A Project Management Article by Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, RYT
Even though politicians who get the most media attention do so by tearing other people down to build themselves up, this approach most certainly is not a recipe for success in business. When you focus on bringing out the best of everyone in your business rather than tearing people down, you create a culture of success - for everyone.
Customers and clients know when the person they’re working with is unhappy in their job - and they know when the person they’re working with has genuine passion, enthusiasm, and talent for what they’re doing. Employees who are thriving because who they innately are is celebrated and leveraged create a positive organizational culture. This extends beyond the workplace and profoundly influences the organization’s relationships with clients, external stakeholders, and the general public.
Project Managers can facilitate a culture that brings out the best of every employee by promoting four kinds of projects that show an organization’s long-term investment in its employees and in its own success: infrastructure projects, support for all employees’ ingenuity and creativity, investment in on-going training, and creating paths for advancement in all areas of the organization.
One of the most impactful ways to invest in your organization’s employees might seem indirect: investing in infrastructure. You might be asking: what does upgrading your servers have to do with boosting workplace morale? The answer is that employees need more than just their skills, training, and expertise to get the job done well. They also need the right tools.
Most of us can think back to a moment where we took immense pride in our work; a time when we had the right combination of tools, skills, and knowledge that enabled us to get the job done well. Most of us can also recall a job we held early in our careers that did not provide us with the right tools to get the job done well or efficiently, and the frustration that came with that. While a company executive might give little thought to the coding software their engineers use, for example, the engineers who rely on this software every day are acutely aware of its deficiencies and ways it might be improved. Organizations show a deep commitment to their employees’ success and care for the quality of their work when they invest in the infrastructure tools employees need.
Supporting Employees’ Ingenuity
Let’s go back to the example of the engineers who need new coding software in order to do their job well: the organization’s first responsibility is to get it for them (investment in infrastructure). But, as a Project Manager, how do you know what tools your employees need? How can you evaluate what tools are necessary for them to do their job well, and which are just “extra?”
Here is where your organization needs to provide ways for all employees to share their ingenuity and creative problem-solving skills. As in the earlier example, the engineers are the folks most familiar with the intricate workings of and bugs in their coding software - so it just makes sense that they, too, are the folks who are in the best position to offer solutions for how to address the problem. They are highly motivated and knowledgeable about the project of upgrading the software they use.
Duke University Psychology professor, Dan Ariely, has studied what motivates people to work. When academics write about motivation and work, lots of them assume that money is people’s main motivator; offer people a higher wage, and they’ll be happier and more productive. Ariely’s experiments, however, have shown that employees’ motivation is a little more complicated.
Ariely did an experiment where he asked participants to build Lego figurines for a set amount of time. Some participants were told to put their completed figurines under their table to be disassembled later, while others had their figurines disassembled by researchers, in front of them, immediately after the figurines were built. Both groups of participants were then asked to build the Lego figurines again.
What Ariely found in this experiment was surprising. The participants who saw their figurines taken apart in front of them made fewer figurines in the second round of Lego-building than those who were told that their figurines would be disassembled later. The participants in the former group made an average of 7 figurines in the second round of building, while those in the latter group made an average of 11 figurines in the second round. The reason for this, Ariely explains, is that having their figurines destroyed in front of them was demoralizing for participants. Even though the other participants knew their figurines would be taken apart later, this was not as demoralizing as seeing their work destroyed immediately. By asking participants to put their figurines under the table, the researchers had acknowledged these participants’ work. In the second round of building, the demoralized participants were less motivated than the acknowledged participants to build more figurines.
One sure-fire way that Project Managers can show that they acknowledge and appreciate their employees’ contributions is by allowing them to exercise their ingenuity and creative problem-solving. Asking the engineers for their input in what upgrades to purchase rather than delegating this task to someone in another department, for example, is an easy way to acknowledge the engineers’ expertise. This acknowledgment, in turn, will help create an environment where employees find meaning in their work.
On-Going Training Opportunities
Providing on-going training opportunities for employees is similar to investing in infrastructure and tools. Especially as technologies change, training is another “tool” that allows employees to realize the full potential of their skills and expertise. Why then, you may be wondering, do many employees grumble about mandatory trainings and view them as a waste of time?
Here, it is the Project Manager’s responsibility to be thoughtful about the training opportunities offered by their organization. Is the training something that helps employees do their job well and advance in their careers? Does the training come out of employees’ suggestions about what additional knowledge could help them with their jobs? Or is the training punitive - that is, “punishing” employees for their unwillingness to follow email protocol or missing a deadline, for example? While employees must of course be held accountable to their responsibilities, subjecting all employees to a punitive “training” is sure to invite resentment. Instead, trainings should reflect an organization’s on-going commitment to their employees’ professional development and acknowledgment of each employee’s contribution to the company.
Paths for Career Advancement
Related to a commitment in employees’ career development is an investment in retaining your employees by ensuring there is room for advancement in all areas of your organization. Put simply, most employees will be happier in a career path than they are in a short-term “job.” They will be more satisfied in their everyday work and committed to doing their jobs well if they can see a future for themselves with the organization. This does not mean that every employee in your organization needs to eventually be promoted to a higher-level position; it just means that, if they do their job exceptionally well, they can advance in your organization.
More conventional “perks” (like flexible work hours, vacation days, and free pastries in the morning) might make employees temporarily happy, but “perks” are not enough to bring employees the long-term satisfaction in their jobs that comes from finding meaning and dignity in their work. When your organization provides employees tools they need, training, acknowledgment, and opportunities for advancement, it will attract and retain the people whose unique strengths and skills are the best fit for your organization.
Note: this article reflects the viewpoint of the author, Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, RYT, and does not necessarily represent the views of PMIWDC. If you disagree with or object to the views expressed here, please let us know