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Tag: Methodologies

Healthy Goals, Psychology, and Performance Assessment

A reader reported that the “Motivation: Intentions, Goals and Plans” chapter of my book, The Peaceful Warrior’s Path, triggered memories and painful feelings about performance reviews.

 

That set me to thinking that the cause of much of the trouble with performance assessment as a part of performance management was psychology and mindset about criticism, coupled with organizational and personal resistance to addressing those issues.

A recent Harvard Business Review article pointed out that

“Performance reviews are awkward. They’re biased. They stick us in boxes and leave us waiting far too long for feedback. It’s no surprise that by the end of 2015, at least 30 of the Fortune 500 companies had ditched performance evaluations altogether. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”[1]

 

My reader, a financial professional with a decades long career, reexperienced anxiety about being found deficient, reinforcing her need for perfection and acceptance by others, highlighting weakness and imperfection. Embarrassment, financial, and career consequences, circled in her mind.

As a result, she was triggered by the thought of setting goals and objectives. In her experience they were often unrealistic and rigid.

Others report a sense that they are being evaluated without adequate objective criteria and by people who are biased and, in some cases, unqualified, unprepared, or uninterested. Often the goals and objectives, even those set by the individual performer, are rigid and not adjusted when conditions change.

 

The Benefits of Performance Reviews

But let’s not just jettison performance goals, objectives, and assessments. Let’s make the best of them, to use them for personal growth and organizational success.

The HBR authors reported that at Facebook “a survey of more than 300 people found that “87% of people wanted to keep performance ratings.”[2]

They realized the need for candid feedback to give employees a sense of where they stand in the eyes of their organization and what they need to improve, and to give the organization knowledge of employee performance to support training, compensation, and hiring decisions.

Add to that the benefits, clarity of purpose and direction, which come from establishing rational expectations in the form of goals and objectives.

 

What Gets in The Way?

But something gets in the way. Not every organization is as wise as Facebook about optimizing their performance assessment process, including setting, and adjusting goals.

When I look at the issue from a project management perspective, I see three predominant causes of unskillful performance assessment: lack of clear goals and objectives, psychological/mindset issues, and poor process.

In this article we home in on the psychological issues and how they impact and are impacted by the other causes.

 

Psychology, Mindset, and Performance

There has been resistance to addressing psychological issues in the workplace. But we do well to be aware of these issues because individual psychology influences behavior and behavior influences performance and relationships.

The interplay among individual psychological tendencies and mindsets, cultural and organizational norms, and self-awareness influences performance and makes for a complex system. In a complex system change anywhere can have an impact everywhere.

For example, a project team member may make decisions influenced by fear of upsetting the functional manager who will give her the next review. Another performer may avoid committing to goals and objectives to avoid imagined failure. A project team may be reluctant to commit to objectives they feel are unrealistic and that they will be evaluated against regardless of changes to any number of conditions

 

In our projects, we see that factors like

  • Individual anxiety and perfectionism,
  • cultural norms,
  • performance processes
  • attitudes regarding success and failure,
  • communication and relationship capabilities,
  • levels of emotional and social intelligence, and
  • organizational support levels evidenced by allocating sufficient time and attention and adjusting objectives as conditions change,

all contribute to the success or failure of performance assessments and performance management.

 

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Skillful Performance management

Awareness of and sensitivity to psychological and cultural tendencies enables skillful performance management.

In projects, performance reviews are not limited to individual performers. We assess performance on individual projects and the performance across multiple projects of individuals, project teams, departments, and organizations.

Performance management should be treated like a program with each assessment of a project. Intentions, goals, and values drive performance. When we evaluate the effectiveness of performance management these elements must be considered. If we never evaluate the effectiveness of the program, it is likely to be ineffective. And that leads to less-than-optimal performance overall.

 

The intention of performance management is to improve and optimize performance while creating a work environment in which performers at all levels of the organization’s hierarchy feel safe and have a sense that the process is fair and objective. Values: effectiveness, kindness, candor, self-reflection, emotional intelligence.

The goal is to enable clarity regarding performance effectiveness through a process of performance reviews which include the assessment of the factors beyond individual behaviors that contribute to achieving optimal performance.

Objectives are to regularly assess the performance of individuals, projects, teams, and organizations to identify opportunities for improvement based upon pre-established criteria and to make decisions regarding the need for training, deciding who will be compensated at what levels, who will and will not be retained, and what organizational, management, cultural, and environmental changes are needed to achieve optimal performance.

