Author: George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, 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.

Be Straight with Yourself to Get What You Want and Want What You Get

Being straight with yourself puts you on solid ground for getting what you want. And who doesn’t like to get what they want?

Can you own up to your motivations and limitations, your values, and your intentions? Are you self-aware enough to acknowledge your capacity and capability and to own up to your strengths and weaknesses? Can you manage your emotions to be responsive rather than reactive? Are you clear about your values and intentions and how they motivate you?

What Do You Want?

Here is a little story about owning up to what you really want.

A person came to the Guru to get instruction on how to deal with an exploitive partner (it could be an abusive, uncooperative, or incompetent boss, subordinate, or peer).

Guru asks, “So you want to change your partner.”

“No, I want to change myself” the person answered.

Guru (who is a bit of a mind reader) says, “No. You only say that because you think wanting to change the other is not “spiritual,” not giving and allowing; that it is manipulative.  You might have read somewhere that the only thing you can do is to change yourself and your perception, that you need to accept things as they are.”


“Admit it.” the Guru says. “You are unhappy with the relationship, and you want change. You want to change the other or to have them change themselves into someone you’d like them to be, doing (or not doing) the things you want them to do.”

Guru continues, “You want to change the situation and you think the only thing you can do is to change yourself because you can’t change your partner. You are correct, you can’t change others.  But you can change your perception. When you do, behavior changes. When your behavior changes, you influence others, so they are likely to change their behavior. Though the change may or may not be to your liking.

You can’t change others, but you can influence their behavior.”


Are You Being Straight?

The Guru concluded, “Are you being straight with yourself? Are you acknowledging your true feelings, thoughts, wants, and needs? Do you have an accurate sense of the situation? If not, you won’t get the change you want.

“Once you acknowledge the situation and your part in it, you can look in on it. You can be both a part of it and an objective observer, a witness. Stepping back to objectively observe you can better know the situation and it’s causes. Then you can apply the courage to work to change it or learn to settle into it.”

A Self-serving Boss

Take the example of a self-serving, manipulative manager. She exploits and verbally abuses team members. She takes credit for successes and blames others for failures; expresses no gratitude.  You are frustrated, depressed, and angry.

You’ve read a self-help book or listened to a podcast that says you can only change yourself and you begin to deny that you want to change her. So, you learn some techniques to manage your anger. You apply them and the frustration seems relieved; you’ve accepted the situation. Or have you?

The frustration doesn’t go away, instead, it gets buried or turned inward. You become frustrated with yourself and your inability to accept the situation as it is. You feel powerless. Your anger turns to resignation and depression.

A Solid Foundation

When you acknowledge your desire to change the situation and accept that you can change yourself and influence others, you courageously do it or you learn to settle into it, truly accepting what you can’t change.

If it’s neither change nor settles, then you complain (to yourself or out loud) and everyone suffers. When you are straight with yourself you can decide and do.

What You Can Do

When faced with a challenging other, do a reality check.  Are they behaving in an abusive, exploitive manner or are you overly sensitive or expecting too much? Or is it a combination? Are you being open and empathetic? Are they? What are the risks of being straight with them?

Answering these questions will put you in a position to more effectively manage the situation to get what you want and be more likely to like what you get.

Depending on the situation, voice your wants and needs. You can confront your partner gently but firmly and tell them what you are feeling and how their behavior affects you. You can ask them to change their behavior.  If you don’t say what you want, the likelihood of getting it is small.

At the same time, you can change your perception and become less vulnerable to their abusive behavior. Here we are on a slippery slope. You don’t want to become a doormat or accept the unacceptable. You need to know your limits  In negotiation it is knowing your best and final offer and having the resolve to walk away.

Changing your perspective to unconditionally accept what is, is wise. However, accepting what is does not mean that you can’t do something to influence the future. Remember, you can’t change the past or the present moment, but your thoughts, speech, and actions create a ripple that changes the future.

Knowing what you want and don’t want, influences your behavior. You establish goals and objectives, and these motivate you to do what you can.

Values, Intentions, Implications

What are you willing to do to get what you want? Does getting what you want to harm others?  What are the immediate, medium, and long-term implications?

