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3 Most Common Barriers Keeping Conscious Business Leaders on the Hamster Wheel



[originally published in the Huffington Post on 25 Nov 2016]

If there ever was a time to realize creative potential inside companies it is now. A quick look at the top issues facing companies of all sizes reveals the usual short list: attracting and retaining talent, managing reputation, with the need to create flexible workplaces and balance benefits with bottom line. While tempting to view these challenges with concern over the bottom line, doing so sabotages gains possible when entrepreneurial spirit applied to innovation is ignited full throttle. Even conscious business leaders, who keep an eye on the horizon (longer term), getting work done and being attentive to workplace dynamics, are still susceptible to running around in circles.

In case the term ‘spirit’ is distracting, a definition is in order. Personal spirit refers to three measurable elements:

  1. initiative,
  2. sense of control, and
  3. outlook on life.

Entrepreneurial spirit combines personal spirit with a sense of adventure, willingness to experiment, an insatiable desire to learn and a capacity to bounce forward.

Without entrepreneurial spirit at play, companies plod through the motions, guided by habitual processes and routine. The company runs on auto-pilot so much so that either the purpose of the task is assumed, or the underlying agenda is to explicitly or implicitly control behavior. Either way, the company falls asleep at the wheel numbing leaders into the same repetitive albeit comfortable cycle. Running hard to wind up in the same place.

Context Drives Behaviour and Regulates Entrepreneurial Spirit

The term ‘conscious business leaders’ applies to a small group since

85% of leaders in the U.S. are operating at the survival level. [See Seizing the Executive Imperative To Expand Consciousness] One source of the hamster wheel is the existence of internal politics. Behind internal politics is the desire to protect personal reputation at the expense of achieving business goals. Aversion to risk, and therefore innovation, is inherent. Entrepreneurial spirit suffocates in working climates where trust is low and expression of diverse ideas is suppressed. In contrast, innovation requires creativity and a comfort with uncertainty.

The Impact of Systemic Barriers

Systemic beliefs add to the pressure of delivering on short-term goals blocking innovation and adaptability. Attracting and retaining talent, or mitigating risks to reputation are restricted to a narrow set of strategies arising from one or more of these three dangerous barriers:

custom_sign_with_traffic_cones_11627Focusing on Recurring and Constant Barriers

Characteristic of problem oriented, adrenaline charged companies is the persistent focus on solving problems. Problems love analytical thinking. Innovation on the other side requires exploratory thinking – the opposite of problem solving. Linear thinking doesn’t help because problem solving tends to assume that there is a singular root cause. In a complex system, multiple causes exist. Unless perception is expanded you will find yourself running in circles: busy but not productive.

Asking leaders to innovate and apply their entrepreneurial spirit while continuing to focus on barriers keeps everyone running in a loop.

Personal Impact:

Leaders find themselves chasing problems. Since what you focus on expands, problems also expand. Adrenaline is addictive as is the illusion of feeling in control. In workplaces designed to control behaviour, business leaders at every level will find themselves repeating the same patterns over and over again.

Insight
Awareness of what you are focusing on helps you develop flexibility in how you perceive (see) the situation. Increasing flexibility gives you more options, while letting go of the need to control everyone else. It is a start at least.

custom_sign_with_traffic_cones_11627-3Falling Unconsciously into Organizational Patterns and Behaviors

Beliefs keep decisions running in a rut and operate without being noticed until you systematically poke them to the surface. For example, walk into a company that believes it exists to purely make a profit and you will find behaviours shaped by those beliefs. Or if, for instance, the core belief is that employees must be told what to do, then selection of metrics and implementation of performance management strategies will reflect that belief. Beliefs drive decisions unless the company and business leaders have deliberately worked with values as a principle-based approach to decision making.

Where habitual patterns operate on unchecked auto-pilot, efforts to explore and experiment (the prerequisites for innovation / entrepreneurial spirit) run smack into complacent thinking. “Do something different, but don’t change anything.”