 

Optimal Performance

If the intention and goal is to achieve optimal performance, then we must know what optimal performance means. It means performing as best as possible given current conditions where performance is measured by the ability to achieve desired results – satisfied clients, profits, clean air, healthy and happy executives, managers, and staff.

 

Next Steps

To move from the general to the specific you need an action plan for your situation. Consider each of these:

  • Identify a responsible party for performance management – and it can’t be ‘everybody’ even though everyone and every team is responsible for their performance
  • Educate the staff at all levels regarding the intent of performance assessment and the reality of psychological, emotional, and cultural influences
  • Set a baseline for optimal performance – objective and realistic criteria that are agreed upon by those whose performance will be measured
  • Assess your current performance management process – get feedback from the staff, assess against industry benchmarks
  • Refine the process as needed
  • Be open to continuous improvement based on ongoing assessment of both performance management and individual and project performance.

[1] Lori Goler, Janelle Gale, Adam Grant, Let’s Not Kill Performance Evaluations Yet, Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2016/11/lets-not-kill-performance-evaluations-yet#:~:text=People%20want%20to%20know%20where,recognize%20and%20reward%20top%20performance.
[2] Ibid

Looking Back and Looking Forward to Improve

There are many New Year celebrations – Tet, Rosh Ha Shona, and more. Why not make every day the beginning of a new year?

But now we are here celebrating the Western solar new year. We are reminded to enjoy the moment, reflect on the past and visualize a healthier, happier, more productive, and peaceful future.

 

Time to Reflect and Plan

Now is a traditional time for looking back, remembering the past, and looking forward, resolving to make a “better” future. In project management this is quality improvement through assessment, control, improvement planning, and follow through.

As individuals, we make resolutions to improve by giving up bad habits and cultivating positive behavior. We resolve to stop overeating or drinking and to exercise more, or to take that course that will lead to a new career, or to be kinder and more understanding and patient.

But many resolutions last a short time because we don’t follow through.

On a team or organizational level, do you make resolutions and follow through with them? Do you reflect and plan as a normal ongoing process, or is it a once-a-year event?

 

Quality Management

Among project management’s principles is assuring quality by critically assessing performance and planning to improve. Dr Deming’s PDCA cycle: Plan, Do, Check, and Act is one way of looking at the improvement process.

Reflect and resolve once a year and you are certain to miss a lot of opportunities to improve performance and wellness. Build PDCA into your normal way of doing whatever you do and you will reap the benefits of an ever-improvising process.

 

Learn

This article reinforces the message of my October article, “Learn from the Past to Perfect Performance, “Learn from experience. Set aside time for reflection, learning, and making the intention to perfect the way you live and work.”

Improvement is cyclical. It is ongoing. It continues as long as the target process or product lasts. The target process may be your own project management process or a new process resulting from a project. Here the focus is on the project management process.

 

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PDCA

The PDCA cycle is an improvement model that uses a scientific method:

  • Plan – propose a change,
  • Do – implement it,
  • Check – measure to see if the intended goals are achieved,
  • Act – decide whether to adjust by taking appropriate action in another cycle, or to standardize and stabilize the new process.

You decide to standardize and stabilize changes to your process when you have achieved planned benefits. Then you start a new cycle based on your new standard.

 

The Standard

You may or may not have a standard to start with.

When a new process is being designed and implemented the standard is a set of expectations. For example, you expect to complete 90% percent of projects within 10% of the original planned time and budget.

If you have done performance measurement you may know that your current standard is 40% of your projects meeting that expectation. If you do not have an objective sense of your past performance, you are at a disadvantage, but all is not lost. Chances are there is a subjective sense that you are not satisfying stakeholder expectations. Too many projects are delivered late and overbudget.

Part of planning is to set an expectation, a standard or benchmark to use as a target. You determine your goals and set the standard for measuring or checking the effects of your efforts. Research to determine if your goals are realistic. Make sure you are setting a realistic expectation about how long it will take to achieve your goals. Assess risks.

 

Plan to Achieve Goals

With realistic goals in mind, you plan the way you will meet them. To do that well, you have a decision to make. Will you refine your existing process or start from a blank slate?

How unstable and undefined is the current process? Is documenting it worth the effort or is it more effective to find a good model and adapt it to your current conditions.

In the realm of project management, don’t try to invent a brand-new process. You would be reinventing the wheel. Instead, take the time and effort to find a suitable model or models for the kind of projects you perform. If you have multiple project types you may need multiple defined processes, some agile, some more structured.

