In our continuing weekly blog series, Lessons from Lockdown, created by Sarah Coleman, Vicki Griffiths, Ian Cribbes and Tim Lyons, Chartered Psychologist, Wendy Shooter explores the beneficial behaviours that have emerged during lockdown with the P3M community. What do we want to keep from this time and what do we need to watch out for if we are to make step change in the P3M world?
This moment in time offers a unique opportunity for business transformation. A traditional challenge for successful change is letting go of old beliefs and perspectives around ‘it has to be this way’. We are in a time where significant mindset shift has already happened, through lived experience, bringing a greater openness to new ways of being and doing business. Many have been surprised how much it has been possible to get things done with everyone working from home: who knew a design review meeting was possible by video?! What else to we need to take from this time?
There is an opportunity to envision beyond what we may have thought possible a few months ago, and previously unimagined potential to be realised. People have been amazing and achieved great things; it is possible to harness this and carry it into the organisation’s future. We need to consciously understand what has enabled this, and create the environments for it to continue.
I spoke to people in 10 different project organisations, including construction, rail, utilities, government departments and public services, across seniority levels. I asked them to tell me about the most beneficial behaviours, and mindsets, that have emerged through lockdown, and here are those I think we need to consciously take forward into the new world.
Greater Care & Risk Tolerance from Senior Leadership
The majority of the people I spoke to told a consistent story that organisational leadership had sent a clear message that the people came first and the business second – they, as individuals, were the most important thing. Messages largely related to Health & Safety, and there were also strong positive messages that jobs were safe and organisations would tolerate reduced capacity if people needed to give time to family members. There were lots of examples of senior leaders making real effort to be visible and connected, and more cross level 1:1 conversations than ever before.
This impacted in a number of ways. In the safety critical industries, it demonstrated a true alignment with espoused values. It also meant people felt cared for, valued and safe.
As humans, we often work for our leaders more than our organisation, so showing us that you care means we will be so much more dedicated to the cause – and this is exactly what has happened during the COVID-19 crisis.
You may ask why leaders don’t demonstrate care more often, and there will be a number of reasons for this. A regular misperception across many senior people I have worked with is a failure to recognise how important they are, in terms of how much power they have to influence the day to day cultural experience of the people in the organisation. In addition to this, they often have good intentions, but don’t quite understand what their people actually need from them or how to deliver against this in a way which really hits the mark.
In this time, people’s need for reassurance and care has been obvious (to most) and many senior leaders have connected with their humanity and delivered this.
A higher tolerance of risk was also widely reported. People talked of the removal of ‘shackles’ and a shift in the balance of process compliance verses value delivered. Project and Programme Managers have been given the freedom and actively encouraged to ‘think outside the box’. They have been empowered and supported to make things work.
In environments where delivering outcomes in a different way would usually involve months of consultation and review, Senior Leaders are supporting and enabling these changes of approach in a much more expedient manner. A clear shift in some arenas has been from Project Managers being told to ‘write a proposal and talk to the engineers and see if you can get them on board’ to a proposed change, to the senior leaders taking responsibility for ensuring this process of peer engagement and review happens in a timely and effective manner.
Interestingly, Senior Leaders have also been asking their people for more feedback than usual. When we try something different we are more inclined to check with others how it is landing. When we have been doing something for a long time, we have a very low inclination to check whether it is meeting people’s needs.
- Connected Senior Leadership who demonstrate genuine care
- Greater risk tolerance and real empowerment to be creative and deliver
- Feedback on how leadership is being received by the organisation
Watch out for:
- Protracted ideas progression and decision making
- Process is king
- Top tier silos
Collaboration & Adult to Adult Conversations
True collaboration doesn’t actually happen without Adult to Adult (AA) conversations, and these have certainly been a feature of this time.
Maybe it was because leaders didn’t think they were ‘supposed to know’ the answers – maybe it was because leaders knew they didn’t know the answers – maybe it was because leaders felt more akin to their people….but they invited them into the problems, rather than pushing down solutions.