Being straight with yourself includes knowing your values and intentions. The values may be saving time and making money, health and happiness for yourself and others, environmental health, ethical and non-harming behavior, safety, and security. Your intention might be to win at the expense of everyone or to find win-win solutions. Your highest intention may be to become a great servant leader or the richest and most powerful.

Getting What You Want

Opening to self-knowledge, being straight with yourself, may sound easy, though for many people it is not. It requires the courage to confront your beliefs and acknowledge realities that you do not like. It requires stepping back to objectively observe and accept things you don’t like.

When you own up to your motivations and limitations; your values and intentions, and acknowledge your expectations, capacity and capability, strengths, and weaknesses you can get what you want and be more likely to like what you get.

Cultivate self-awareness and be straight with yourself.

The Key to Performance Improvement: Candid Performance Assessment

Performance assessment is a critical part of optimal performance. When done well it brings intelligence, effective processes, mindfulness, and self-awareness to bear to sustain and continuously improve performance. Unfortunately, performance assessment is often not done well.

Recent discussions about performance reviews make me ask:

  • Why do people have such a tough time admitting that they screwed up?
  • Where does the tendency to hide mistakes come from?
  • What benefit does it provide? What does it cost?
  • Wouldn’t mindfully saying something like
    “The situation is terrible, we misread the conditions, we could have acted differently. We’ll learn from this and do better next time. Meanwhile we will do our best to manage the current situation.” be better?

Candor – Open and Honest
Candor is being open and honest. It implies that bad news not be filtered out.

This article is about the need to value candor to better enable performance assessment and the improvement it can bring. How do we overcome the habits of blaming, perfectionism, unrealistic expectations, and fear of rejection and punishment that get in the way of owning up to performance shortfalls?

Costs and Benefits
In project management, it is ultimately damaging to hide the reality of a troubled project that is behind schedule and likely to go over budget.

The truth will come out at some point and the failure to own up to the problem in the first place will make the reaction to the truth that much more intense. Further, ignoring the bad news will make it less likely that effective action will be taken to remediate the situation.

On a broader level – across multiple projects, in organizations, and in the political realm – leaders lose confidence in followers and followers lose confidence in leaders when they have the sense that the people they rely on are not able to see and unwilling to say what is happening and how it happened.


Case Study: Performance Assessment Avoidance
Matt is the knowledgeable and competent manager of a team responsible for a program at one of his firm’s clients. The program has a multi-million-dollar annual budget with a mix of capital projects, smaller projects, and operational activities. As program manager Matt reports to the client’s leadership team. He is responsible for supervising and coordinating with members of the client organization, as well as contractors and vendors providing services to the client. The client and Matt’s firm consider themselves as business partners rather than client and contractor, though in the end there is a client/vendor relationship.

Matt is volatile and highly defensive when he perceives that he or his work is being criticized. He reacts with anger and is often rude to members of the leadership team.

The leadership team and Matt are focused on concrete current issues and have not addressed processes such as performance assessment, project and operational administration, and communication and relationship management.

The board is generally satisfied with Matt’s performance and his firm’s services, particularly regarding management of large capital projects and vendor/contractor relations. They have no interest in replacing Matt or the firm.

However, there are some unaddressed complaints. The complaints are voiced among the members of the board but have not been directly communicated to Matt, largely because every time an issue comes up there is an explosion of defensiveness. Matt addresses each issue, but they repeat. There is neither effective job tracking nor performance assessment. Leadership team members are not comfortable confronting Matt.

The Root Causes
On a personal level, the habits of blaming, perfectionism, unrealistic expectations, and fear of rejection are causes of the tendency to hide performance that does not meet expectations. These are rooted in psychological and cultural conditioning. On an organizational level, blaming, punishing, lack of sensitivity, and poor performance management processes combine to reinforce the personal issues.

Taken together these causes create a culture that hinders candid performance assessment, and as a result will be hard-pressed to perform optimally.

Because root causes are clearly tied to personal psychology, many work environments are less likely to address them directly. Where mindfulness practices and awareness of emotional intelligence are part of an organization’s culture, the likelihood of effective assessment is higher.

Though, there is always a great need for sensitivity; to be gentle but not so gentle that you get no results.