 

Cause Analysis

Look back to see why you are not meeting stakeholder expectations. Sep back and candidly assess causes. Are schedules and budgets dictated from above or are they the result of actual planning based on expected resources and conditions? Are projects initiated without regard of their impact on ongoing operations and other projects? Are estimators and/or performers in need of training or better tools or both?

Looking back at causes and on the state of the current process often causes conflict and resistance. Performers and project managers may be attached to the way they have been operating.

For example, they may be happy not to have to follow a defined process. They may not have knowledge of or may be in denial regarding the perceptions of stakeholders. They may be threatened by criticism and resistant to change.

Tread carefully to manage change in a way that engages and motivates the people who will have to go through the transition and live with the new process.

 

Do

This is where follow through comes in. Educate, train, and implement change. Treat it as you would with any project, with care to support the people involved.

 

Check and Act

Realize that the new or changed process is not complete until you have checked to see if goals have been met. This is quality control and testing.

If you have done it well, the planning has left a standard, a benchmark, to measure against to determine if your efforts have achieved what you intended. Check often during the life of the improvement process.

Based on your findings decide and act. You may decide to continue, with or without changes to your goals, methods, or both. Or you may decide to stop, standardize, and stabilize the process.

Standardizing and stabilizing the process does not mean that your improvement work is done. You have just set a new standard against which to measure performance and go into a new PDCA cycle.

If you have done the improvement job well, future changes will be tweaks rather than major changes, though as new technologies like AI are introduced, more radical changes may be needed.

 

It is always a new year. Look back at what you have done, how successful it has been, and what you can do to make it better. Look forward to plan check and act.

 


Related articles:

Learn from the Past to Perfect Performance.
 https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/learn-from-the-past-to-perfect-performance/#:~:text=To%20optimize%20performance%2C%20learn%20from,intentions%2C%20performance%2C%20and%20goals
The Key to Performance Improvement: Candid Performance Assessment
https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/the-key-to-performance-improvement-candid-perfromance-assessment/
Achieving Quality Performance and Results
https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/achieving-quality-performance-and-results/

Strategies for Balancing Deadlines and Team Management in Q1

It’s common knowledge that less than half of the employees know the goals, strategies, and tactics the company has set for the year; this can result in a lack of team alignment, which will only cause further problems in meeting your goals.

Since Q4 has passed, now is the time to reorganize your strategies and give this new fiscal year of 2024 a strong start, beginning with planning your Q1.

So, let’s dive into tried and tested strategies that will ensure you have a smooth sailing first quarter and a successful year.

 

The Covey Time Management Matrix For Deadlines

Created by Steven Covey, this time management framework prioritizes your tasks and time for optimal productivity. In this modal, Covey emphasizes the need to use a four-quadrant approach that helps your business prioritize tasks, responsibilities, and deadlines based on their importance and urgency.

The Four Quadrants Explained

 

  • Quadrant 1 (Urgent and Important): Involves organizing critical tasks and responsibilities that need urgent attention to allocate the necessary time, effort, and resources. These tasks have impending deadlines, time-sensitive goals, or need alleviating immediate risk to the business.
  • Quadrant 2 (Not Urgent But Important): Involves creating plans and focusing on strategic tasks that will highly impact your business. You can identify and work on things that require additional planning and directly affect your overall goals.
  • Quadrant 3 (Urgent But Not Important): Involves minor yet urgent tasks requiring immediate assistance or attention. These tasks are usually the result of poor Q1 and Q2 planning, interrupted productivity, and distractions, so you don’t want too many of them to pile up.
  • Quadrant 4 (Not Urgent, Not Important): Involves tasks that are removable from your list of priorities to some extent, if not completely. They usually don’t take a lot of stressful work and are not directly related to your overall success or time.

 

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Team Management Tips To Ensure Success

1.    Set Realistic Deadlines

Before setting a deadline, you must gauge the complexity, resources, and scope of your tasks and the availability of team members with the necessary skills to accomplish them. You should also ensure your team explicitly understands the expectations and break down larger projects into smaller tasks to make them manageable. Use project management tools, calendars, or Gantt charts to visualize the milestones.

2.    Regular Communication

Feedback and internal communication between employees and employers help the team stay aligned with deadlines and goals. Establish regular feedback channels through meetings, chats, emails, etc., to ensure everyone is on the same page. Doing so will also allow you to resolve conflicts or issues, clarify doubts, and encourage collaboration more effectively.

3.    Encouraging Work Environment

Offer constant recognition and incentives to inspire your team to do better when a job is done well. Similarly, give the team upskilling opportunities to make them feel valued. Several online platforms offer professional development courses that teach various skills. For example, excel training with Acuity Training can help team members understand advanced features that will help them streamline their work.

