It’s a common scenario. You are managing a project and something goes wrong. You are following the established processes, take corrective actions and institute preventative actions to mitigate future risks. Irrespective of what actions you take, there is always a stakeholder (and there is always at least one) that will persistently raise questions and make comments like:
- “I’m sure I’ve asked for this functionality to be included, we discussed it 6 months ago, and I can’t understand how come just now you realised it is not covered”
- “We need to get to the bottom of this now! Why did this discrepancy not identified earlier given that I’ve been pushing for this for the past 3 months.”
- “Bunch of useless operators, the worst lot I’ve ever come across…”
See the pattern? As a project manager you are mainly occupied with achieving the project’s objectives and, while learning from past mistakes, attempt to chart a path into the future.
I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that mature adults seem to expend a lot of effort on disagreeing, or more specifically, raising un-necessary obstacles and concerns on issues that don’t really matter. It’s not just that some people like to disagree and voice their opinion; it is also the conduct in which they choose to do it: Assertiveness dipped in aggressiveness and disrespect to other’s feelings. Logic suggests that while it is productive to learn from past mistakes, it is counterproductive to labour over past misdeeds, as this can bring about a sense of under achievement and reduced motivation. It is commonly accepted that following a personal loss, one is expected to ‘move on’ and carry on with ones life. Grief should be an act of retrospection but without a resolution and determination to turn a page and face the future, such experiences can end up on a more negative note than necessary. Negative self reflection and blaming games cannot result in a win-win situation. It seems nevertheless that attempting to achieve win-win results is not the most common human endeavour. In many situations, many people will tend adopt a path of behaviour that will provide them with short term satisfaction at a risk of achieving an overall negative social or organizational outcome.
Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Values) states that “Groups, societies, or cultures have values that are largely shared by their members. The values identify those objects, conditions or characteristics that members of the society consider important; that is, valuable.” We expect people to behave in accordance with their value system. Most people go to work with the aim of doing a good job, delivering value for money, while still maintaining their personal and professional integrity. What is it then that causes ‘normal’ people to deviate from a commonly agreed value system, one that calls for compassion, co-operation and collaboration, and sways them towards a set of behaviours that they will not usually exhibit in their natural environment (e.g. when they are home with their family, surrounded by their spouse and kids)?
An interesting angle to this issue is elaborated on by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner in Freakonomics. In the chapter titled “what do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common” they expand on the theme that people’s behaviour is a function of an incentive system. Briefly, “an incentive is simply a means of urging people to do more of a good thing and less of a bad thing”. Incentive can be introduced in three flavours, being economic, social and moral. The offshoot of this idea is that when people behave in a manner contrary to that which is expected of them, at least under normal circumstances, that means there is no incentive for them to do so, or at least that if any incentives do exist, they clearly do not work.
Good, socially acceptable, behaviour in the work place, one reflecting people’s moral values and representing their preferred personality both at home and in the office does carry an incentive – a positive incentive. Failing a project delivery and not delivering business value and project objectives also carry an incentive – a negative incentive. Ensuring a project is delivered as expected carries an incentive – a positive incentive. Bullying your team and pressuring them to meet project deadlines carries an incentive – or does it? On one hand, if your organization emphasizes delivery over job satisfaction, a tough, aggressive project manager will be judged by his results and the behaviour will carry a positive incentive. If, however, employees’ well being and emotions are of value to the organization, in that case such behaviour is likely to be result in a negative incentivise.
I am yet to come across a study classifying organizations by their practiced value system (practiced as opposed to their published one – as it is possible they might not be the same). To draw from my experience it seems like most organizations value the ‘bottom line’. Delivery first and people second.
Sounds almost like a derivative of capitalism. Or is it?
Think about it?