In the media – Why professional qualifications are not enough to secure organisational success

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

Managing complex programmes and projects is all about managing change and that continues to be a challenge for all organisations, irrespective of industry sector. Many businesses are putting their staff through professional qualifications to build the skills base for successful organisational development, yet a growing number are seeing projects fail and rivals stealing market share.

Organisations have tended to put in place governance frameworks and process models that value maturity, training managers to have a structured and consistent approach. The problem is that in striving for maturity organisations are actually demonstrating their immaturity and lack of understanding of what is really needed to drive effective organisational success. Sticking to established models in programme and project management might be well within their comfort zone, but this approach is designed for the inexperienced and restricts innovation. What is needed is not a straitjacket but a hammock – something that supports without restraining.

There are two competing objectives in project management – one is to have consistent and predictable delivery of change and the other is to bring creativity to finding solutions. However, ‘predictable innovation’ is an oxymoron – the two elements will always be in competition.

The most effective governance frameworks should operate much like stabilisers on a bike – the project should be able to go wherever it wants while it is supported along the way. Otherwise, the danger is that while you are building the business and making it predictable and consistent, a competitor will be busy pulling the rug from under you by doing something highly innovative.

Square pegs, round holes

Too often corporates hire really good, creative people then force them to do things the company way. Commonly, for example, enterprises take someone on for their creativity and then issue them with a laptop and BlackBerry on the first day, irrespective of their preferred device. They then expect them to spend the next six months becoming familiar and productive with the new devices just to make life easier for the tech support department.

What can be done to close the gap between training people in rigid frameworks for organisational development while fostering innovation? Organisations haemorrhaging money on failed programmes and projects might well react by sending everybody on a five-day course in Prince2 or MSP (Managing Successful Programmes) as if this would help. However this has a massive impact on productivity. It is time to turn this on its head and instead focus on the individual. Some people are simply not suited to project management but may be good at other things.

The first step is to abandon the top-down approach. Start with understanding the individual – look at each person’s competencies and behaviours. Management should ask themselves if they could change one competency and behaviour for every person to improve their performance which one would it be?

Coaching and supervision is a more effective approach for many people than professional training. The biggest challenges are cultural and organisations need to consider how to develop a light touch model that allows people to be creative and drives coaching, collaboration and better communications at all levels.

The indications are though that organisations are continuing to put their faith in professional qualifications. In a study carried out on behalf of Changescope, 1 up to 41 percent of respondents said that they were training in processes such as a professional IT service management qualifications like ITIL, COBIT, ISO 20000 or a project management qualification such as Prince2, APM or MSP.

People deliver successful outcomes

Only one in five managers were being trained on soft skills and emotional intelligence (19 percent).Yet projects are delivered through people. Emotional intelligence skills such as helping people understand themselves better may be taught, starting with carrying out a personality profile. Then people can work on understanding their personal reactions to situations and triggers and developing strategies to manage their responses more effectively. The final step is to work with teams to enhance how people engage with each other and with other people outside of the project.

Among their biggest challenges managers cited “meeting the needs of working with larger, multidisciplinary teams across multiple locations and countries” (42 percent of respondents). Often teams are dispersed and members of a team may rarely meet in person. Achieving organisational success against this backdrop will demand a fresh approach – it is no longer enough to rely on professional qualifications but rather fostering creativity, innovation and teamwork in individuals to build a thriving organisation.

Top tips to achieve organisational success

  • Start by looking at the needs of the individual rather than taking a top-down approach.
  • Prioritise developing soft skills to complement core project management “hard” skills.
  • Develop a coaching culture. Re-allocate training time so that managers coach staff and review learning on a weekly basis.

View the Training Journal article

Eddie Kilkelly

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