New Initiative – Identify my Performance Circle

I led a program recently for project managers and saw their biggest challenge is that most people don’t see the “bigger picture” when they are at work on a project – or any work assignment, for that matter. Most of us tend to focus on what’s in front of us (the desktop, both computer and physical) along with some ideas about the future we expect from our work. But we forget to identify, right up front, all the relationships and agreements with people, groups, and organizations that we will need to achieve our objectives.

So it surprised me to realize I was falling into the same myopia myself: focusing on what I have to DO and not giving much attention to the other players critical for my success.

The project managers in my program all had at least one story about what happened when they failed to check with some of the other people necessary for the success of their project. Sad tales of the consequences of not clarifying exactly what was needed and when – or, as one woman said, “I learned the hard way that I need to establish an agreement about the deliverables that were going to be exchanged”.

Example: One PM, let’s call him Dave, had a large software project that was projected to take 8 months to complete. Dave told me, “I knew what our schedule was, and that we would have to send the whole product to the Test Lab for final system testing. So I called the Lab a month ahead and said, “We will be ready for test in mid-March, so I will send over the system materials to you on March 18th.” I was shocked when the guy laughed at me – he said the Test Center was booked 6 months in advance! I mean, we had talked and everything, but he never mentioned that we would need that much notice.”

Dave’s project missed its deadline and blew its budget projections because he hadn’t talked about the specifics: What he wanted, When he wanted it, and Why it mattered. Those basic elements are necessary for a performance conversation (a conversation that uses requests and promises to develop a performance agreement). But the same elements are also necessary for an “Initiative Conversation”: What am I intending to accomplish? When do I intend to accomplish it? Why is it important? As soon as I can say those 3 things, I will be ready to figure out who I need to talk with, and consider all the other people or groups that will be affected by my planned initiative. Where does their success touch on what I’m proposing to accomplish? Where does my success require their attention?

My initiative: I’ve been looking at creating an e-learning system to engage managers of all kinds in a conversation about where they find that “Management is Missing”, and how they resolved it. I have collected lots of these stories over the years of consulting and leading programs, and I was ready to buckle down and get to work.

Oops! If I fail to take the time to identify my “Performance Circle” – the people and groups who are my resources and my users/customers – then I will be working without a net. And for someone who is all about network management that would be a mistake. So the initiative is: What – an e-learning system for managers to talk about where “Management is Missing” and what to do about it; When – up and running in 2012; Why – to engage managers in creating a conversation for “Management is Simple”. Next task: I’m going to identify all the players necessary for a successful initiative, and start lining them up to have Understanding Conversations with me!

2 replies
  1. Jason King says:

    Prof Ford, sounds like a great project. I worked last year at the United States Forces – Iraq Headquarters in Baghdad. I was part of a communications cell that developed communication plans in support of named operations (Not ideal for an Apache pilot but we all have to do our time on staff). I won’t get in to the details here but the concept was to plan the operation (large scale op’s that affected the entire nation), develop operational milestones / goals, and create messaging themes for each goal. The critical piece was knowing which stakeholder should be addressed by which US leader (known relationships were critical). These stakeholders could be singular leaders or large groups of the population. Interestingly enough, the plans that were very successful were the ones the upper level leadership said were a priority. These had consistantly scheduled update briefs and dedicated planners. Others, while very important, did not meet the threshold to be prioritized into the update meetings. Some were successful based on the energy and commitment of junior leaders, others were marginalized or simply overcome by events. Based on what I saw last year as well as in other positions, management is often missing where leadership is not inspecting (requesting regular updates). A leader may say an event or plan is very important but if there is no follow-up (consistant performance conversations), his/her actions are not supporting the comment. I am very interested in where this conversation may go.

  2. Jeffrey says:

    First, thanks for your work in Iraq – wow. Really – thank you.
    Second, it sounds like you got your “performance network” in good order (knowing which stakeholder should be addressed by which US leader). But I’m wondering, since you know that the key ingredients in that situation are (1) scheduled update briefs, (2) dedicated planners, and (3) regular updates and follow-up, whether you could put those 3 things in place even without the high-level people calling the plans “a priority”. There is a lot of mischief done under the banner of “priority”, but when you know that those three ingredients are what make things happen, is it possible to do them for all of the plans, no matter whether they have been designated “priority” or not?
    Also, I like your observations that energy and commitment of some leaders will get things done, while “events” will wash away some good intentions. It helps to know which things really work to produce results and which things are helpful but not decisive. You’ve got a good eye for seeing what works. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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