Organizational Impact:

Take a look at the metrics. Whenever a company focuses on quantitative measures and statistics alone, meaning is likely to be missing. Without meaning there is no inspiration and no fuel to fire up creativity, much needed for innovative responses to uncertainty.

Insight
Reflecting to observe patterns in recurring issues or undesirable results, strengthens ability to pivot.

custom_sign_with_traffic_cones_11627-2Losing Connection to What Matters Most to You

By far the biggest barrier is to sight of what matters most to you as a fully aware and caring human being with a desire to contribute your talent to something meaningful. Yes, food needs to be put on the table but the days of trading your soul for security are gone. Rather than being driven by the need for societal approval or by metrics that manipulate behavior reconnecting to your personal sense of purpose and of inspiration is the only door available going forward.

Insight
Personal reflection to identify what you rely on: social approval, meeting external expectations for instance, enables you to chart a course toward personal fulfillment.

What do you see as the barriers to stepping off the hamster wheel and do what you believe, deep down, you’re truly capable of?

About Dawna Jones:

Dawna Jones delivers customized workshops and insights raising leadership and decision making awareness of a wider spectrum of skills and intelligences. She provides dynamic oversight into organizational change initiatives by spotting the patterns, and openings for innovation and fresh approaches to working with complex adaptive systems. Contact Dawna through LinkedIn or directly at www.FromInsightToAction.com

Follow Great Work Cultures on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GWCLeadLink

Posted in: Centeredness, Future of Work, Guest Blogs, Institute, Uncategorized

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Traditionelle Organisationsentwicklung führt in eine Sackgassse


Heute erklärte ich den Teilnehmern des HR Summit beim 12. Deutschen Corporate Social Responsibility Forum warum traditionelle Organisationsentwicklung in die Sackgasse führt, weil es auf den falschen Annahmen und überholten Management-Theorien basiert.  Stattdessen plädiere ich für einen agilen Ansatz der organisatorischen Potenzialentfaltung.  Ein entsprechendes Programm entwickelte bei und für Magna International.  In der Kürze der Zeit war es nicht möglich, näher auf dieses Programm einzugehen.  Einen kleinen Einblick gibt die Kopie meiner heutigen Präsentation; bitte hier klicken.

Posted in: Empowerment, innovation, Keynotes, Leadership, Uncategorized

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The MVP Model for Project Success


I believe that for projects to excel and evolve into WOW projects it is not sufficient to focus on project objectives and even less so on requirements.  One of the reasons is that they are subject to change.  If involved project members and stakeholders believe them to constitute the foundation for the project, such changes ought to lead to terminate the project, unless they don’t really know what they want to do or strive for.

WOW Projects
WOW Projects are projects that add value, projects that matter, projects that make a difference, projects that leave a legacy. And those are projects that bring happiness into our daily lives – on the individual. team and customer levels.

Successful WOW projects are characterized by a strong, commonly understood and supported motivation and vision by all involved parties.

  • The motivation describes why the project starts in the first place.  This could be a problem that needs to be resolved or an idea worth exploring.
  • The vision delineates the ideal state in contrast to, for example, the problem that triggered the project.

Both motivation and vision are long-lasting, they are not necessarily time bound.  Unlike projects which are time-boxed, having a start and finish date.  Corollary, motivation and vision set the overall direction of a movement of which a project is a stepping stone.  In other words, motivation and vision may serve as a compass during the complete project life cycle.  Project objectives and requirements may change, the motivation and vision don’t.  If they did, a project lacks the necessary foundation of existence; if continued it may become a zombie project but that’s pretty much it.

In short,  for projects to excel and evolve into WOW projects you need the full understanding and support of your MVP – motivation, vision and project goals – by all project team members and stakeholders.

Sparks for WOW projects

Developing an MVP for a project is the first prerequisite for developing successful WOW projects.  It doesn’t stop there.  Project work is teamwork.  Hence, it is equally important to develop MVP’s for both the team and the individuals.

