What is it about People?

Give your project an edge by giving your team the freedom to create processes that work for them.

I am the “people” side of R. Alliance. Yet, people make me crazy. I’m sure I’m not the first manager to think that. People are so frustrating. Just when you think you know what is coming, people go and do something bizarre and unexpected. People love drama – This is Us anyone?? I hate drama; especially unnecessary drama or drama that derails important initiatives.

But drama is an inevitable part of business. If I think back over the many projects, initiatives and situations that I have come across in my career, I realize that I have a collection of inconceivable stories. Tales about crazy goals; organizational upheaval; unbelievable working conditions; team melodrama; ridiculously inhuman efforts and, truth be told, some remarkable and incredible results. Were I to share these colorful snipets of my past with you, as I have with others, you would probably listen to my story, laugh a little and then scratch your head in disbelief. I can almost hear you asking “Did that really happen?” Because some of what I have seen accomplished is not to be believed, yet it happened.

When I started to retool R. Alliance with Scott I reconsidered some of these experiences in hopes of finding a common thread. Trying to capture lighting in a bottle. After all if I could identify whatever it was that made these wacky situations yield positive results I would have something really valuable and worthwhile to offer clients. What was it that made those situations work when every bit of reason says they should never have succeeded?

There was no one size fits all process or method or strategy that made the projects work. There was no cookie cutter approach guaranteed to produce success. In fact, what I noticed was some of these stories shared solid structured processes that failed – and even the reasons for the failure were different.

It escaped me for days. There had to be some prototypical set of actions that translated to a positive outcome.

Was it a particular management approach? No.

A certain training class? No.

A quirky lunar alignment? No.

Strange project mojo? No – well… maybe.

It dawned on me, the thing I saw as exemplary in each story was the people.People

Armed with that small bit of insight I started to once again look for some sort of consistent trait or characteristic that I could attribute to these exemplars. The exceptional thing, that I could hopefully teach to others, that allowed these folks to make the extraordinary possible. What I found was they were all from different organizations, with different backgrounds, work styles, education, experience, personal interests, motivations, values, functional expertise, etc. There was no common denominator. No logical explanation, only the reality that they made things happen.

That is actually the key to why it did work.

What was unique and consistent was each of these situations had the benefit of people who were willing to look for the best way to make things happen. Some did that right at the onset of the project and some had the pain of trial and error before they figured it out. Either way things started to really take shape, moving the project forward with pace and purpose, when they took the typical tasks and actions, looked them over and reconstructed them to make a process that suited the needs and people in the situation.

It’s like another tale you may be familiar with: Goldilocks. Except in this case it’s not about chairs and porridge, it’s about process. Instill something that is too rigid and the people will resist. Instill something that is too flexible and no one will feel it is valuable so they ignore it. Find a combination that is “just right” and you are headed for success.

Instead of finding out what we did TO the people to make the project successful, we needed to look at what to do FOR the people. Given the right conditions people will find a way to succeed and that is what I saw as a commonality across all of those stories. People making process work.

Originally posted August 9, 2011

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