Advance your project leadership. Please!

killer-slide-on-5-waysAfter many years of reviewing project performance and Post Implementation Reviews it is astounding that the soft skills of Project Professionals is almost NEVER mentioned as a root cause of failure. Upon further reflection it should not be that surprising. A blind spot is a blind spot. It’s expecting the physician to “heal thyself”.

What tends to happen is the effect is reported as the cause. Take for example the case of a project team under distress. One natural response is to “shrink the project responsibility” and put a wall up around the project team. This would be reported as a mis-match of objectives between the project and the customer when in fact it is an inability to find more constructive ways to alleviate the distress. The learning is often recorded as more governance or communication required. This response never fixes the real problem.

Another experience is the inability to speak truth to power. This leads to very late reporting of problems. In reality the problems are known to someone early but keeping the peace is valued more highly than the truth or preservation trumps success. Again the common treatment is more governance or project controls which makes the problem worse not better.

These are just a few examples addressed in the Advanced Project Leaders Workshop developed by Tony Sattout Consulting specifically for project professionals to address soft skill development using very simple frameworks. The workshop is designed to tap the collective genius in the room in an engaging and effective adult learning style. It is rich on interaction and immediately implementable actions, lite on PowerPoint and starved of profiling tools appealing to you hardened project professionals.

Follow the link to find out more.  Advanced Project Leaders Workshop

Feel free to share this with your network as appropriate.

Advance your project leadership. Please!

To PMO or not to PMO. Is that really the question?!


The strategy consultants have weaved their magic with the Executive Team and the Board to define an exciting new direction. This typically involves pulling a number of  big strategic levers including downsizing, outsourcing, new market entry or old market exit and product reform just to name a few.

If you have participated in such an exercise you will know how intense that activity can be. BUT the heavy lifting of implementation is still before you.

At this point many organisations take a breath and really lose momentum or try to proceed without expert implementation management help which causes them to fumble the ball.

It is only natural for this to occur. When your management skills and mindsets are geared to managing the business effectively you are unlikely to be tooled up for the transformation and will generally focus most attention to BAU leaving the strategy implementation to piecemeal activity.

That is why it is a no brainer to deploy some form of PMO to drive, report and hold the implementation performance mirror up to the organisation. This is critical but the minimum standard stuff.

The most successful PMO’s add so much more:

  • An elegant balance of IQ/EQ to effectively navigate the inevitable tensions that will emerge.
  • Be behind the scenes to help struggling executives deal with their personal challenges of facing large scale change with poise and confidence building leadership.
  • To free up the CEO to be the point of escalation rather than the facilitator of resolution.
  • To be the tough guy when necessary allowing the CEO and others to maintain their relationships.
  • To leave at the end of the assignment and take any “lingering resentment” with you leaving behind a “clean”, high functioning executive.

The question should not be whether to have a PMO for implementation but who is the right person to be the temporary PMO leader and “extra executive” with the attributes to hold us accountable in a constructive manner?

To PMO or not to PMO. Is that really the question?!

Break the spiralling demand for meetings!

IMG_6821Dad blog.jpgHave you ever wondered why you spend so much time in meetings? I have watched many executives become slaves to their diaries.Hourly meetings were the norm.

To try and free up some time new norms were developed and became common place such as:

  • 30 min meetings
  • Send out agenda before the meeting
  • Start on time and finish on time
  • Allocate a chair and time keeper
  • Select attendees carefully to those necessary to achieve the agenda objectives
  • Review actions at the end of the meeting
  • Learning loop on how to improve the meeting next time
  • Issue action list within 24 hours of meeting

These are all very good practices to improve the value of meetings and should be adopted. Some organisations even insist on meetings being conducted standing up so that they are more focused and reduce the duration.

However, these norms do not reduce the number and amount of time spent in meetings. If meetings get shorter then you can fit more meetings into the day. Hooray! Not!!

What is the root cause of this growing need for meetings? I believe it is a downward spiral caused by deteriorating access certainty. If I need to speak to another executive that person is always in a meeting. I leave a message. The call is returned and I am in a meeting and the merry–go-round continues.  I resort to email or messaging but in many situations that is not a good medium for the issue at hand.

