As part of the project reporting process, you expect, implicitly, that each member of your team will be honest and complete when they report task progress.
When you ask a significant stakeholder how things are going from their perspective, you expect them to provide an honest answer.
In a meeting with your sponsor if you want to know if there's anything you can do to be more effective, you expect him or her to tell you candidly what you can do to improve.
And, during stage gate reviews, you expect all involved to express their feelings and thoughts openly for the good of the project and not to hide behind ulterior motives and advance “hidden agendas.”
But does all this really happen in a way you expect it to? It better, because without accurate information, feedback, and honest assessment, it's easy to see how much more difficult managing projects can be.
Each of the examples above collectively form your “hierarchies of trust” on you project. You “trust” people to give you straight answers. How do we make sure this happens?
I'll provide one tip I learned a long time ago from my then boss, and now friend, Ed Phelps, who founded ESI. Ed was a straight shooter and a tough manager. He was demanding and expected the highest levels of performance. You were always better for having worked for Ed. But the one thing I always admired was that Ed wanted to hear all the news, good, bad and indifferent about a project. And when you brought him bad news, he didn't criticize you for it, or humiliate you in front of a group. He focused on the information itself, not looking to assign blame, but how to find the way out of the problem.
If a team member brings you news you'd rather not hear, your response and reaction will forever dictate how that person, and other team members, will behave in the future. If you fly off the handle and yell and scream, or worse, humiliate that person, guess what, that individual will, from that point forward, try to hide and obscure and spin any bad news in the future. You won't get the information you need to manage the project effectively.
People make mistakes, including you. Your hierarchy of trust is only as strong as your last interaction with the people you depend on to get the job done. It takes years to build, but only one instance to destroy. Remember that in your next meeting.
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