Its human nature to more easily retain lessons learned from error or poor judgment than from success. However, the key to applying the lesson to future projects is to self-reflect on what went wrong and adapt the principle to the new situation. I have learned the hard way not to blindly agree to the scope, budget and timelines on a project simply because they came from the C-level executive. I have assumed in the past that these executives knew their business and who was I to question? In truth, as an experienced project management consultant, they needed me to see the situation with a fresh perspective. Their view was obstructed by poor peer-to-peer communications and no effective collaboration system. The take away from this experience is that the view from high on the corporate ladder is not necessarily the clearest. My position provides a closer look at the real problems. Now I trust my instincts and don’t allow the C title to cloud my vision.
I applied this lesson recently when C-Level executives at a respected financial services company could not get a pulse on the organization’s health. The different offices, COO, CFO and CEO were not sharing information on a regular basis and important reports were falling thru the cracks. Unclear business metrics and laborious monthly report processes compounded the problem. The executive sponsors then took the initiative to create a project for this problem and reached out to me to lead and deliver the solution. Instead of being intimidated by the executives, I did my due diligence to see if they were on target with the root of the problems. The deeper I dug I found that the executives themselves were a huge part of the problem. They were used to delegating instead of communicating. The organization had unclear and undefined metrics and low adoption of collaboration software leading to inefficient processes. They were unaware of this due to the fact that communication only flowed downhill. Even communication between fellow C-level execs was at a minimum. There was little to no feedback from employees.
One of the solutions I implemented was a Weekly Executive Forum. This forced the C-level executives to participate in two way communication both horizontally with each other and vertically within the organization. Each department had 10 minutes to give status updates and to ask what they needed from others. Obstacles for compliance to processes were discussed. It was made clear this was not a time for debate nor was it an awards ceremony, just a time for clear communications. Technology, processes and logistics were all tied together for success.
Additionally, the executive and staff already had a collaboration system in place. However the processes were too complicated and no one really knew how to use them. They defaulted back to old school methods of sharing information including printing out endless copies of reports. Instead of adopting the new system, staff skipped certain steps, augmented the system with their own familiar one or just didn’t use it at all. This meant taking a hard look at the logistics in place and evaluating the technology, processes, people, location, etc. Ultimately the key to employee buy in of any collaboration system is to show its value. Employees didn’t understand why the change had been made to the new system. Once trained, they could see how much time and energy could be saved.
In the end the results were spectacular. We were able to transform executive chaos into organized collaboration and the organization is still using the solution years later. I personally have learned that it is okay to say no to a C-level executive. Their position doesn’t always mean they have the whole picture in view. As a project manager, I will trust my own instincts and let the years of experience be my guide.