The only way I can have that conversation with certainty is to coordinate a time to do so i.e. a meeting. This perpetuates the problem rather than solve it. It gets me what I need but I have contributed to the deterioration of the “system.” Everything slows down.

Here is the story of how one executive broke the destructive cycle and freed up his diary on a daily basis without slowing down (in fact speeding up the organisation).

He hypothesised that if he could increase the certainty of access his diary pattern would change significantly (and it did). He would invest this additional free time in being more proactive with his interactions with others. See my blog “Let every interaction be an inquisitive one!”

The executive’s workplace had a café at the front entrance to the building where 90% of employees would pass on their way to work. He would have breakfast each morning at a table facing the crowd of people entering the building greeting people waiting for their coffee order. This signalled he was  happy to have a conversation on the fly. It became the place and time where conversations were certain to occur. People, who had appointments that day, would stop and have a short conversation about that appointment.

The executive would ask the appropriate questions, debate issues etc and achieve what the meeting was set to achieve.  “Now that we have had this conversation do we still need to meet?” Invariably the meeting would be cancelled and everyone was free to get on with other pressing issues. At most this took 5 minutes.

Better still others would stop by and say “I need to meet with you regarding X.” The action was to do it then and there relieving the need for a scheduled meeting at all. Again only 5 minutes consumed and there was no hold up waiting for an agreed time to have the meeting.

You may not find this a suitable practice for you but think strategically about your time and create certainty of access.

 Take charge and break the pattern!

Break the spiralling demand for meetings!

Let every interaction be an inquisitive one!

IMG_6784.jpgBy their very nature large organisations can be difficult things to navigate. Knowledge is not perfect despite the emergence of digital social systems. The role of managers, and all of us for that matter, is to make sure we fully participate in the success of the organisation and part of this means that knowledge, insights and contribution move as quickly as possible to those that will benefit from it.

Senior executives have a critical role to play because they have a privileged perspective/ vantage point and can act as role models to the behaviour that will achieve this end.

The question is HOW? Start by using the ingenuity that got you to the top of your organisation!

The following is the approach of one successful executive that did just that.

  • Instead of people coming to the executive to meet he went to them. This created many opportunities to bump into people along the way he would not normally come in contact with.
  • He would walk a different floor each day and speak to people he would not necessarily have cause to speak to. His excuse to interrupt was to offer a lolly (sounds corny but it worked for him). It proved to be so popular he would be stopped regularly and asked why he had not been to a particular floor for a while! Even this enquiry was another opportunity for another interaction.
  • Breach the unspoken elevator protocol and strike up a conversation. It helps to know that all floors of the building were occupied by the same organisation.

These are just some examples of the chance interactions that this executive exploited to great business advantage each day. The content of these conversations was critical and structured. The opening questions would drive the conversation.

  1. What are you working on right now?
  2. What challenges are you facing?
  3. What are the 3 things that would make a big difference to the outcome?

From this simple exchange the executive had the opportunity to offer an insight or perspective, re-frame the problem in a way that the problem may be solved in a better way, suggest a person to speak to because that person had solved it before or are working on a similar or related issue, reinforce the importance of their work and offer encouragement or to just say thank you. Notice that none of this adds to the executive’s workload.

You could easily have 50 or even 100 of these high value interactions each day without consuming any more of your time. Through your inquisitiveness you let people know you are interested and care, their work is important, help them in ways they will only fully appreciate and can complete your day knowing that the gift you gave each one of these employees will positively impact their day. In a time where 76% of workers in Australia are NOT engaged with their work (Gallup State of the global workplace report) what possibly could be more important!

Let every interaction be an inquisitive one!

Turbo Mentoring @ 6 minutes per month!

huskySenior Executives in large corporations understand the development of others is a part of their responsibility. Unfortunately they execute that responsibility by delegating it to HR because they are time poor. This leads to a suboptimal outcome. It is not that HR is incompetent, far from it. The issue is that who the teacher is matters. It matters a lot.

