Two piles: things to care about…or not

Scott Berkun has had a few recent posts that every new leader should read. The first is here: How project managers establish power.  In this post, Scott highlights one of the most important things to do as a leader —  help your teams and their leaders clear away the clutter:

He gave me clear priorities…. It was amazingly empowering. I could slice through all of the work being thrown at me from across the team and the company, and divide into two neat piles: a) things to care about, b) things not to care about.

Everyone knows that one must prioritize one’s work, but how to do so?  Scott then uses a “There are only two teams at Microsoft to care about, Windows and Office” anecdote to illustrate how prioritizing one’s stakeholders makes it obvious what is to be done:

The problem was working on Internet Explorer during the browser wars, every one of the 100 teams in the company wanted something from me, and every other PM on the team…. There was a huge pile of people who wanted to influence the work I managed. My phone rang all the time and my inbox was always full. If I treated everyone equally I’d be doomed. Couldn’t be done. I had to ignore, or say no to, most of the people who wanted something from me.


So, you want to be a CEO?

It isn’t always wine, roses, and golden parachutes.  Here’s a cautionary tale from the Times Online: CEO murdered by mob of sacked Indian workers

Lalit Choudhary, 47, the head of the Delhi-based operations of Graziano Transmissioni, an Italian car parts maker, died of head wounds on Monday after being lynched by scores of employees he had dismissed…. Mr Choudhary was holding a meeting with more than 100 former staff to discuss a possible reinstatement deal when the attack occured.

Note that later news reports indicate that many attackers weren’t workers, which explains the senselessness of an attack during reinstatement negotiations. 

As you might imagine, Indian business leaders are worried and outraged (story here).  Of course, the effects on foreign investment are potentially dire.  The outrage comes from the fact that some in the Indian Government refuse to condemn the attack.  In fact, the Labor Minister sees it as a “warning for management”.  A warning to do what…get out of India?

Hat tip: Scott Berkun (here)

Comments on my “PR and Change Question”

Commenting on my post on PR and Change (here), Indy at noted that: “Some businesses have people/departments who actually specialise in communicating with internal audiences.”  This approach is probably the best I’ve seen.  They work behind the scenes with advice and hands-on support. Indy continues:

Frankly, if the job is being left to PR people, it’s usually not a good solution. If you come up through the ranks of PR you do tend to have a skill-set/knowledge base focused on external audiences. There are PR people talented enough to turn their hand to internal matters, but it’s not something automatically successful.

Indy’s point on skill-set and knowledge base didn’t immediately come to mind when I wrote my original post.  But that helps explain the blind spot when working internally — PR is “hidden” by the brand or spokespeople during external campaigns, PR’s involvement is much more transparent to internal audiences.

Finally, the last paragraph makes an essential point — cascaded strategy and change must have multiple communication channels.  As Indy notes:

It is true that people trust and accept messages more when they come from peers and line managers. However, it’s also true that those groups of people can be “blocking filters” who do not transmit certain things.

Ceris62 (no blog link) suggests that social media has potential for mediating these discussions without internal messengers (or at least not formal or “approved” messengers).  I believe that’s true, but with a caveat: many of these initiatives are also driven by marketing-focused colleagues as well.  The association with marketing/PR does contribute to skepticism, especially at start-up.  However, that barrier is much lower and weaker in my experience, validating Ceris62’s general direction.

Why do PR and marketing lead culture, service, and sustainability initiatives?

While blogging on Scott Berkun’s interview with Grant McCracken, this statement by Scott prompted a comment and some reflection: Corporate PR departments often talk about their “company culture”.

That makes sense on one level: public relations and marketing groups should communicate to the wider world about company culture, sustainability programs, community service initiatives, etc.  However, that statement prompted a question: why are PR departments so often the voice and face of the corporate culture to internal audiences? 

I can get that you’d like experienced and strong communicators to craft and deliver the message.  However, I wonder if executives behind such initiatives realize that when marketing/PR is the face and voice of change, most employees believe (or feel) that it is all for show.  This risk would be particularly high in sectors where the marketing culture would not traditionally be close to the culture of line management.  Perhaps it is a limitation of my experience, but I’ve found that the most effective corporate cultures had messages that were transmitted and reinforced via line management or peers, not professional communicators.

Would any of my PR-savvy readers care to share some tips/examples on mitigating these risks?

Leveraging non-business disciplines

Back in the day I made an abortive attempt at getting a History PhD (I’m still paying for the loans).  That experience was not a total waste: my advisor gave me the best career advice I ever received (go to business or law school) and I learned how to do “real” research.

I also gained an appreciation for the insights of all disciplines, which brings me to a Scott Berkun interview (here) with the anthropologist Grant McCracken (blog here).  

No real comment other than to say that the interview and the links therein are well worth a read.

Berkun on PMs and Respect

Since I riffed on Manny Ramirez and Theo Epstein earlier (here), let’s continue the baseball metaphor.  Scott Berkun drives a “hanger” a long way when he highlights how PMs sabotage their personal brands (here).  The money quote:

Many PMs unintentionally reinforce this view by trying to get everyone to pay attention to the work they do produce: the meta work of spreadsheets, specifications, presentations and status reports, failing to realize that to most in any organization, these are the least interesting and most bureaucratic things produced in the building. This mismatch of value sends the PM and his/her team into a downward spiral: the PM asking for more and more respect in ways guaranteed to push people further away.

I’ve hammered on this point again and again, but when you’re focused on “work vs. outcomes”, you’re consciously or unconsciously telling others that you’re not a business leader, you’re a technician.  Mastering your project’s business case and its elevator speech — and using it to describe your project instead of the issues log — will enhance your personal brand immensely.  As Scott notes:

Our culture does not think of movie directors, executive chefs, astronauts, brain surgeons, or rock stars as project managers…. The difference is these individuals would never describe themselves primarily as project managers. They’d describe themselves as directors, architects or rock stars first, and as a projects manager or team leaders second. They are committed first to the output, not the process.

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