MVP Model and WOWRegarding the latter, individuals, project leadership ought to provide the space for individual team members to identify and share their personal MVP’s, i.e., what motivates them to work on the project, what they envision and what concrete goals they may have.  Sharing personal MVP’s may be strange for some people.  But then, if you are seriously interested in developing and sustaining a successful WOW project wouldn’t you want your teammates to know what drives you, what you expect, what you want to contribute and vice versa?!  Sharing personal MVP’s helps move a group of individuals closer together and thus contribute to team building.

Finally, aligning all three MVP dimensions – project, individual and team – is where magic can happen; it is the spark for WOW projects.  It takes teamwork to the next level.  It is like three separate entities moving into the same direction at an accelerated pace, not because of external pressure but intrinsic motivation.  The outcomes are greater happiness, productivity, quality and, last but not least, results.

Build your MVP’s for project success

Even the longest journey starts with the first step.  On this token, I encourage you and your team to have a closer look at your own project(s).  Please let me know if you’d like me to help you build WOW projects through customized workshops and trainings.  Workshops can be as short as 2 hours or several days depending on your needs.  Or, if you like, I can accompany your journey over a period of several weeks through coaching and consulting.

Posted in: Institute, Leadership, Tools, Uncategorized

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Do It With Passion and Succeed


I believe that one of the key factors for happiness at work, and this includes projects, is PASSION. Passion comes from feeling like you are a part of something that you believe in, something bigger than yourself.

Passion in a groupThis meaning by itself is still fluffy if you expect a formal definition of the term.  Alas, I am not sure whether or not it is a) possible or b) desirable to offer a formal definition.  Passion is, just as ‘happiness’, very personal and subjective in its meaning and its implications. Hence, I like to stay it with the attempt of the offered description of passion, i.e., passion comes from feeling like you are a part of something that you believe in, something bigger than yourself.

Careful! Passion is contagious and the gate to being and expressing yourself

And yet as ‘passion’ is subjective as it may be it is not limited in its scope.  Passion can be contagious.  Look at a group of people who are passionate about their activities, may it be music, sports or work.  When you observe them not only can you see the smiles in their face, you can literately feel and sense their passion, their excitement and energy.  These people share something in common, something that moves them, something that excites them.  And they love every minute of it.  What would you do as an observer or bystander?

I can speak for myself: most likely, watching a passionate group of people would make me smile for I like it when I see people who are happy. And I may even admire them for having found their passion and expressing it.   It is cool and it is worthwhile striving for.  It may remind me of my own passion.  Or it may remind me that I yet have to identify my passion in a specific area and express it.  Fact is that expressing your own passion releases energy and it comes back to you multifold in a very positive way.  It is a ‘flow’ state where time seizes to exist and you enter a state of ‘being’.

Achieving a ‘flow’ stateIMG_1958

Achieving a flow state is a wonderful experience.  It is fun, exhilarating, exciting, stress-relieving, enjoyful, dramatic and pure.  It is multi-dimensional in the sense that it can come from your work or project, from your own personal self or from and with your team, or – even better for a project or work setting – from all of these levels, i.e, individual, group and project levels.  This is what happens in WOW projects.  WOW projects are projects that add value, projects that matter, projects that make a difference, projects that leave a legacy.  And those are projects that bring happiness into our daily work life.  Both on the individual and team level.

Passion is a key ingredient to this WOW experience.  So, go out, find your passion and do it with passion.

Learn more

Learn more about how to find your passion and use it in your projects at work.  For example, have a look at my seminar “Finding the Spirit of WOW Projects“.

I will be giving a keynote address on ‘Leadership, Happiness and Project Success’ at this year’s PMI Netherlands Summit on Thursday 12 June 2014.

Posted in: Happiness, Uncategorized, Upcoming Events, WOW projects

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Leadership doesn’t need tools but principles


Developing my new workshop “Leadership, Happiness and Project Success” I came across the question whether or not there can be tools for developing leadership.  After all, the second part of the preliminary workshop agenda read “Create a strategy with the best tools possible”.  It is a legitimate question and I think easy to answer:  If you ask me if leadership requires tools my response is “No! Leadership requires principles.”  Principles give you guidance and an orientation.  Tools are superficial, they are means to reach a goal but no more.