We are efficient creatures and that efficiency means we filter out most stimuli.  Further, HR and L&D lean towards packaged solutions which are efficient to deliver but not necessarily relevant right now. For most the learning opportunity is missed like film on the editor’s cutting room floor.

One executive approached this challenge of being time poor and being responsible to contribute the development of others in quite a novel way. In most situations people see mentoring as a one to one experience. This executive flipped to a one to many model and it worked.

His rationale was this:

  • Success is a team sport so the mentoring experience should be a team activity.
  • Broadening and deepening our network should form part of that team development so the participants come from varied backgrounds and parts of the organisation.
  • Part of the network effect is that the team should be self-selecting. In other words the group choose to work together. In forming the group the individuals had to use their network and network of networks in order to find each other.
  • Experience the process of establishing effective trust in a business context. It is not blind trust but trust built on strong and mutual obligation.
  • The executive contributed his face time (one hour a month per group of ten mentorees) so the members did all the other things necessary to succeed. The beneficiaries do the prep work.
  • Each member needs to be ready to table a problem, challenge or opportunity they are facing right now to the group for  debate, feedback and contribution. This means the group directs the learning. I need it now is a powerful incentive to learn!
  • Each member becomes more conscious about their competence and it raises their confidence to act.

The impact was obvious and immediate. The participants were deeply engaged in the sessions, the network of each participant grew markedly, the problem articulation and solving skills matured, implementation follow through was strong and promotions followed quickly (not influenced by the executive). The ROI is extraordinary!

The small executive investment of 4 hours per month covering 4 groups of 10 was the equivalent of 6 minutes per person. Which executive does not have 6 minutes to donate to the long term development of the organisation?

Turbo Mentoring @ 6 minutes per month!

Trust+Transparency+Traction→ Transform

trust, transparency, tractionI have sat through many Post Implementation Reviews (PIR’s) of transformation initiatives whether they be technology led, business model changes or Post-Merger Integrations and one of the most identified areas for improvement was communication. Have you ever wondered why this was the case? Over the years a lot of energy and capacity has gone into change management including internal change management protocols, communication support etc but the dial has hardly moved on the communication issue. It can’t be lack of channels, insufficient information or access. Are they listening? And if so why are they not hearing?

A number of years ago I hypothesised that this had 2 main elements, the first was the extent to which there was sufficient trust in the work environment and the second was the speed of learning. (See my blog on transform @ the speed of learning).  This is how I came to the model of Trust+Transparency+Traction→ Transform

Under conditions of uncertainty and stress that inevitably accompany a business transformation the establishment of trust is an important first step. Unfortunately most executive committees and transformation managers assume this already exists, underestimate its importance or worse ignore it.

Trust is a relatively well understood concept. You know when you have it but how do you get it? The approach taken with one person may increase the trust between us while the same action may have the opposite effect with another person. This becomes even more complicated when dealing will large groups of people.

“The Speed of Trust” by Stephen M.R. Covey provides a very effective model to develop corporate trust. Covey postulates that Trust is made up of the 4 cores of credibility (Integrity, Intent, Competence and Results). From my experience with large organisations one will be a key “core” that helps define the success of the other elements of the cores of credibility.

For example a major insurance business I worked with had a key core element of “Integrity”. If we had not demonstrated the “Integrity” credentials but led with “competence” messages it would have been interpreted as being smug. If we had led with “results” credentials those results may have been interpreted as manipulated or misleading. However once integrity was established then the interpretation of evidence that supported competence and results would be reinforcing the trust not detracting from it.

In contrast another client’s key core of credibility was “Results”. Had we led with “Integrity” it may have been interpreted as being weak or vulnerable and leading with “Competence” messages would have been followed by “I’ll determine how competent you are. Show me the results?!”

It is therefore critical to correctly identify an organisation’s key core of credibility and tailor the assignment and communication to demonstrating that attribute first. Without this you are seriously misfiring on your initiative.

