Applied EQ #41 – PMs Need to Understand the Playing Field (Part 2 of 2)

Applied EQ #41 – PMs Need to Understand the Playing Field (Part 2 of 2)

In the last post, we discussed organizational awareness as one of the competencies of social awareness and we looked at a PM assessment tool which was used to gauge social awareness.  This post will explore the definition that Goleman and Boyatzis use for Organizational Awareness and identify some techniques we can use to increase our level of awareness.

The two main aspects of organizational awareness that Goleman and Boyatzis discuss are identifying key power relationships and understanding the values and culture of the organization.

Key Power Relationships

Identifying key power relationships is about accurately recognizing the individuals who have power and political influence on our projects.

How well do you think you understand the power relationships for your project and organization?  Here are some questions you can ask to help you sort out the power:

  1. Who are the real decision makers on your project and in your organization?  Are there any decision-makers that are outside the official project chart or org chart?
  2. Who has influence on the decisions made?  Who has the power to say yes?  Who has the power to say no?
  3. Who gets advice from whom?
  4. Who worked together before?  Did some of the management team work together at other companies?  Have any of the team always worked together, even when they moved from organization to organization?

Are you systematic in evaluating decision makers, or is this an ad hoc process?  Recognizing the decision makers for a project or organization is a critical first step to managing stakeholders which is part of the domain of relationship management.

Understanding the Values and Culture of the Organization

Understanding the values and culture of the organization is also important.  For project managers, this analysis must be done at both the project level and the broader organization level.  The values and culture may be the same at the project and organization levels, or they might be quite different.

How do you understand the values and culture?  The most straightforward way is to read what the organization says the values are.  Organizations declare their values in public ways in their mission or vision statements, by their slogans, or by the posters on the wall.  While their could be a disconnect between what they say and what they do, the published version is a starting point for the analysis.

I was recently at one of the many Motorola facilities in Schamburg, Illinois.  The walls of the building were plastered with posters.  It would be impossible for any employee in the building not to see the posters.  The Motorola posters had the theme “My Moto”, and they featured employees running with projects that served customers.  The message was “we’re not the old paternal organization we used to be; start acting like an entrepreneur”.

What do the posters in your building say?  What is the point?

A second place to look for the values of the organization is the annual report.  What does the annual report say about the organization?  Which projects, initiatives, and successes are bragged about in the report?  Which are not mentioned?

I recently lead a large IT project non-profit organization.  When their annual report came out, I scanned it quickly to see what was said about my project.  When that project wasn’t mentioned in the annual report, I felt sad.  It had been featured in the previous years report.  Was the project no longer important to this non-profit?

A third way to evaluate the culture and values of the organization is to look at the recognitions and rewards.  Who gets promoted and why?  What behavior gets rewarded?  What gets punished?  How does the organization react to problems or challenges?  What happens when mistakes are made?

I have worked for several consulting organizations where there was a practice of cutting people loose if the individuals were on the bench and non-billable for any length of time.  The value in that organization was likely, “What have you done for me lately?”  How do you think this type of behavior affects projects and project managers?

Consider also those organizations that reward hero-like efforts to meet deadlines.  By hero-like, I don’t mean people working hard.  I am talking specifically about those last minute efforts to rescue projects that are not doing well.

I worked for an organization where this type of behavior had actually become the norm because it was rewarded.  Instead of planning ahead and managing to a reasonable schedule, the teams would set up emergency situations where it was nearly impossible to succeed.  Then the teams would work a long weekend or two (or overnight) to meet the deadline.  These teams were regaled as heroes and rewarded accordingly.  And as the stories about these successes were retold, it became clear to all parties that to succeed meant to narrowly avert a crisis.

A friend of mine recently likened this to a bus driver “driving the bus close to the cliff” in order to instill the proper level of fear and recognition into the passengers.  It reminds me of a firefighter who sets fires so that they can rush in, put out the fire, and be a hero.

Obviously, if the organization values crises and hero-like behavior, they are not likely to value your well planned and effectively run projects that quietly move toward completion.  And if that is the culture of the organization, it is good to recognize it up front.

Finally, we can look at the organizations stories to understand culture and values.  The stories we tell about our past successes will provide a lot of information about the organizations values.

I recommend that you systematically evaluate your project and organization.  Try to determine the values and culture.  Which behaviors are appropriate?  What behavior gets rewarded, and what gets punished? Are there written or unwritten rules about starting early or working late? Are there rules around telling the truth or not telling the truth?  What does it take to succeed in your organization?  Who gets the largest bonus and why?  Who has been fired and why?

What is the playing field for your project and organization?  If you don’t understand it, you just might become a victim to it.

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