Is Your Message Consistent? What do People Hear?
Our people, our project teams and the broader community of stakeholders, derive a message from what we communicate. We are always conveying a message – intended or not – by what we communicate. So, here is the big question. What do we think we are saying? What do they actually hear? And is our message consistent?
Let’s think about this. Our messaging is comprised of three elements.
– Formal documentation and record-keeping – Current and archival records documenting the project
– Regular intervals of formal communication – Verbal and written content of our status meetings and updates
– Informal day-to-day interactions – The everyday interactions with others in project life
Does the formal, written record comport with my regular intervals communicating status? And do these all agree with my informal conversations with others? All others? (Now, think this through. Your message carries. So, again I ask. ALL others?) Here is a most important point. Consistency across all channels of our communication conveys confidence to the broader stakeholder community.
Now let’s couple this consistent messaging with an atmosphere where the project manager/leader is always casting a fresh vision and enthusiasm for the project’s mission; where the team openly discusses any challenges that the project is facing. In this climate difficulties become windows of opportunity, turning points in strategic thinking, and moments of breakthrough results.
Now the question comes back to us. What are we communicating? What are we saying and what are others hearing? We must be consistent, honest, and authentic at all times. In this atmosphere the team and other stakeholders will learn to deeply trust us.
You are Always Conveying a Message
As the project manager/leader we are always conveying a message. Whether we like it or not, we are engaged in an ongoing conversation with our team and broader stakeholders – always. We are the primary message-bearers for the project and its interests. Whether in formal meetings, informal conversations, or wherever we are – we are always conveying a message. Our message must remain consistent and must be comprised of three essential elements.
– We must be authentic and speak true things
– We must keep people focused on the mission
– We must truly care about our people
As project manager/leaders we are called to nurture an environment of openness. When the project encounters difficulties and challenges, the project manager/leader and the team are openly discussing the real situations. Issues are addressed head-on and are fact-based. This means that discussions are candid and agendas are open. There is a willingness to talk about things that are not working. Authenticity is valued among all team members. Everyone has a voice.
This is how successful project manager/leaders conduct themselves among their people. This is their voice and their their message. They are frequently and consistently framing the conversation around the project’s mission and objectives. But this is not all. They are doing this in a manner that is winsome and encouraging. This is true particularly when the project is facing challenges and things are not going as planned. The project manager/leader’s voice must remain enthusiastic and hopeful, building excitement for the mission, casting a renewed vision, and painting a winning picture of tomorrow.
It is important to stress here that as project manager/leaders, we must never speak falsely. When I say that the leader conveys hopefulness in the face of hard times, this does not mean that they ever misrepresent the true situation. Rather, they look hard at the facts and strive to envision a workable outcome. True leaders always speak true. They engage the team to purposefully work through the challenge rather than ignore or evade it. I would emphasize that some of a project’s greatest victories and breakthroughs come at just these moments of crisis. The team comes together and startling outcomes occur. Why are we always surprised by this. It is beautiful.
Last, and most important, this means that as leader’s we truly care about our people. Not just in regard to the project and its interests but we care about them as real individuals with hopes and dreams and struggles. When we truly care for and about our people, they know it. And something remarkable happens. An atmosphere of deep and abiding commitment grows among everyone on the team. And this is the place where truly amazing things get done. There is a deep joy in leading well.
It is a basic question. How do we live? How do we conduct ourselves with our families, our friends and coworkers? How do we treat a passerby or a clerk in a shop? These little moments define us as individuals. And they define us as leaders or just self-interested and small. Do you want to lead with more passion and have a deeper impact on those around you? Do you long to bring astonishing results to the clients you serve? It all begins with each of us. It’s time to find the joy of leading.
The problem can have many faces. It could be a troubled project with missed deadlines, and a budget that is grossly out of control. Or it could be scope that is ever-increasing and running wild. It could be a team that is frustrated or intransigent to leadership. Or it could be all of the foregoing. Let’s begin with stepping back and looking at the situation broadly. As we think about it, these are symptoms of a problem, but not the problem itself. They are not the cause. How so? Projects exist to address a tactical need of an enterprise. Projects are, by design, temporary endeavors. They come and they go as they complete their assigned purposes. How do the initial objectives of a project become compromised over time? The problems we encounter that result in a troubled project situation are an outgrowth of several dynamics of the project environment. We will break down these dynamics. But before we do let’s mention another critical aspect.
Project managers are tasked with the dual role of leading and managing the project. These may seem to some as synonymous or very similar. But they are not. Managing is an administrative function. It is occupied with measuring progress. It reports outcomes but does not drive those outcomes. It tells us whether we are on track or have strayed off the mark. By contrast, leading is a visionary function. This is what I like to call it. Think of it as guiding or shepherding your people to achieve a defined objective. Think of it as positioning your people for success through fostering a healthy environment. Leading well drives successful outcomes. The success of leading is reflected in outcomes. Good leadership nurtures an environment of success. Managing tells the story. Leading creates the story that is told.
So, let’s go back to that troubled project situation. We said this may be characterized by a blown schedule or budget or scope. We said it may be characterized by a frustrated or intransigent team. A few observations. Let’s keep in mind that project managers are tasked with two unique roles – managing and leading. Therefore, we need to provide structures that encourage an organized environment in which to track the project and record our progress. And we need to provide a means to communicate the project vision or mission to the team and other stakeholders. If we can create a structured, organized environment in which we are tracking our progress, and we are giving consistent voice to the project’s vision, then most if not all project dysfunctionality will evaporate.
This sounds great, but will it work? Fair question. Let’s get to it.
As a project manager you must manage. Remember that this is an administrative function about tracking the project’s progress. These are numbers. We gather them and we report them. By this we mean that you as the project manager are giving an account of where the project is at stated intervals. But this is only the counting of things. There is a more critical dimension.
As a project manager you must lead. And this is a visionary function about communicating the project’s mission consistently and regularly throughout the span of the project’s life. It is on this point that project’s typically fail. Project managers must find their voice as leaders. What does this mean? Project manager/leaders must find their unique style. They must find their rhythm and method of speaking and communicating in the various venues of project life. How will they communicate informally as they move among the team members and other project stakeholders? What is their message in daily, weekly, or monthly status meetings? What is their overall tone and frame-of-mind as they report on the project to the broader enterprise? What do they communicate in their speech and what do they communicate in their actions? How a leader approaches these things will determine the success or failure of the project.
As leaders we are often called to lead our people through a cloud of unknowing. So many things we do not know. So many outcomes we cannot predict. But as leaders we move forward. We are fixed on our mission and our hearts are ever toward our people. In this place we can all go forward together. United to win. Lead on, and love your people.
Is it time to recharge your own passions? Is it time to set a fresh vision within your own heart? Yeah, it’s the same for a lot of us. We want to lead with more passion and help our people accomplish truly remarkable things. Time to reflect.
Grab this book, and set your sights to discover the secrets to leading others well.