Having identified the correct key core of credibility it is necessary to demonstrate that core through word and action.To do that effectively will require you to operate in an open and transparent manner. How else can others assess you and the assignment’s bone fides?  To do otherwise would undermine the attempt to establish trust.

There are situations where it is difficult to operate with complete transparency at all times e.g. when in early discussions of a possible merger. However, management will be judged by the reasonableness of their actions once it is in the open. Reasonableness will be defined by the level of trust that exists. It is therefore advisable to have a high level of trust in place before it is necessary to operate behind closed doors.

Let your “action to get traction” reflect the key core of credibility! In a takeover context, we were managing the reduction in management headcount across the combined organisation. That organisation’s key core of credibility was Integrity. To demonstrate our commitment to integrity we appointed the outgoing CEO as one of the candidate reviewers for the new management appointments. He was highly respected and was able to speak for managers of the acquired organisation. This was one of many actions taken to reflect the integrity of the system and building trust in the PMI process.

In summary during times of uncertainty communication effectiveness is determined by the level of trust. If the trust does not exist it is necessary to build that trust before people will listen to the other messages. The 4 cores of credibility is a very useful model to define the communication of trust which must be backed up by an environment of transparency and actions that reflect and evidence the key core of credibility.

Trust+Transparency+Traction→ Transform

Transform @ the speed of learning!

IMG_6750I have participated and led numerous transformations in my career including new business models, M&A, cost take out, performance and productivity initiatives (LEAN, 6σ), technology led initiatives etc. One thing they have in common is an underestimation of what it takes to transform a large organisation.

There are many reasons for this including:

  • A weak learning culture.
  • The existing systems and processes are so ingrained in the organisation and the people that it is very difficult to un-program and reprogram.
  • There is a very strong emphasis on compliance.
  • A developed distrust of major change.
  • The sheer number of people that have to make the transition.

Often the transformation effort involves a study of the issue within its business context, solution definition, action plan and estimation of the benefits followed by implementation including some training. When presented this way it appears that all you need to do is follow the bouncing ball, create tension by implementing the changes and watch the employees’ catch-up. Unfortunately this rarely leads to true transformation.

Why is this unlikely to be the complete answer?  I think one of the main reasons is that the organisation’s ability to change is determined by its speed of learning (not to be confused with the speed of training). Training is an action taken to impart knowledge. Learning is a human state that enables new knowledge to be absorbed and integrated into actions.

Learning involves motivated enquiry, a deeper understanding of the environment, a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo, a desire to know and solve problems, courage to experiment and a sense of empowerment within an effective control framework to achieve the right things. It also requires trust within the group. I call this the learning posture.

The deeper the learning posture is engrained in the organisation’s culture the faster transformation can be effected. If the organisation learns too slowly it is likely that the CEO will kill it off believing the transformation is not working. The good news is that with careful design and implementation a strong learning posture can be developed and nurtured as part of the transformation. The faster a transformation is expected to occur the greater the emphasis should be placed on actively nurturing a learning posture.

To develop a learning posture:

  1. Create little hubs as a starting point so people can see and experience the learning posture and what the transformation means. Showing people is far more powerful than trying to explain it.
  2. Let the work be the learning and the learning be the work. This means creating and maintaining a short cycle review and learning process that the workgroup conducts on itself. The role of the leader is to encourage a constructive mindset that involves honest critique in a safe environment. In this situation the work experience is also the learning experience.
  3. Introduce short duration training as appropriate. This training should occur after the need is experienced by the team rather than in anticipation of the need. This is counterintuitive but will yield better results. Participants are more likely to be attentive and in a learning state if they have a personal felt need for that training.
  4. Training should be experiential rather than information sharing. It should be designed for participant discovery not a platform for the trainer.
  5. Develop skills in how to ask effective questions. Extensive real time coaching should be incorporated here especially for managers who are accustomed to directing action rather than creating a learning environment.
  6. Maintain an environment of mutual respect and trust. Again real time, in the field coaching may be necessary.


In summary, to achieve a high impact and speedier transformation then the design and implementation of the transformation should have at its core the establishment and maintenance of a learning posture.

Transform @ the speed of learning!