In the media – Knowing your blind spots

– This article was published in Training Journal (March 2014)

Do you look for advice, guidance or reassurance amongst the same set of colleagues or peers every time? Or do you step out of your comfort zone and look for critical advice? How often do you challenge yourself by asking someone who is likely to say something that you don’t want to hear?

In a recent independent survey by Vanson-Bourne we found that, despite the increasing complexity of programmes and projects, only one out of five (19 per cent) of organisations are currently developing their staff in soft skills whereas as many as 41 per cent are continuing to invest in process related qualifications. Every business that has spent money on project management qualifications knows that the only tangible value is to the individual. You then have to find a way to realise the benefit for the organisation and this is often overlooked.

I don’t want to labour the percentages, but the balance is clearly wrong. The Association for Project Management recently presented that 80 per cent of project failures are attributable to people. I would go further and say that 100 per cent of project problems are directly related to the things that people do wrong. Project Management processes are like lists. We all feel better when we know what we need to do but that doesn’t mean we will do what needs to be done or more importantly do it well.

Risks don’t manage themselves, estimates don’t pop-up out of nowhere, stakeholders don’t simply sign up and join in and plans don’t write themselves. Perhaps sometimes it is simply a lack of a real challenge from a critical friend because, if not managed well and embraced as something of value, friendly criticism can be perceived as an attack. Unfortunately, without a completely different viewpoint we will each have a blind spot and yet we are all occasionally guilty of avoiding a challenge from people who see things differently?

The recent NAO report into the DWP Universal Credits programme cited a “fortress mentality” as one of the major issues. In my experience, the fortress walls typically go up either for protection, where the team feels under attack, or to avoid distraction where the team feels that they don’t need outside input.

Creating high performing teams

In a change management environment the need for EQ (Emotional Quotient) over IQ is ever more compelling. In operational business units a traditional line management structure means that if you ask a member of your team to do something they will generally do it. In a project environment there tends to be matrix management and complex stakeholder arrangements. How do you encourage someone to take on extra work for you when they have a choice? The answer is to build a connection with them so that they want to help, be involved and become a part of the initiative.

In the project management community we are seeing a small revolution. Many organisations have spent a small fortune on helping their staff to gain formal qualifications but sadly there is still a blind spot. How do we win hearts and minds? A long time ago I picked up an acronym – SKUBA – which stands for Skills, Knowledge, Understanding, Beliefs and Attitudes. Knowledge and Understanding can be acquired from a qualification based training course maybe even a few skills. Attitudes and Beliefs come from winning hearts and minds and to do this requires inspiration, motivation and great leadership.

If we all used a mirror that doesn’t make us look good then we would surely work harder on ourselves to improve our reflection. It’s far more enlightening when you have a balanced view and a balanced view comes from building strong relationships with people who see things differently.

Saying that you can’t communicate is hard to admit

So why aren’t businesses investing in soft skills and emotional intelligence? The answer is because they are hard. Hard to understand, to develop and to measure. So if this is the case then why don’t we call them hard skills? Here’s why – because there are no sharp edges!

Hard skills are well defined. They have a process box and a clear boundary. Soft skills on the other hand are more challenging because they are so dynamic. While the theories may be simple, the practice can change every day, every situation, every programme and every project. They are what makes life interesting, challenging and yet rewarding.

81 per cent of the businesses surveyed are not investing in this area and so it’s no real surprise that globally an estimated $6.2Trillion is being wasted each year due to failed change initiatives. Perhaps acknowledging that soft skills are part of the solution will be a good step forward.

View the Training Journal article

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