This past Thursday night I delivered a presentation on understanding the 7 Wastes of Lean and how they are manifested in project management. It was the largest gathering I’ve spoken to yet, and presented some interesting audience dynamics that were far different from when I presented the same topic to about 50-60 people at the New Hampshire chapter. Overall, the presentation was fairly well received, however, and I think I delivered my point. It was good speaking experience and gives me some time to reflect on how to work a larger room.
At the end of the presentation, a question was asked of me by an audience member: “How do you make people accountable?”
It was clear that the situation this person was in had caused a great deal of frustration and difficulty. As I pressed for details, it appeared that the situation was one in which a project had been assigned in typical “responsibility without authority” fashion. Supposed team mates who needed to be a part of the project simply weren’t complying and, it also seemed obvious to me, the naming, blaming and shaming had begun.
My response? A very unsatisfying quip that the project was doomed before it began. The truth is, it looks like this project was sponsored via edict, by someone with no ability to grasp the difficulty of the situation or, even worse, someone who had and decided to place the responsibility for it upon the shoulders of an underling. Also, I asked why people are resisting the change? The answer was that they were afraid to change. So, in my estimation, they were in an environment of disrespect because, lets’ face it, if you are fearful you are being disrespected, given the way things at work tend to go.
While likely accurate, those observations don’t really help the poor project manager who must deal with such a lousy situation. The truth is, it’s always easy to blame management (which I also stated), however, you can influence from your own level on down. So, I am sorry to say, that while the environment this Project Manager was in was entirely toxic and the assignment was probably doomed, there was a lot more that could have been done to make the situation better.
So, upon reflection over the course of the weekend, I have come up with some other advice. Now, I won’t bore people with the usual rhetoric: Approach the sponsor for additional support, lay out ground rules for the project team, establish tasks and task owners. Those things are fairly simple and rely on utilizing tools rather than getting down into core people-centered concepts. My best advice, then, is this:
I am as guilty as the next person in relying too much on being right and too little on being liked. While all those smarts turn up evidence that is undeniable, people will still tend to go the other way, preferring to be wrong with friends than right and alone. If you spend time making friends with people, they will do more to help you and be sympathetic when you are handed that miserable dog of a project. Having those relationships does, indeed, make things easier and, therefore, enables the participation and experimentation needed to bring about success.
Now, people will say that such things ought not to be necessary and, if you are dedicated to a task or a company, that people should put aside their personal feelings and get the job done. True. They should. True, also, that they won’t. If you establish personal ties, however, people will choose to help you, they will choose to work on things they don’t want to just to spend time with people they like, they will choose to do a good job in order to make you look good, and they will choose to hold up their end so that they do not let you down.
In short, they will choose to be accountable.