Processes weave together in a dynamic system.  The system, the environment we work in, is complex.  Managing its processes is more an art or craft than a science.  Documented policies, processes and procedures are useful, though it is behavior that counts.  And behavior in complex situations requires flexibility and the right balance among intuition and analysis, compliance, and flexibility.

Your Processes

There are many ways to say the same thing and there may be more categories.  The point is to assess your processes to see with which you are satisfied, and which can and should be improved?

Here is a list of processes that are involved in project management: 

  • Communication
      • Demeanor, decorum, and respect for others – emotional and social intelligences, rules of order
      • Structure – purpose, position, evidence, dialog (questioning, opposing views, and rebuttal), conclusion.  Why is one saying what they are saying?  Is it the best way to address the purpose, meaningful, as brief as possible and to the point?
    • Active Listening – sensing one’s own and other people’s meaning through “vibe”, body language, tone, and content; asking questions to better understand; open to what the other person is saying as opposed to what you think they are going to say
    • Transparency – what was decided, why it was decided that way, what is being or was done, the outcome, implications, and changes.
  • Conflict Resolution, Problem Solving, and Decision making
  • Operational performance
  • Management
    • Project, portfolio, and program
    • Operational
    • Human resource
    • Quality (reviews, compliance, performance analysis and continuous improvement)
    • Procurement
    • Stakeholder (managing expectations, informing, obtaining input)
    • Financial and Accounting
    • Legal
  • Direction
    • Strategy and policy
    • Stakeholder relations and politics
    • Accountability and performance evaluation
    • Decision making
    • Values and principles

Going Forward

Even though you may have a good track record there probably are parts of your process which can be better understood and improved, particularly in the areas of communication, decision making, stakeholder relations, and quality management. 

How best to address process?  Cultivate process thinking.  Ask yourself what processes are behind chronic performance problems?  Are processes too rigid or too loose?  Is process documentation sufficient?  Is everyone aware of process thinking?

Make the time and take the effort to manage your processes.

Knowing Why, When, and How to Rest and Relax

Taking a break becomes a dilemma when tight schedules, guilt, or compulsion to perform gets in the way.

I was speaking to a highly successful CEO.   When I told him I was going on a weeklong retreat, off by myself to be silent, he said, “I’m jealous.  I am up to my neck in work, but really need a break.”

A break whether fifteen minutes, a day-off, or vacation is a movement away from the constant flow of things to do and people to see.  A retreat adds a dimension of self-awareness with a rest from media input, meditation, and contemplation.

Any break is a time to step back, rest and relax, turn off the thinking mind, and tune into what happens when you break the day-to-day routine.

Rest and Relaxation

Rest and relaxation promote the health of the body and mind.

Rest happens when work and movement stop; the body and mind are inactive.  Resting is restorative, strength is recovered, there is an opportunity to relax.

Relaxation is freedom from tension and anxiety.  It is about letting go and managing stress.  One can rest the body without relaxing the mind.  One can relax by numbing the mind or by intentionally observing the mind to understand and manage the causes of tension and anxiety.

You do not have to be at rest to relax.  You can relax in action, free from anxiety and unnecessary tension.  Consider being in Flow, having a sense of full engagement with the timelessness and naturally unfolding performance it brings.  Active and relaxed like a dancer or athlete.      Read Finding Flow – Doing without Doing for more on flow.

The Benefits

“Only the person who learns to relax is able to create, and for them, ideas reach the mind like lightning.” – Cicero

Not getting enough rest damages the immune system, promotes premature aging and increases stress and tension.   Working without rest and relaxation leads to burnout.

Getting enough rest and relaxation enhances mood, memory, concentration, learning, decision making, and the ability to manage emotions effectively.

You probably know from personal experience that being tired and tense keeps you from socializing, makes it difficult to sustain attention to work, reading or watching TV.  It lowers your stress threshold, making it easier to get irritated, impatient, angry, or depressed.   Being tired increases pain sensitivity.  Tiredness makes it more difficult to relax.

How much more effective are your actions and decisions when you are rested and relaxed?

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Minivacations – Breaks and Days-off

A break is an opportunity to step back, turn off the mind, rest and relax.  Same as a vacation, only shorter.   Let your break be a simple opportunity to have a cup of something, a walk-around, some exercise; to rest and relax.

How long?

In the U. S. there are legal requirements that vary from state to state. For practical purposes, it is whatever works for you in your situation.  If it is a nap you need, twenty minutes will do to refresh yourself.