4.    Be Mindful Of Your Employees

You must be flexible and adaptable with your team, especially when unexpected challenges or changes arise. Stay prepared to make readjustments and be empathetic to your employees’ circumstantial needs. To avoid major disruptions, have contingency plans, scenario analysis, and risk assessments in place.

 

To Summarize

Since the first quarter is crucial to unlock your company’s potential and set the pace for success, you must prioritize defining your objectives, using technology, encouraging collaboration, and monitoring progress. Remember that although Q1 can be challenging, it’s also the time for endless opportunities. To further enhance your team’s effectiveness in managing deadlines and fostering collaboration, consider implementing comprehensive project management training programs. These initiatives can empower your team with the skills needed to navigate the intricacies of Q1 projects efficiently, ensuring that they are well-equipped to handle tasks, meet deadlines, and contribute to the overall success of your business goals.

Late and Over Budget Projects: No Simple Answers to Complex Questions

Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Some simple answers may be true, but most are not. Human systems and relationships are complex. When problems, issues, or questions arise, don’t be satisfied with simplistic answers that assume that there is a single cause that if eliminated will resolve the problem or answer the question.

That is not to say that there are no simple solutions. There are but applying them is not easy. They require adapting the solution to the situation at hand and overcoming obstacles to its application.

 

Examples

For Example, on a personal level, the answer to “How can we live a life of wellness?” is simple, accept things as they are, do what you can do, and let go of the things that get in the way. The same simple answer applies to the problem of chronically late and overbudget projects.

But, accepting and letting go into a solution is not so easy. Accept and let go is often the last thing we want to hear when we are trying to resolve the issue of late and overbudget projects.

 

We need to answer the question, “How do we break the misunderstandings, cultural conditions, and habits that keep us from accepting and letting go?” The answer depends on the nature of the people involved and the environment. You must get down to the specific causes of the problem, assess them,  decide what to do, and do it.

When you do take action be realistic. Do not expect miracles (they might happen but let them be a surprise rather than an expectation). The more complex the situation the greater the probability of having to refine the action over time until an optimal solution is found.

 

Predictability – Complex vs complicated

Before moving on let’s be clear about what a complex situation is. The situation is the system, state of affairs, or circumstances within which the issue occurs. When the system consists of many interrelated parts and the parts act independently from one another the system becomes emergent – we don’t know how things will turn out until they turn out. In other words, complex systems are not predictable. Systems in which humans interact with one another in a changing environment are complex.

Complicated systems, on the other hand, also have many parts but their relationships to one another are clearly defined and coordinated. For example, a jet liner is a complicated system. Removing unnecessary elements, you can know what will happen when the pilot flies the plane. Complicated systems are predictable.

Systems can be understood by breaking the system down into their parts. This “decomposition” makes the number and type of intersecting elements – people, expectations, departments, technology, processes, rules, interactions, objectives, predictability, cultural norms, etc. As this is done the degree of predictability of the system becomes obvious.

 

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Late and overbudget projects occur in a system made up of several departments within client and provider organizations. Multiple projects are occurring simultaneously. Departments may have conflicting objectives. There may be insufficient coordination – for example an ineffective portfolio management process. Expectations may be unrealistic. Communication skills and emotional intelligence may be primitive. Hierarchical relationships may get in the way of effective communication, decision making, and planning.

In a complex system, aside from the probability of unpredictability, it is not possible to accurately predict the outcome of a simple solution like the implementation of a new and wonderful project and portfolio management tool set and simplistic training in scheduling and budgeting. Without going further into the causes, we can predict that the solution will not solve the problem – projects will continue to be late and overbudget.

 

Why do we seek simple?

If we can predict that simple solutions to complex problems will fail, why then apply simple solutions?

One reason we do it is because we want certainty. Simple solutions often come with the promise of a quick and definitive fix at low cost. Often, we do not want to or can’t spend the time and effort to understand complexities and determine root causes. Even when we do spend the time and effort, we might find that the causes are too embarrassing to bring to the surface, or we might think they are not actionable. For example, the cause of the problem of late and over budget projects might be a combination of sales efforts that set expectations that cannot be met, poor estimating and scheduling, senior management or clients who won’t listen to reason.

 

It reminds me of a story:

A man, Nasruddin, is crawling around under the streetlamp in front of his house. His neighbor comes over to help. The man is searching for his dropped key. After combing the area under the light, the neighbor asks, “Are you sure you dropped it here?” Nasruddin says, “Oh, I dropped it over there by the door. But it’s dark over there, we’d never find it there.”

