You remember that scene. You must have seen it a hundred times. It’s the staple of spy movies. Agent X is briefed on the complex, risky and dangerous mission. He (unfortunately gender balance has yet to reach the writers of such films) is told that he may use whatever means at his disposal to complete the mission successfully. Then, just before the end of the scene, his handler says the fatal words: “if you are caught, we cannot be seen to be involved and we will disavow all knowledge of you”.
The senior leaders of our large organizations seem to share the management approach of the shady secret services depicted in the movies, at least when it comes to risk and empowerment. How many organizations advocate innovation, imagination, challenging thinking, entrepreneurship and even risk-taking within a culture that firmly indicates ‘we do not take risks here. If you take a risk and it doesn’t come off, you’re on your own’. It may not be explicit but the message is as clear to employees as it was to Agent X.
Unfortunately, although projects are essentially about risk and major projects are about complex risk, their very nature, which places emphasis on controlling costs and managing firm schedules, set up this risk averse culture that so hamstrings anyone working within them.
But it needn’t be that way!
You can change the script on risk.
- Try setting a vision and hard-wiring into your strategy the difficult things that you want your project to embrace – diversity, innovation, entrepreneurship, collaboration – and make sure you use this vision when you design all of your systems, procedures and governance;
- Turn the risk argument on its head to challenge your traditional risk attitude. Ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that could happen’ and get your stakeholders involved in buying into a risk/reward trade-off. Consider the risk of the status quo. Not embracing diversity, avoiding innovation and eschewing collaboration may not immediately threaten your ability to deliver projects but may well undermine the success of the projects and the benefits associated with it;
- Align your reward systems to encourage positive behaviours – those that lead to the benefits you are seeking whilst, at the same time make sure you are consistently and transparently intolerant of those behaviours that deliver short-term wins for the project at the expense of the benefits;
- Use everything we have learned about the value of experimentation. Try things, learn fast and adapt your approach to incorporate what you have learned.
Finally, recognise that opportunities need to be valued. Remember Agent X? He always views an open window or an unlocked door as an opportunity, a way in. Sometimes he knows intuitively that it is a trap and yet he is still able to exploit the opening; because he has the mental and physical resilience to respond to the trap when it is sprung and because he knows that, in order to complete his mission, he cannot avoid every trap because they are opportunities as well as threats.
If you work in construction or infrastructure, here’s an opportunity. Sir Robert McAlpine and Projecting Success have formed a data trust. A safe space and a platform for anyone working in these industries to share construction data and benefit from the insight and analysis that we can generate from that data pool.
There are two bits of good news. Firstly, James Bond only exists in the movies so, honestly, you have nothing to fear from Agent X – or however your organization likes to anthropomorphise your greatest threat. Secondly, Major Projects Knowledge Hub Live on 26th September at Bentley Systems, organised by the Major Projects Association in conjunction with PMI UK and the APM Benefits and Value Management SiG, is your opportunity to come along and find out more about the vision behind the Trust; the mechanics of sharing data safely and successfully; and the kind of insight that data analysis of these shared data pools can generate.
Will you accept the mission?