Implementing Your Vision

By Bob McGannon, PMP, and Conrad Imel

When John F. Kennedy was elected President the United States was embroiled in a Cold War with Russia. In the early 1960’s Russia appeared to be moving ahead of the United States in science and technology. Kennedy knew he needed something to rally the country; he needed to give the country a vision. On May 25, 1961 Kennedy gave a speech that challenged the nation to land “a man on the Moon and [return] him safely to the Earth.” Kennedy did this at a time when NASA was having trouble just getting an object into low orbit. What Kennedy knew was that the people at NASA had very big dreams and truly believed in themselves. What Kennedy needed to do was take those dreams and aspirations and turn them into a vision that the entire country could rally around.

As a project manager, when you enter an organization, you will need to create a vision that the organization can rally around. The vision that you create may be that you want to work more effectively and at lower cost. You will need to elaborate on that vision, tell people what it does for them and the company; paint the picture. In order to create a vision that people can buy-in to you must understand the employee’s perception and the environment of the organization. Once you understand the environment, you can then introduce your vision. Your vision must stretch the organization, but be attainable, and utilize metrics in order to clearly measure progress. You then need to use a variety of techniques to execute the vision and build upon it once the original vision is completed.

Change the Perception and Environment

The first step in creating a new vision is changing the perceptions of the organization. More important than what you CAN do to change perception is what you CANNOT do. You cannot change perception in one action; it takes many steps and a considerable amount of time.

Small, everyday demonstrations of support and clarifications of your vision, along with a few grand defining moments, such as publicly tearing up a memo detailing an antiquated or short sided policy, can drive home your vision. This is required to assure your staff that you and they are in synch. A staff that does not feel in synch can feel alienated by management (and project managers typically fall into that category). Ensure consistent alignment – hold monthly meetings to report on and celebrate goals related directly to your vision.

Perception is intertwined with the environment; both have the same roots. When you walk in to a new organization, what is the work environment like? Are people talking to each other? Are there pictures and jokes on the wall? Have workspaces become personalized? When the work environment is a positive one, it can help produce positive results. However, you may enter an organization where there is little interaction, where people are not happy and excited to be there. In that case the environment will need to be improved. In order to do so, you must change the perception of the employees and get them to buy-in to your ideas for a better environment. In doing so you will improve job satisfaction and create the atmosphere needed to introduce and execute your vision.

Stretch the Organization

The challenge as a project manager is to find the point at which you’re stretching the organization, but not making your goal unachievable. If your staff is sitting in their chairs saying “I can’t do this” then your vision will never be successful. If Kennedy had challenged NASA to get to Mars, it would not have worked. He knew the NASA limitations and he knew how far that organization could be pushed. A good manager will know the point to which the organization can stretch. That manager can then push them to that point, but not beyond it, to maximize the productivity of the group. Remember that people like to be challenged, but do not like to be overwhelmed!

Stretching the organization also involves identifying the organization’s “true leaders.” The true leaders of an organization are not necessarily at the top of the hierarchy; sometimes they don’t even appear on the organization chart! These natural leaders are the people that others will follow just because of who they are. The project manager will need to identify those natural leaders in the organization, and get those leaders to buy-in to the “stretch” created by the vision. If a project manager ignores those leaders and instead makes a statement that stretches the staff, the staff members will immediately look to their established natural leaders. If those leaders look shocked, the staff will be apprehensive. If those same leaders, though, are rubbing their hands together because they are excited, the organization will do the same.

Maintaining Excitement and Momentum

Measurements and goals must be used in order to keep people motivated as they work within a vision. As a project manager you can’t simply say you are working toward an end goal. If you are trying to increase production, you cannot have your goal be to increase output by 100 percent and then work until you are there. It will be difficult to keep the staff motivated and enthusiastic about the task. Smaller interim goals need to be set. For example, celebrate the completion of a 25% increase, and again at 50%. You can even set smaller milestones at 10% intervals to increase the momentum needed to accomplish the goals and positively impact morale. Those intermediate goals will allow you to manage your progress and allow the staff to gain confidence knowing that they are moving in the right direction.

As you are building and re-enforcing confidence and generating energy around the project with the milestone celebrations, you must be wary of plateaus. Along with those intermediate celebrations can come an air of complacency. Using the example above, once your team hits 50% they may become content having reached that milestone and they will lose their drive to complete the project. Your progress will level off. As a project manager you must continue to reinforce the need to move forward. Tell your staff that they have done good work, but that tougher challenges lay ahead. You should be sensitive to the points when you need to re-inject enthusiasm into the team. If you don’t, your project will stall.

John F. Kennedy knew the perceptions and understood his environment. He stretched the organization, but stayed within reasonable, though aggressive, boundaries. The result came eight years later when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. You too can move your organization forward. If you properly evaluate the perception and environment you can prepare the organization for your vision. Once you have that in place, you can introduce and execute the “moon shot” that will improve your organization.

Bob McGannon and Conrad Imel work with MINDAVATION, a company providing project management services, leadership workshops and team building programs throughout North America. Mindavation can be reached via the web at WWW.MINDAVATION.COM or by calling 866-888-MIND (6463).


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