11 July 2008

Managing people, managing projects

There is a theory (reference anyone?) that management is about planning, organizing, motivating, directing and controlling.

And PM processes are gernally described as initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, controlling and closing.

See the similarities? See the differences? What makes projects special?

Where does leadership fit in to the picture?


  1. Anonymous9:47 pm

    Where does leadership fit into the picture?

    Leadership applies to people and denotes the sending of value standard messages to people which most of them then follow/use. Thus we say that they have been "led" in the direction of those standards. Leadership is one side of the coin called values, the other side being followership.

    Leadership in the workplace consists of the value standards reflected in everything that an employee experiences because these standards are what employees follow by using them to perform their work. Most of what the employee experiences is the support or lack thereof provided by management - such as training, tools, parts, discipline, direction, material, procedures, rules, technical advice, documentation, information, planning, etc.

    Leadership is not a process any manager can change. It happens inexorably every minute of every day because of the way people are. The only choice available to a manager is the standard (good, bad, mediocre or in between) which people will follow.

    In most workplaces, the top-down command and control technique is the method used to manage employees. Top-down concentrates on producing goals, targets, visions, orders and other directives in order to control the workforce and thereby achieve organizational success. Concentrating on giving direction prevents these managers from doing much of anything else.

    Thus top-down treats employees like robots in the "shut up and listen, I know better than you" mode, and rarely if ever listens to them. By so doing this approach ignores every employee's basic need to be heard and to be respected. This approach also makes top management ignorant of what is really going on in the workplace thus making their directives misguided at best and irrelevant at worst.

    In top-down, nobody listens to employee ideas, nobody values their opinions, and nobody gives them any recognition. The only way that the workforce can deal with managers who treat them in this way is to disengage and ignore their behavior. In the workplace this is seen as being sullen, uncommunicative, having a poor attitude, low morale and/or apathy.

    (During my first 12 years of managing people, I used top-down and was never aware of how bad my leadership was. It was not until I started really listening to employees that I began to understand.)

    In this way and others, top-down demeans and disrespects employees sending them very negative value standard messages. The standards reflected in this treatment "lead" employees to treat their work, their customers, each other and their bosses with the same level of disrespect they received.

    This is the road to very poor corporate performance as compared to the results that would be achieved using a better approach. Top-down managers are their own worst enemies because they “lead” employees to the very worst performance. (In “The Human Side of Enterprise”, author Douglas McGregor named this “Theory X” and named the other extreme “Theory Y”, but he did not provide how to achieve it.)

    If you want your employees to produce very high performance, swing to the other end of the spectrum thus leading toward the highest possible performance. To do this, first get rid of all traces of a top-down approach. Everyone wants to do a good job, but don't want to be ordered around like a robot.

    Next, start treating employees with great respect and not like robots by listening to whatever they want to say when they want to say it and responding in a very respectful manner. Responding respectfully means resolving their complaints and suggestions and answering their questions to their satisfaction as well as yours, but most importantly theirs. It also means providing them more than enough opportunity to voice their complaints, suggestions and questions. Spend your time making your support reflect the very highest standards of all values by resolving their complaints and suggestions.

    And realize that the highest quality and most respectful "direction" is the very least since no one likes to take orders or really needs them except in emergency situations. Anyone routinely needing extensive orders should not be on your team.

    This treatment leads employees to treat their work, their customers, each other and their bosses with great respect. Listening and responding respectfully also inspires them to unleash their full potential of creativity, innovation and productivity on their work giving them great pride in it and causes them to love to come to work.

    You will be stunned as I was by the huge amount of creativity, innovation and productivity you have unleashed. To learn how I escaped top-down after using it for 12 years, read an interview of me at

    Hope this helps, Ben
    Author "Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed"

  2. Excellent points Ben.

    (People - here's that interview in a hyperlink.)

    Here are two questions for you though;

    How do you keep everyone working toward the organisation;s goals without some degree of top down control?

    And what do you do with employees who don't want to play ball?

  3. Anonymous3:35 am


    You asked - "How do you keep everyone working toward the organisation;s goals without some degree of top down control?"

    You don't. Authority is not the problem. The problem is using a top-down command and control approach to managing people.

    Some one must be in authority and must be accountable for performance. Someone must say "that is OK" and "that is not OK" in order to protect high standards of all values. Someone must say "that is a good goal", but not dictate the goal without the full prior participation by the workforce. Better that the workforce decide on the goal and the boss only accede to it.

    So we need a hierarchical structure but that does not mean that we manage people with a top-down approach.

    You also asked "And what do you do with employees who don't want to play ball?"

    As I pointed out in my post, management is responsible for supporting the workforce and one of those elements is discipline otherwise known as the enforcement of high standards. People who don't meet acceptable standards must experience fair and sure consequences otherwise those who are meeting standards will not feel appreciated since they must make up for non-performers.

    Non-performers must be changed or removed from the team. As I pointed out in the original post, this includes anyone who requires extensive orders.

    Hope that answers your questions. If not, ask more.

    Best regards, Ben
    Author "Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed"

  4. Thanks Ben.

    Good points. Making the change is probably the hardest part.

    When I manage people my approach is that of a coach and fcilitator, and although when things get turbulent it's always hard to not switch to an authoritarian mode, I can usually avoid it.

    It maeks life easier, frankly, and also my teams tend to 90% come on the journey with me. (An usually choose to wear the 10% laggards as a natural cost of the change.)