The biggest difference brought by AA conversations is that all people engage as equals and are given a genuine opportunity to influence what happens. People at all levels have been invited into the problem, instead of just being invited to comment on someone else’s idea of the solution – this is consultation not collaboration, though more consultation has taken place as well.
People have reported that their whole business is more collaborative, united in finding solutions that meet everyone’s needs. Trade unions have commented on the increase in AA conversations. Contractor client engagements have been more pragmatic, and not snarled up in the minutiae of the past, such as the batting back and forth of cash claims. Closer relationships between office and site-based teams have been built. People make more time for conversations rather than issuing instructions.
Adult to Adult conversations are born of Eric Burns’ Transactional Analysis model. Another interaction in this model is Parent Child. Interestingly, there were examples of widespread Adult behaviours, which had been closely followed with widespread Child behaviours in some of the organisations I spoke with. When I explored a little deeper, I was able to pinpoint the leadership Parent style behaviours that had triggered the shift back to Child responses in the organisation.
Greater levels of kindness and patience were also reported, as we are more aware of each other’s humanity at this time. This will have led to more respectful and valuing perspectives of others, the emotional background state that is needed in order to enable AA conversations.
- Adult to Adult conversations
- Real collaboration (not just consultation)
- Respect, kindness and patience
Watch out for:
- Parental leadership approaches
- Child responses
- Pushing down solutions
Determination to Deliver & Protect the Schedule
Even though people have had the ultimate get out clause, there has been a widespread determination to deliver and protect the schedule. Managers have reported this to be the case even with groups usually keen to find reasons not to! Whether it is contractors, on site teams, or those in the office, rather than throw a ‘spanner in the works’ everyone wants to rise to the challenge and deliver.
There has been a clear shift away from poking the problem to energising the solution. The focus has been ‘How do we make it work?’.
Examples include, taking two days, instead of two weeks, to rewrite risk assessments and method statements to enable site team members to work 2m apart; introduction of body cameras to get technical input from colleagues based in other countries and unable to travel; fourteen days to create an app that would normally take six months. Challenges have been wide and varied (even including how to have a constructive conversation with the police as to why you are driving round in a group during lockdown) and people have stepped up and found a way.
It has been said that people respond well in a crisis, and maybe this is why. We are all in it together and have a shared view of what is important. In adversity, with the common enemy of COVID-19 there has been clarity of priority, to protect the schedule, and the sense of urgency heightened. One manager reported only 10% drop in productivity of their team, and this to be due to home schooling and the care of the sick, rather than to homeworking. Another reported site productivity to be ‘back to normal’ within three weeks, having introduced very different ways of working.
People are amazing, and our historic level of structure and process in most working environments makes it hard to express inventiveness and commitment. When we see daily examples of wasted time and effort, and inefficient process, it is hard to rally and bring our whole selves to work. When we have tried to put forward ideas and not been heard or included, we are less likely to bother next time. People need attention, space to contribute, ears to hear and willingness to enable their ideas – if you give them this, they will continue to amaze you.
- Solution focus
- Motivation to deliver
Watch out for:
- Lack of ownership and commitment
- Inefficient processes
- Getting stuck in the problem
Management shift to Outcomes Focus and away from Presenteeism
An accidental benefit of lockdown has been this positive shift in management style, and it is not because the managers got task focussed but because they got people focussed.
With awareness of the need to check in with their remote working team members, managers have been phoning them up and enquiring – How are you? What are you working on? How are you getting on? Do you have what you need? Do you need anything from me?
These focussed questions have been supporting people to deliver, while simultaneously and unintendedly shining a light on ineffectual presenteeism. This has meant managers have become aware of low effectiveness issues they had previously had no knowledge of, and enabled them to then provide the support to turn this around.
A reported problem of the past is some managers need to ‘see’ their people at work, to be confident they are in fact working. As we have moved to isolated working, and some working hours to fit family requirements, this myth seems to have been dispelled, with many working too many hours rather than too few. A combination of events (including increased workload of managers in some cases) has led to higher levels of trust and a loosening of control, shifting away from micromanagement and towards outcomes management.