Remember the saying “A fool with a tool is still a fool”?  Well, this applies to those who are interested in leadership, too.  No, just by applying good and effective tools you do not develop leadership.  Leadership goes deeper, it comes from within, i.e., you have to know where you are coming from, what drives you and where you want to go.

In a project setting I have found the following leadership principles most helpful:

1Build Vision

Sharing a common vision and goals with your team and organization and having the same understanding how to achieve it are key factors for project success.

2Nurture Collaboration

A performing team yields synergy effects; the impossible becomes possible. This is why team building is crucial.

3Promote Performance

Both on the individual and team level. Inspire and ignite team magic.

4Cultivate Learning

Effective leaders are open for receiving and giving feedback. It requires courage to explore new avenues and to make mistakes and to learn from them.

5Ensure Results

Delivering results is both a prerequisite and an outcome of effective leadership.

 

These five principles are not limited to the role of the project manager or project leader. Indeed, you can apply the five principles of effective leadership in any role you fill on a project, whether as the official project sponsor, project manager, team member, external consultant, project auditor, or any other project role.

Practice leadership in your role, and thus contribute to project success

It may be difficult at times. But it is possible. Every journey, regardless of how long it may be, starts with the first step. Take this step and move forward.

Posted in: Centeredness, Happiness, Leadership, Project success, Uncategorized

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The 2011 PMI Global Congress North America in Dallas – Part 3 – Take-Aways from Sessions on Leadership, Project Winners, the Learning Project Organization, and the future PMO


This is the third part of my impressions of the 2011 PMI Global Congress North America in Dallas.  Part 1 talks about the conference setup.  Part 2 covers my lessons learned from sessions on sustainability, ethics, innovation, and Agile.

In this 3rd part I am talking about my takeaways from sessions about Leadership, Project Winners, the Learning Project Organization, and the future PMO.  Happy reading!

Leadership

Slides of my own session “SFT02 – The 5 Team Leadership Principles for Project Success – Part of Leadership Community Track” are available for download as well as on Slideshare.  Both Links are available on my blog.

Michael O’Brochta’s session “PRJ09 – Leadership Essentials for Project Management ProfessionalsPart of Leadership Community Track

What else can I say about any of Michael’s sessions?  You have to attend them.  They are and Michael is AWESOME.

Here are some of my tweets and insights I took away from this exceptional session:

  • Servant leadership: how can I help? What can I do to help?
  • Powerful leadership styles: collaboration, trust, empathy, ethical use of power
  • Situational leadership: participating, selling, telling, delegating
  • Transformational leadership behavior: inspiring change beyond self-interest
  • PMP + Leadership = Success
Thomas Juli and Michael O'Brochta

Thomas Juli and Michael O'Brochta

Lazy Project Managers

Peter Taylor’s session “ISS09 – The Lazy Project Manager Salutes the Project Superstars

Peter Taylor explains why we should think of us as superstars.  Why?  Because project management is – or shall we say, ought to be – more prevalent than most of think.

One of my tweets during this great session was:

  • Famous historical project managers: Leonardo da Vinci, Henry Ford, Nelson Mandela

The Learning Project Organization

Slides of my second presentation “ISS13 – The Learning Project Organization Part of Learning, Education & Development Community Track” can be downloaded from my blog at  or viewed on Slideshare.

The Future PMO

What I have said about Michael O’Brochta applies to Jack Duggal, too.  His sessions fall in the category “Must attend”.  In Dallas Jack talked about “Reinventing the PMO for the Next Decade”.

My tweets during this session included:

  • A high degree of compliance (80% and more) to project management processes did not correlate to project success, according to a recent study by Jack Duggal.
  • Today’s project environment: Dynamic and changing, ambiguous and uncertain, non-linear, complex, emerging
  • Bob Dylan: If you are not busy being born, you are busy dying.
  • The focus of the future PMO will and has to change:
From focus on … to focus on …
Service & support Ownership & accountability
Delivery Adoption and usability
Delivery-oriented governance Business-oriented governance
Delivery of projects & deliverables Benefits revitalization and value
Configuration-oriented change management Change leadership
Dealing with the pain of the day Holistic, balanced and adaptive approach

… what about the other sessions?