Sometimes just taking five minutes to walk around or stretch every thirty minutes to an hour is all you need to refresh and refocus.  Fifteen minutes is a standard break time in many training programs. Every day off is a break.

What are Breaks?

Breaks disrupt the flow of activity.  One stops what they are doing and shifts into eating, exercising, taking care of personal hygiene or just relaxing.  This sounds like something that would get in the way of getting work done.  Paradoxically it does not, it makes for more effectiveness.

Even during a crash effort to get something done to meet a tight, immoveable deadline, people need rest and relaxation to ensure concentration, clarity, and quality performance.

The team is on board for the effort, calendars – work and social – everyone has cleared their calendars, rolled up their sleeves, and is hard at work.  In my experience, there is a great benefit to have someplace for individuals to rest and relax (other than the restroom), beers, tea or coffee, snacks, meals, and check-in to monitor fatigue and stress levels and gauge when it is time for a  break..

As an individual performer, on your own in your crash effort, you need to set yourself up for a comfortable and productive time.  Monitoring your own fatigue and stress levels.  Tearing yourself away from the work to take a break.  Knowing when it is time for you to stop, or to push on.

Take your breaks at natural breakpoints in your day.  Let your self-awareness tell you when it is the right time.  If your breaks are fixed and inflexible, plan your work to fit.

Days Off

Days off, whether for holidays, weekends or just because you need a day, are longer breaks or minivacations.  You can make some of them retreats, if you like, by incorporating meditation, yoga, contemplation, and/or spiritual activities.

Keep in mind that working on chores, your taxes, home repairs, and a host of other activities, unless you enjoy them, are neither restful nor relaxing.  They need to be done, but not at the expense of your R&R.  Maybe you don’t need a full day of rest, but odds are that it would do you good.

How much more productive will you be after you have had a short break, day or two of rest, or a vacation?

Your Personalized R&R Program

There is no one-size-fits-all rest and relaxation (R&R) formula.  You create your own R&R program to suit your situation, avoid burnout, and sustain optimal performance.

Create your program to integrate healthy rest and relaxation into your life.  There are many R&R tools and techniques, including:

  • Taking guilt and work-free vacations, breaks, and days off
  • Scheduling realistically to manage expectations, including scheduled R&R requirements
  • Breaking bad habits that waste time and effort and deplete energy
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Exercising
  • Meditating
  • Socializing
  • Eating and drinking
  • Relaxing in action.

Beware of the R&R program that becomes just another cause of stress.  Avoid over-exercise, guilt when you take a break from the gym or miss a yoga or meditation class.  Find the right balance between effort and discipline.  They are necessary to implement and sustain any R&R program, but can be overdone.

If you are successful, your R&R will be so integrated into your life and organization that the need for effort and discipline will be less and less.

Related articles:

https://www.projecttimes.com/george-pitagorsky/2015-right-effort-balancing-effort-energy-and-relaxation.html

https://www.projecttimes.com/george-pitagorsky/mindfully-managing-expectations.html

https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/training-your-mind-to-stay-focused.html

https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/ready-for-anything-mindfully-aware.html

Compassionate Leadership

Success in managing projects requires leadership skills. Leadership is defined as the process of getting a group of people in a direction, to pursue common objectives.

 

The most effective leaders use mostly non-coercive means and seek to satisfy the groups best interests.

Leadership skills boil down to the ability to create a vision, motivate and influence followers to realize the vision, build teams, communicate, listen, negotiate.  These skills are supported by mindfulness, compassion, and wisdom.

Compassion

Here we focus on compassion.  Compassionate leaders motivate and influence their followers.  A recent Harvard Business Review article, posits that “Compassion in leadership creates stronger connections between people. It improves collaboration, raises levels of trust, and enhances loyalty.  In addition, studies find that compassionate leaders are perceived as stronger and more competent.”[1]

[1] Compassionate Leadership Is Necessary — but Not Sufficient   https://hbr.org/2020/12/compassionate-leadership-is-necessary-but-not-sufficient#

The article’s authors define compassion as “the quality of having positive intentions and real concern for others.” According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, compassion is the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Compassion is exhibited in helpful acts of kindness. The Dalai Lama has said that “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others.  And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

Servant Leadership

“The simple idea that a manager is there to care for his or her subordinates is expressed in the work of Robert K Greenleaf on Servant Leadership. Servant leadership is a set of leadership practices and a management philosophy that begins with the idea that a manger is there to serve his subordinates, so they are better able to perform. 

