The Olympics, Coaching and Elevating Your Project Success

13 October

As I write this article, the London Summer Olympics have just wrapped up, giving the world another spectacular show. But looking past the pomp and circumstance and having one of the preeminent world cities as a backdrop, it all comes down to the athletes themselves dazzling us with their efforts and accomplishments. Think about some of the big names: Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas, the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Basketball Teams; what do they all share in common besides seemingly superhuman skills? Great Coaches – individuals, who observe their performance, provide suggestions, feedback and support, act as a sounding board when needed, and helping keep them at the peak of their respective games.

Now think about your organizations “go to” athletes – your PMs and project teams. They may not be competing for a medal on a world stage, but chances are high, they are entrusted with executing your strategy and getting mission critical projects accomplished.  They oversee and utilize precious resources with the expectation of getting the job done and driving the business value needed. Don’t you owe it to them (and your company) to give them the best chance of success?

Regardless of the organization size, one of the easiest and most cost effective investments is in a coaching and mentoring effort. This concept also aligns well with research surrounding organizational learning in a changing and more fluid world, where speed of performance and quality of results are the key measures.

70/20/10 is a learning concept developed around the way individuals acquire, internalize, and apply knowledge they have learned. It is predicated upon a combination of learning approaches, formal and informal, to create a more powerful learning experience. It has been embraced by organizations such as HP, Coca Cola, American Express, Reuters, Google, and Princeton University as their learning philosophy.  It describes learning as occurring:

70% – from real life, on-the job experiences, tasks and problem solving

20% – from feedback, working, learning and observing from role models and coaches

10% – from formal training, books and articles

Our experience shows, outstanding organizations insure the 20% bridging activities are clearly defined, purposely developed and that enough time is invested to drive the desired results; otherwise it allows the 10% to be wasted, and the 70% to be improperly planned, poorly executed, and not as effective as possible.

For some organizations this may be a radical rethink of their development and support models, and a resetting of their mindset toward outputs – performance improvement, helping people do their jobs better and getting projects done. PMs, and project teams, would be a logical place to pilot such efforts, since a number of practical approaches presented within the 90% could fall into a project framework. Some examples:

Identifying stretch assignments to apply new learning and skills in real (and controllable) situations

Advocate seeking advice, establishing a culture of coaching, asking opinions and sounding out ideas to develop new approaches or solve old problems

Embedding feedback and debriefs,  and building a culture of learning through teams

Allowing this culture to be “evangelized” as project team members return to their normal assignments

Project Manager as a Starting Point

PMs by their role are not given the same team to work with on, or across projects, usually working in a matrixed environment with resources they need to influence as oppose to have direct control over. They need strong negotiation skills to work with cross functional teams often at odds with one another, excellent communication skills both up and down the organization, and the ability to align expectations of the team, organization, stakeholders and end users about what the project will and won’t be able to produce. They also need to get the project done, before starting all over again.

How do you develop these types of skills into individuals? These are not typically intuitive and often cannot be learned through a book. These professional skills need to be groomed into the less experienced, and polished into your more experienced, resources. A good coach/mentor works with project managers in different ways, as each project differs in scope, challenges, and people.

What’s in it for your Organization?

Coaching and Mentoring can have tremendous impact on PMs and project teams, but it also does a great deal for the organizations that choose to implement these approaches and work to get it ”right”.  These efforts help develop management, leadership and job skills that give organizations a competitive edge and provide additional benefits:

Improving project capacity, delivery and consistency

Providing a cost-effective way to upgrade skills, enhance retention and increasing job satisfaction

Enabling new staff members to function effectively within the organization’s systems and culture, reducing learning curves, and allowing more productivity sooner

Developing a greater collective of talent, eliminating “accidental PM phenomena” and enhancing organizational depth.

Creates “cultural capital”, demonstrating the value you place in your employees, and creating growth and opportunity

Going back to your “go to” performers, in creating the environment to enhance success we often see a boost in confidence and an expectation of higher standards for ourselves, based upon another’s and the organizations’ belief in our capabilities. Success becomes contagious, and trickles down to the project team members, who begin to focus on the opportunity to learn and grow, as opposed to the challenges they may face. It also becomes the solid foundation for developing high-performance teams, and elite performers. So when do you start?


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