“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” Colin Powell
“The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.” George Bernard Shaw
Which best represents your view? Do you think that people take great satisfaction in their jobs and want to excel and produce, or do you believe that they view work as a burden and something that they must get through just to get paid?
What does your organization think about its employees? Do they believe that people are high achievers that just need infrastructure, management support and freedom to achieve? Or do they believe that every aspect of their job must be managed, controlled and approved?
For the Project Manager, the organizational bias is a crucial piece of information that will shape how they deliver their project!
A bit of history.
After World War II science became very interested in management and manufacturing. Many of the household names that we all learned about (Juran, Deming, Ishikawa and Maslow to name a few) studied and authored books that are still referenced today (look for them on your PMP Exam!). Douglas McGregor was a management professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and is one of those greats.
In his book “The Human Side of Enterprise”, he introduced two broad schools of thought about how to motivate and manage people. Theory X said that people had very little motivation and disliked their work, while Theory Y stated that people do take pride in their work and see it as a welcome challenge. Please understand that my description of the theories is very high level, and in his book, he goes into much greater detail about the practical implications.
Most organizations and management styles are built (even if subconsciously) around one of these theories, and it has a profound impact on the organization itself. So how does a Theory X organization “feel”?
Easy! Think of a big bureaucracy like your local DMV. People must be controlled! Every aspect of their jobs should be documented, every hour of their day (including how to report their time) must be described in excruciating detail. Individual judgement is frowned upon as detailed processes must be followed, and each level of management should be consulted based on predetermined criteria. Promotion is tightly controlled, and individual achievement is hard to recognize because of standardization of recognition and reward processes.
This is a traditional top down structure, and certain aspects of it are very helpful in repeatable processes or when command and control is crucial to delivery. Thinking of the abovementioned DMV. You must have standards in place when issuing drivers licenses, titles for vehicles, registrations, etc. Those standards lead to guidelines, which lead to procedures, which eventually take you to a Theory X organization! Once Theory X envelopes the processes of an organization, it has a profound impact on how the Project Manager will operate. While the project manager may find the organizations processes stifling, they must operationally embrace and understand the hierarchy so their Project Plan can take advantage of the structure to deliver the project!
So how does a Theory Y organization “feel”? Control is decentralized, and employees are trusted to make day to day decisions, solve problems and do their work in the way they feel is most effective. This is your typical entrepreneurial organization. Everyone is on the same team! Everyone is pulling in the same direction and is empowered to do what they need to do to get the job done! There is very little formal structure for those portions of the work that are focused on the customer or product, and the key focus is on delivery not following the process itself.
As a seasoned executive, I can tell you that this is the hardest model to maintain over time. Organizations tend to get more structured as they get larger. You need processes to analyze and dispose of legal issues, process payroll or submit travel vouchers. That structure can, over time, create an organization that “feels” Theory X. Even if that isn’t what management intended.
But if you are a Project Manager in a Theory Y organization, you must adapt and bring structure to your Project Plan!
Organizations do reflect the characteristics of either Theory X or Y.
For people, it’s not a binary choice. People are people – good and bad. The key is creating an environment where high achievers can achieve, and low achievers can either leave or there is enough structure to allow them to contribute without exposing the organization to unnecessary risk.
Either way, the good project manager must adapt!
Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.
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Bill has been an Executive in the Federal Sector for over 15 years and has been responsible for the delivery of many high profile, high risk, public facing projects. He has worked for the same organization for 28 years, starting as a front-line technician and rising quickly to the rank of Executive.
He holds numerous trademarks and is the inventor and Unites States Patent holder of the SeaClutch®, an invention targeted at the boating and RV community.
Bill is a sought-after speaker and has spoken at conferences around the world. He is a published author in the field of Project Management, is an experienced Project Management Professional® certification instructor, and has successfully taught hundreds of students over the past several years.
He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and Finance from Augusta State University and was named one of their Distinguished Alumni in 2016. He holds Master’s Certificates in both Project and Program Management from George Washington University, and is a Senior Executive Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He holds the following professional certifications: Project Management Professional (PMP), Program Management Professional (PgMP), Project Management Institute Agile Certified Practitioner (PIM-ACP), Project Management Institute Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP).
Bill is an acknowledged international expert in Data Management, Data Safeguards and Data Analytics.
He has extensive international experience and has worked closely with representatives from multiple jurisdictions around the world, personally visiting over 40 in an official capacity.