Dimensions of Assessment

  • There are three dimensions when it comes to candid performance assessment
  • Working to overcome personal resistance
  • Team and organizational maturity
  • Tools and techniques.

Working on oneself begins with the recognition and acceptance that there is resistance and that its cause is internal and personal. With that recognition and acceptance there can be investigation and remediation.

To achieve recognition requires gentle but firm confrontation. Ideally, one recognizes their own resistance and confronts it. If that doesn’t happen and the team’s performance is being affected, then the team or management must confront the issue.

Raising or confronting the issue may or may not result in the desired personal self-awareness. Without the individual’s recognition and acceptance there is unlikely to be remediation. In fact, confrontation can lead to greater outbursts and active and passive resistance.

The team and organizational culture play significant roles. Cultural maturity sets the stage for effective handling of the performance appraisal issue.

Where the culture is immature, as in the case study, confrontation is difficult and more likely to face pushback from team members.

A mature culture doesn’t necessarily have formal processes and procedures, it recognizes and acts upon the power of appraisal and has a clear commitment to continuous improvement and optimal performance. A mature culture recognizes the way emotional intelligence, mindful awareness, and relationships intersect with more concrete measurable aspects of performance such as schedule and budget compliance.

Procedures, Tools, and Techniques
Formal procedures are a means to maturity, not a sign of it. When the procedures are followed naturally as an integral part of everyday life, then there is maturity. There are many immature cultures with assessment procedures that guide managers and staff through relatively useless annual reviews and project retrospectives.

Tools and techniques support processes and procedures. For example, a tool like Perflo enables frequent micro assessments. Frequent assessments enable early warning of performance issues and remind everyone that assessment is a regular and natural part of life.

Awareness training and facilitation are needed to initiate and reinforce awareness and cultural change. In your scope of control, which my include only you, make the effort to value and promote candor. Cultivate an attitude of continuous improvement. Stop the blaming. Reframe failures and errors as learning experiences. Learn from them so you don’t repeat them.

Improve Performance by Tapping into the Power of Collaborative Intelligence

Decisions drive performance. When making important decisions, take the time to consider multiple perspectives, facts, opinions, and feelings.

“If you rely only on your own knowledge and experience when tasked with deciding, you are missing an opportunity to get to an optimal outcome.  As smart as you may be, you can only gain by getting information, opinions, and experience from multiple sources with meaningful diverse perspectives.”[1]

Important decisions have both short-term and long-term impacts on your ability to meet objectives. The more important the decision, the more you want to combine analysis and intuition to come to the right one.

Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats approach is an example of a technique for looking at a subject from multiple perspectives, considering data and feelings with optimism, caution, and creativity, while managing the process.

Taking multiple perspectives on your own is powerful. Getting input from others increases the power. If you have access to knowledgeable people willing and able to give you the benefit of their intelligence, you augment your own intelligence.  You are still the decision-maker.

Collaborative and Collective Intelligence

Collaborative and collective intelligence are areas of study about sharing the intelligence of multiple people, machines, etc. to enhance the power of individual intelligence, with particular emphasis on decision making.  While there are differences, we will use the terms collective and collaborative interchangeably, with the focus being collaboration.

“Collective intelligence is the body of knowledge that grows out of a group. When groups of people work together, they create intelligence that cannot exist on an individual level. Making decisions as a group, forming a consensus, getting ideas from different sources, and motivating people through competition are all components of collective intelligence.”[2]

To make the power of collective intelligence a reality requires awareness, intention, sponsorship, and techniques to facilitate the sharing.



Being aware is the starting point. Often this awareness is so natural that there is no need to discuss it. Everyone thinks “Of course I will seek out information from others to better inform my decision making.”  People regularly and informally engage peers and subject matter experts.

Is knowledge management recognized as a critical success factor? And if it is, are leaders aware that collaborative intelligence must be considered when implementing knowledge management tools and procedures. For more on Knowledge management see the paper, Managing Project Management Knowledge[3]

Whether or not those around you aren’t regularly taking advantage of collective intelligence, some evangelizing, and a program to implement or better enable it may be needed to promote awareness of the power of collective intelligence and enable them to use it.