- People focused quality questions and regular check ins
- Seeing if flexible hours can work for the team
- Focus on outcomes
Watch out for:
- Being too focussed on being seen to be busy
- Mistaking activity for outcomes
- Focussing on control and micromanagement
The extent to which organisations tolerate ineffectual meetings that turn out poor, or untimely, decisions has fascinated me for decades.
A really interesting thing that has happened in lockdown, has been improved efficiency of meetings, and this seems to be fairly widespread. Some of the organisations I spoke with have seen significant change in most of their meetings, and some only marginal change, but all were moving in an advantageous direction.
What are they doing differently? Well, all the things we have always known make for more effective meetings – pre-shared agendas, clear purpose and outcomes, managed on-topic discussion etc. One of the outcomes of this increased efficiency is that business is often getting done in a shorter time frame, for example one all-day meeting is now only 2 hours long!
So why is that? One of the reasons is that it is much easier to interject using the ‘chat’ sidebar function rather than waiting for the right moment to jump in. This means typing a gentle ‘are we off topic’ is much easier to input, and interestingly it is also harder to ignore – especially if others jump in in support. Why is it harder to ignore? In face to face meetings, the tone and volume of the point, together with the level of influence of the person saying it, goes a long way to affecting the level of impact this comment has. The fact that it is typed negates two of these aspects (tone and volume), and because it stays written on the screen, rather than just being lost in the moment, it has more substance and influence.
Many people are ‘inputting’ less, and this could be for a number of reasons. Some feel more ‘exposed’ on a video meeting as they have less of a sense of the level of interest others have in their content, this is in part due to the lack of small noises of verbal agreement which would normally encourage an individual to continue with their point. In addition, as only one person can talk at a time ‘claiming’ the space seems of higher significance and consequence. Discussions are helped to stay on topic as the verbal side comments are now typed in the side bar, so are less likely to derail the conversation and take it off at an interesting, but off topic, tangent.
The energetic impact humans have on each other is also quite different on a video call. In a face to face meeting, when someone is talking, our visual and energetic focus is generally on them, meaning the others in the room are not receiving our attention. What this means energetically (usually!), is that those receiving the attention feel higher levels of confidence and power, and those that are not can feel reduced confidence and power. In a video call we are looking at the screen, and so looking at everybody all of the time, so this energetic impact of attention doesn’t work in quite the same way.
Many that I spoke to reported that quieter members were contributing more than in traditional meetings, and those that usually relied on their manager to make the points from their section are inputting more directly. This is in part because the corridor briefings aren’t happening. Another reason is that it is more apparent on a video call if someone doesn’t contribute at all. In a traditional meeting, the non-verbals, mutterings of agreement and aside comments can make a person feel ‘in the room’. When these options are removed – direct contribution is the only way to feel present.
A number also reported that people are calmer and more even in their approach. This is thought to be due to lower stress levels as a result of not having to physically rush about. It was also suggested that one reason for calmer moods is that it is hard for people to have a tantrum online!
- Pre-planned & shared agendas with clear purpose and outcomes
- Managed succinct discussion
- Balanced contribution
Watch out for:
- Protracted discussion
- Shutting out and overpowering others
- Interesting off topic chat
Let’s emerge out of this phase and into the next with consciousness and awareness. Let’s keep the solution focus, determination to deliver, and be more expedient in delivering change. Effective meetings will be a significant contributor to increased productivity, as will real collaboration and Adult to Adult conversations across the business.
Changing behaviours always seems so obvious and simple, yet it often ‘never quite happens’. Having the intentions of different behaviours is not enough. Changing the way we do things requires planning, knowledge, skill, commitment, engagement, review, and above all energy and effort. Intent alone will not deliver.
Leaders please be conscious of what has allowed the greatness in your people to emerge over this time – and continue to lead in a way that facilitates and enables this. Your people will step up and meet you. This is the beginning of a new time.
If you would like a chat about this or some help landing your lessons from lockdown – give me a shout.
Wendy Shooter, Chartered Psychologist specialising in Culture, Collaboration, Wellbeing, Executive Coaching.