Servant-leaders share power, put the needs of others first, and enable people to develop and perform optimally.”[1]

[1] https://www.projecttimes.com/george-pitagorsky/the-caring-manager.html

Can Compassion Get in the Way of Optimal Performance?

Some view compassion as a sign of weakness that gets in the way of high performance.

The NY Times and local media stations reported an example of a less-than compassionate response from a leader. A former Texas mayor said “that residents who are dealing with electricity and water problems because of the winter storm need to “sink or swim” and to come up with their own plans on how to survive.” Is this rugged individualism a sign of strength?

The project manager who, in front of the team, calls a subordinate a “weak link in the chain” displays insensitivity and impatience rather than strength.

But there are no absolutes. Distorted compassion can get in the way of performance, and when it does it may be a sign of weakness.  Misdirected and distorted compassion can become a hinderance to effective performance.

For example, a leader who thinks it is an act of kindness to avoid confronting poor performance has a distorted view of compassion.  The over empathetic boss may be feeling the subordinate’s pain or may be projecting his or her own feelings.  However, it does not help the poor performer to have his or her performance shortfalls ignored.

Firm Kindness

It is compassionate to address the issue with firm kindness – tough love.  That way the subordinate can grow from the feedback.

I recall the first time I had to fire someone.  I was leading a team at a client site.  The project was a critical one and the client was impatient.  The young man had joined our team as a software developer.  He was a sweet guy with a young family and was eager to succeed.  As it turned out, after a couple of months it became clear that he was a terrible programmer.  His teammates were constantly correcting his errors.  I was tutoring him.  He was making the same errors repeatedly, even after he was shown what they were and how to avoid them.  The rest of the team was growing as impatient as the client.

He cried when I told him, as kindly as possible that he was fired.  My heart ached for him, yet I knew I had done the right thing, the compassionate thing.

About a year later, the guy contacted me and thanked me for what I had done.  He had been suffering with the realization that programming was not his thing.  He had subsequently landed a sales job and was happy and doing well financially.  He said I had really helped him.

Compassionate action is not always easy and may seem unkind.  However, the leader’s job is to consider the effect of his or her action on the team as a whole and to treat everyone with firm kindness.

This is wise compassion. “Leaders operating in this mode are balancing concern for their people with the need to move their organizations forward in an efficient, productive manner.  When tough action is needed, they get it done with genuine caring for people’s feelings and well-being.”[1]

 


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[1] Compassionate Leadership Is Necessary – But Not Sufficient https://hbr.org/2020/12/compassionate-leadership-is-necessary-but-not-sufficient#

Cultivate Compassion

Wisdom teachers say that compassion is a natural quality that arises when we recognize our interdependence with others and our common experience.  We naturally want to help ourselves and others overcome suffering and achieve happiness.

However, our natural compassion may be covered over or distorted because of our upbringing and cultural influences.  Compassion can be cultivated so that it is displayed skillfully.

To cultivate compassion:

  • Enhance your mindfulness, training your mind to objectively observe whatever is happening within and around you
  • Use your mindful awareness to increase your emotional intelligence – cultivating self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management
  • Train your compassion using Loving Kindness Meditation to practice treating yourself and others, including those you might not like, with kindness and compassion – wishing them peace, health and happiness
  • Practice self-compassion.  Be kind to yourself.  Self-compassion is the foundation for being compassionate with others
  • Directly confront issues that may take you out of your comfort zone – whether that is to overcome distorted compassion or to overcome insensitivity and non-caring.

Related Articles

The Practical Side of Empathy – A Critical PM Success Factor

https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/the-practical-side-of-empathy-a-critical-pm-success-factor.html

The Foundation for Agile Leadership – Mindfulness, Intelligence and Servant Leadership
https://www.projecttimes.com/george-pitagorsky/the-foundation-for-agile-leadership-mindfulness-intelligence-and-servant-leadership.html

What it Means to be a Good Leader     https://www.projecttimes.com/george-pitagorsky/what-it-means-to-be-a-good-leader.html

Compassionate Leadership Is Necessary – But Not Sufficient
https://hbr.org/2020/12/compassionate-leadership-is-necessary-but-not-sufficient#

 

The Caring Manager

https://www.projecttimes.com/george-pitagorsky/the-caring-manager.html