Obstacles: What gets in the way?

As intuitively sound it is for a person or team to seek out information from knowledgeable others when tasked with making a decision, it is often not done.

Several things get in the way. For example:

  • Know-it-all-ism: The belief that there is nothing to be learned from others; closed-mindedness.
  • The belief that asking for help is a sign of weakness
  • Lack of access to knowledgeable people who are willing and able to offer input in a constructive and well-facilitated way
  • Not enough time (and there may not be)
  • A sense that the decision isn’t important enough (and it might not be).

Creating a Sharing Environment

Collective intelligence thrives in an environment that values and enables, objectivity, knowledge sharing, and collaboration. In that kind of setting, obstacles are overcome or avoided.

The first two obstacles, Know-it-all-ism, and belief, operate on a personal level, often encouraged by cultural norms. Overcome these obstacles by candidly addressing them and changing any cultural norms that promote them. This implies that there is enough organizational maturity to engage stakeholders in meaningful conversations about behavioral change, mindful awareness, emotional and social intelligence, and the personal beliefs that influence performance.

To ensure access to the right people with the time to take part in collaborative knowledge sharing, create communities of practice, and use formal techniques, sponsored by senior leadership, and embraced by the staff. Assess the need for communication skills training and facilitation and inject them into your approach to promote useful and efficient sharing.

As with any improvement program, sponsorship and stakeholder buy-in are critical to success. While collaboration and collective intelligence can operate on a local level – like, within a project team – it is best when there is a wider organizational program. But don’t wait for the organization-wide program if you can work on the local level without it.


Formal collaboration techniques provide structure to successfully address complex issues without being caught up in either-or thinking, competition over ideas, and common group communication issues such as going off-topic. Formal models include facilitation guidelines and standard agendas and questions.

For example, Wicked Questions can be used in planning sessions, retrospectives, and design sessions. It is used to address complex issues like conflicting design concepts, strategies, or “tension between espoused strategies and on-the-ground circumstance and to discover the valuable strategies that lie deeply hidden in paradoxical waters.”[4]

Mindful Life Mindful Work’s Co-development [5] brings people together in facilitated sessions to tap into the group’s collective intelligence. Groups may consist of members of an operational or functional team with a variety of roles, across different departments, and levels of experience. They might also be members of a practice group, for example, project managers or business analysts. The purpose is to enhance team members’ ability to address their issues, goals, or challenges. The group is not making the decision, which is the individual’s job. The group discussion informs the decision-maker.

o-development events might be part of a community of practice, or they may occur in the context of a business process, program, or project.

Managing Cultural Change

Managing the change in a collaborative environment can be a challenge. Particularly if there is a need to change cultural norms and values and cut through individual barriers.

If the environment is already collaborative, then collaboration can be supported and improved. For example, the skillful use of collaboration tools and methods better enables people to work together.

In any case, within your scope, promote knowledge sharing and collective or collaborative intelligence. Sponsorship and engagement at the working level are critical success factors in any change.

The next time you have an important decision to make, engage knowledgeable others to get the benefit of their perspectives and knowledge.

[3] Pitagorsky, G. (2008). Managing project management knowledge. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2008—North America, Denver, CO. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
[5] Mindful Life Mindful Work MLMW: CoDevelopmentGroups-HedyCaplan-9.25.19.mp4
Hedy Caplan MLMW

Improving Project and Engagement Management Performance

Project management is a business process. Like all business processes, it is subject to improvement.

This article addresses the relationship between project and engagement management and the improvement program that seeks to optimize their performance to satisfy stakeholder expectations. Wise organizations and teams seek to continuously improve processes to optimize performance. That is what assessments,  coaching, consulting, and training are about. Wise individual practitioners also seek to continuously improve processes to optimize performance. They learn new skills, keep an open mind, and cultivate adaptability and resilience. Both organizations and individuals understand the need to define their performance values and indicators so they can measure improvement success.

No Process is an Island

No business process is an island. Project management is performed within an enterprise. It is integrated into engagement management, new product development, maintenance, facilities management, or other processes. While improving a process like project management, be careful not to sub-optimize other related processes. Pay attention to the “system” as a whole and its goals and values. See the article Vision and Systems View to Improve Performance.

