Trust is a fundamental part of every relationship and we build it on the premise that whomever we entrust in a position for a specific mandate would do so using integrity and a strong ethical code so that we, as an organisation or a country, will not be ashamed. But what if we no longer can trust those appointed, if those acting as gatekeepers can no longer be trusted to fulfill in their oversight and protective role, and the gatekeeper of gatekeepers become as soiled as those they are to regulate? What if the moral and ethical standards have so invaded the jobs that calls for high moral standards and integrity, jobs like chartered accounting, police services, bankers, engineering and project management?
This is not a grim picture of life somewhere in the future, but a reality today. Moral decay is evident all around us, and if we do not choose to live by higher moral standards we will form part of the everyday news, shattered careers of those left in the wake of damaged companies that had to face the brunt of poor judgement calls made by individuals in decision making positions. Unfortunately corruption pays and in some cases pays big time and fatten all who we consider to be downstream of such an act. The lack of courage and the potential risks involved in exposing these acts leave many paralysed. When enough courage do exists and those gross infringements get exposed the legal journey to conviction is long and taxing on the minds and remembrance of the victims (in most cases the tax payer) while some regulatory bodies proverbially wash their hands in innocence until convicted.
So who is to blame and maybe we need to keep to the profession of project management and not venture too far into the realm of other professions? The role of the project manager and the code of conduct required from international bodies like PMI calls for high ethical behavior specifically related to areas like procurement, contract management, scope management, financial control, stakeholder management and deliverable sign off. All areas vulnerable to corruption and representational risks. Here is our dilemma: when we run projects, any project for that matter, the responsibility to ensure high ethical behavior lies with the project manager, not the accounting officer or CA who process the invoice, but the project manager that signs it off, the project manager that does not accept a bribe to channel money or turn a blind eye to low quality deliverable, the project manager that ensure that the clauses in the contracts are honored and that transparency is evident and accessible to whoever so ask, so that we can be found above reproach.
It is a personal choice to live a life of integrity and to stand up when we are pressurized to cross the bridge to poor ethical behavior. So do not judge other professions too quickly my fellow project managers as a lot of the corruption happening in organisations today can be squarely laid at the feet of our profession. We are the gate keepers of good project ethics, and if we can no longer be trusted, what then?
Disappointed with people? Yes sure I think all of us have experienced some sort of disappointment with others specifically when they break promises that we have been counting on. Broken promises leads to questions around character and ultimately a lack of trust. So we end up labelling people whether it is a conscious or unconscious act and that label is difficult to remove ones stapled to the forehead of an unsuspecting recipient. It influences our lives and our relationships directly and sometimes in unexpected ways.
Take the following scenario: You are sitting in a Steering Committee meeting and the Executive sponsor is requesting a specific report from you. Confidently you state that the team would have it done by Monday. Monday comes and goes and no report. Your first reaction, that I will call denial might be that the Executive Sponsor would have forgotten about it, so he would not have noticed that we are late. The second reaction I call the looking for a loop hole, so Monday is still 24h00 right? Thirdly, blame shifting as an option where we call our team to trial. Alternatively we can stand in the gap and state that we have underestimated the amount of work and it is going to take longer than anticipated. Whatever your decision or approach does not take away the fact that you made a promise that you did not keep. If you have a Sponsor that believes in giving people the benefit of the doubt, you might not get the label immediately, but by the second and third time, none of what you say would ever be taken seriously.
Agreed, we get into situations where we have to make a judgement call and we need to make a calculated promise that has a certain level of risk associated with it. However I have seen too many project managers who takes making promises lightly without consideration to their own, their teams and their organisations reputation. So next time before you make a commitment, be sure to consider your words and the risk associated and rather voice a disclaimer than be the recipient of a label.
Forming a team and getting it to operate and function effectively is one of the key success factors of any project. A lot of work has gone into defining the various stages that a team goes through and helping the project manager to understand team dynamics and how to deal with each phase. However reality can sometimes be very far removed from theory. Getting beyond team storming is sometimes a bigger challenge than what we realise, and the quicker we move the team beyond that stage the better we can function and get to what is important in the project and that is delivery.
Team storming for me constitute a lack of trust and a lack of trust implies an over active impulse to self-persevere and a destructive perception of feeling threatened by others in the team. This is further heightened by a struggle for power and a fight to be high enough on the pecking order.
Stephen Covey wrote a book called the Speed of Trust. For those of you keen on reading PD(Personal Development) books, do yourself a favour and read this one. Its fresh look on business politics clearly identifies the cause of many a struggle. That lame feeling of frustration and discouragement felt by so many trapped in a net of political games, who truly just wants to get on with it.
So why is bridging and building trust such a difficult thing for project managers and team members alike? Where did this lack of trust start and how can we build trust quicker? The answer to these questions is not an easy one, and I would love to hear your views on it but I think that we are coached in mistrusting. From an early age we were instructed by our parents not to trust strangers and rightfully so. It is just not safe to trust anybody and for so many, when we found it in our hearts to trust somebody, were badly hurt. Unfortunately the scars left by those we trusted are deeper than those we expected deceit from.
In the book, Stephen talks about the 5 waves of trust as a mechanism to deal with mistrust and again I encourage you to read through it in detail. It obviously starts with yourself first, moves to what is called relationship trust and then works towards organisational trust. If we want to move through to trusting one another quicker we need to work at building trust and that cannot just be done by getting everybody into a room and hoping for the best. You know the “pickup sticks” model where we throw everything on the floor and hope to move the individual elements later without upsetting the balance of the rest. Surely we cannot be that naïve.
It requires a concerted effort from a project manager that lives a life of integrity. It requires solid characters with confidence in themselves and their team mates. It requires hard work and sometimes calls you to lose yourself for the good of the entire team and doesn’t come without sacrifice. Trust, unfortunately doesn’t happen by itself but requires some out of the box thinking and lots of character building. Your views?