There were so many sessions I wanted to attend.  Often it has been very difficult to make a choice.  Luckily there are papers and presentations to download from the Congress’ websites.

Future Congresses

Oh yes, there will be many Congresses to come. And I hope that I too can participate in them.

So, tell me and all other readers what you have experienced in Dallas.  What were your highlights?  What did you miss?  And what did you take away from the Congress?

Posted in: Agile, Empowerment, innovation, Keynotes, Leadership, Miscellaneous, Project Management, Uncategorized

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A must-read for agile project managers


If you are interested or alreaday practicing agile project management Michele Sliger’s and Stacia Broderick’s book “The Software Project Manager’s Bridge to Agility” (Addison Wesley, 2008)  is a must-read.

There are a LOT of books on agile project management out there. Unfortunately, there are hardly any which explain how to build a bridge from traditional to agile project management. This books fills this gap.
One of the outstanding features of the book is that it explains how Agile differs from the PMBOK, one of the world standard in project management these days. Even more important it shows that Agile is not contradictory to the PMBOK or vice versa. It thus succeeds building the much needed bridge for traditionalists.

Readers who have read about Scrum, XP and other agile approaches are highly recommended to read Michele Sliger’s and Stacia Broderick’s book. The modern and effective project manager should be knowledgeable and experienced in both approaches and be able to pick the right approach for the customer.

I highly recommend this book.

Posted in: Book Recommendations, Uncategorized

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Project Success: It’s more than just delivering project results


This is not new to experienced project managers:  project success is more than just the delivery of the project results.   There are a number of factors that need to be taken into consideration:

  1. time:  was the project delivered on time, i.e., as planned?
  2. budget:  was the project budget sufficient or did the project run out of money?
  3. project objectives met:  of course, we have to look at project objectives and if they were met.  This assumes that there were project objectives in the first place.  The question is whether or not these objectives were SMART, that is, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-boxed.  If a project has SMART project objectives chances for mutual agreement and support are much greater compared to vague objectives statements.
    Quite a few projects I reviewed in the past had project objectives which fell way short of this key requirement.  Fact is, if you start a project without clear objectives you have a lot of room for interpretation.  Makes you wonder if some people are doing this on purpose.
  4. project vision:  Yes, vision.  The project vision sets the overall direction of the project.  For example, a project objective may be to integrate a certain CRM software application within a given time frame.  The project vision on the other hand is to improve overall customer service.  The software is a means to achieve this vision.
  5. project life:  this is the path between vision and results.  It answers the question how to get from your vision to project results.  It includes the following aspects:
    1. collaboration / teamwork:  a project is not about the individual project manager; it is about the team who is doing the work.  Collaboration goes beyond the core project team and extends to the key stakeholders of a project.  A project manager who claims project success for him- or herself lacks the understanding of the heart and soul of a project:  the team.
    2. performance on the individual and team level
    3. learning & innovation & flexibility to adjust to a changing environment and make the most out of it
    I am claiming that if your project has or had significant deficits in any of these three areas your project is either not aligned for project success or has already failed

Now, if you disagree with these points and believe that project results are THE most important aspect, i.e., more important than the path to delivery, you may ask yourself if you mistake a project with a product.
For example, all renown professional project management journals consider the German project “Toll Collect” as one of the best examples for project failure.  The end product on the other side is working today and the public tends to forget the chaotic project management.
There is nothing wrong with a good product.  Take the Opera House in Sydney, claimed as the 8th Wonder of the World.  But do you know that the project of building the opera house was a complete mess?!  It was over budget, way overdue, involved parties argued for years, and the list goes on.

What do you care for more?  A project or a product.  Make up your mind.  If you choose “product”, think twice before you take on the next assignment of project manager unless you understand what project success entails.  Just because you are a product expert doesn’t automatically make you a good project manager.

Posted in: Project Management, Uncategorized

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