So, someone comes up with the idea that a new project management tool and some scheduling and estimating training for the project managers will solve the problem. That makes everyone, except, maybe, the Project Managers, happy. The salespeople are off the hook. Senior management can keep on doing what they are doing, and they are happy that they won’t have to deal with the complexities of making meaningful change.

 

The Bottomline

The simple solution is to accept the situation as it is – look at it objectively, accepting all its flaws, and with a realistic understanding of it, and then figure out what to do to eliminate the obstacles to resolving the problem. With obstacles, like fear of making meaningful change by confronting powerful stakeholders, out of the way, a workable, yet probably imperfect, solution can be found. When the solution includes ongoing assessment and refinement, it is as perfect as it can be.

The challenge is to courageously speak truth to authority, to accept the way things are, and let go into an ongoing performance improvement process to get them to where you want them to be.

 

Best of PMTimes: Risk and Opportunity Management

When asked how typical risk management exercises are conducted, most project managers reply that this involves conversations and documentation around risk events and their respective probabilities and impacts.

 

While this is a necessary and beneficial exercise, this standard approach and mind-set does not account for taking time to recognize and focus on maximizing opportunities, and it often leads the team and project manager in the opposite direction.

Effective risk management should not be focused solely on recognizing possible failure points, but also on learning how to best recognize and capitalize on opportunities to ensure both project and future success.

Opportunity Management is about removing barriers to success and creating a path for yourself and your teams. Make sure you create time not only to identify and deal with risk, but also to recognize and capitalize on opportunities in your projects.

Chances are this change in perspective will enable you to see multiple opportunities that may not have arisen otherwise.

Enumerated here are six opportunities that nearly every project manager, regardless of discipline, can and should capitalize upon.

 

  1. Take the opportunity to recognize and reward success.

Successful projects are always the result of successful teams. Successful teams are the result of the collaboration and efforts of motivated and talented individuals. The project manager must maximize all opportunities to recognize and reward team success.

This can be challenging in today’s marketplace given the tremendous financial emphasis on budgets and spending. In tough economic markets, don’t discount the importance of direct individual feedback.

 

  1. Take the opportunity to provide and ask for feedback.

Feedback is an incredibly powerful, yet often overlooked opportunity that can be utilized with peers, direct reports management vendors and senior management as well. Many project managers realize the importance of providing feedback to functional managers but fail to maximize opportunities that may arise from asking for feedback.

The important thing to keep in mind is that people always remember how they were treated and made to feel, long after the American Express gift checks are spent. We as project managers are in a unique position to provide both constructive criticism and praise to both team members as well as their functional management.

It is the project manager’s responsibility to stand up for team members to ensure that their best interests are represented.

 

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3. Take the opportunity to network with professional project managers in your field regarding lessons learned.

Most professional project managers aren’t shy about sharing lessons learned, opportunities they’ve maximized and those they’ve missed along the way!

Take the opportunity to share experiences as well as to learn from others. Local PMI chapters, special interest groups and LinkedIn are but a few of the many ways to accomplish this. These lessons learned could very well be the result of feedback from number two, above!

 

  1. Take the opportunity to utilize and involve senior leadership and your sponsor.

Never underestimate the value of the project sponsor when it comes to removing obstacles to get things done. People tend to listen a bit more intently when senior leadership speaks.

Allow them to be engaged and assist with removing barriers and obstacles. Project initiation is also a great time to have candid conversations with leadership about their vision for the project as well as opportunities they foresee. This also affords you the opportunity to highlight movement toward and capitalization on said opportunities in status meetings.

 

  1. Take the opportunity to recognize cultural boundaries, international holidays and cultural differences, etc.

Most teams these days are a veritable melting pot of cultures and time zones. As such, communicating and determining a mutually agreeable time for the team to meet often presents many challenges and opportunities.

The project manager should take the opportunity to build rapport with international team members and stakeholders by learning about international holidays as well as working off-hours to account for different country’s time zones.

 

  1. Encourage Opportunity Management within your teams.

This demonstrates to the team that you not only value their input but are willing to recognize and implement it toward the success of the project.

Everyone has unique perspectives and insights regarding opportunities within the project—oftentimes all you have to do is ask.

 

Capitalizing on these six opportunities will assist with building rapport within team as well as provide the project manager and team with valuable and timely information beyond conventional risk exercises.

 

Published on: 2019/01/29