Engagement Management

Engagement management encompasses the full range of activities from the initial contact with prospective clients, through the identification and qualification of opportunities, proposal development/quotations, portfolio-level decision making, negotiating and closing the sale, delivery and managing the ongoing relationship, including billing and the extension of services over time to serve the client’s evolving needs.

Engagement management is not limited to business-to-business organizations like consulting and engineering firms that sell services. In-house software development groups and other groups that perform projects to serve operational departments within their enterprise can gain from taking an engagement management approach.


Improvement Is a Program

To improve any process, treat improvement as a program. If sustained optimal performance is a goal (if it isn’t, think about that!), then coordinate assessment, consulting, coaching, and training to achieve the results you want.

This means going beyond courses and a training curriculum to a formal performance enhancement program with acknowledged leadership, a plan, multiple coordinated improvement projects and training, and regular assessment and review to measure progress and adjust accordingly.

Focused skills training is a vital part of any improvement program. However, unless it is part of an overall program it is likely to go to waste or be far less effective than expected.  For example, training a cadre of project managers on how to schedule and manage risk more effectively may make those managers better at performing those tasks but can lead to conflict with management, staff, salespeople, and clients. Training salespeople in contact and closing skills can bring in more sales.  But organizational performance can suffer unless the participants have learned about and are accountable for a “sale’s” profitability and that they understand delivery pipelines.

A program to improve engagement performance includes project management courses for both hard-core PMs and other stakeholders, sales training, methodology training, emotional intelligence and mindfulness training, relationship and communications training, performance assessments, regular facilitated reviews, and team and individual coaching to better enable putting skills to work collaboratively.

 Evaluating Results

The Kirkpatrick training evaluation model is as applicable to projects and client engagement as it is to training.  The model rates training in four levels – Reaction (Did participants like it? Are stakeholders happy?), Learning (Were skills and concepts learned? Were objectives met?), Behavior (were learned skills applied? Was the product used?), and Results (Were desired performance improvements realized?).

The reaction is easy to measure. Learning is a bit more complex but still not so difficult. These two are measured at training time, or, in the case of projects, upon project or phase completion.  Behavior and Results require assessment over time. Behavior assessment is easy if leadership understands that for skills and products to be useful, they must be used.  To determine if they are used requires resources, assessments, and reporting.

Results are the bottom line. Measuring results is not so easy and is frequently not done. It requires clarity about performance indicators, a baseline, regular and ongoing review, and recognition that multiple interacting factors drive results like greater profitability and higher quality.

Desired Project and Engagement Management Results

When we focus on projects, the desired results are outcomes that consistently meet stakeholder expectations (including benefits realization) by delivering the agreed-upon product or service, on-time and within budget.

When using the term “stakeholder”, remember that it refers to anyone who may impact or be affected by the project, including project performers. Optimally, a project results in a viable product or service that makes a positive difference in terms of cost and effort reduction, improved quality, profitability, and healthy client and staff relations.

To determine if an engagement is successful, it is necessary to look at relationships over time and across multiple projects with the same client. Measure financial and social impact regularly. Recognize that the value of many, if not most, products and services are the result of sustained use and the effectiveness of maintenance, enhancement, support, and customer service. Measure the degree to which project and service staff are happy, healthy, and can sustain effective performance without burning out. Assess attitudes, turnover rates, productivity vs. effectiveness, and the degree to which conflicts are effectively resolved.

Optimizing Performance

Achieving optimal performance requires an improvement program that combines assessment, coaching, consulting, and training to ensure that desired results are achieved consistently over time.  Because improvement occurs through a program its success is measured in the same way any program is measured – have desired results been achieved?

Optimal performance relies upon healthy projects within a well-oiled engagement management process in which success boils down to achieving value and stakeholder satisfaction. An improvement program is essential. Success requires a “contract” and a governance process. The contract (we use the term to include any agreement) provides the objective criteria for measuring success. The governance process makes sure that the flow of improvement and operational projects is moderated to satisfy client expectations, maximize value, and not overburden the performance staff.  It considers success from an enterprise perspective.

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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