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How to Cause the Effect You Desire

Question of the year for me: How do I establish a set of standards without stifling employee creativity or individual styles of management?

Our company has several lines of business that each have a multitude of client engagements though all client leaders who run these engagements fall into my division. In addition, each client leader also has their own style of management and handle client and colleague communication differently. Different doesn't always mean better or worse, it's just different. When leading this group of leaders with different management styles and a diverse project portfolios, I find myself wondering "how do you have flexibility while also setting standards for the company? How do you allow your people to lead in their own way yet also offer a standard by which organizations and colleagues can count on?"

To answer these questions, I channeled my focus onto first identifying what makes a good client manager and what has been a constant in our successful client engagements. Something stood out very clear: Proactive Management. When my team is able to stay in tune to project, client and colleague needs and we are able to predict what is up ahead, client and colleague satisfaction as well as overall project success appear to be greater.

Then I looked at the other side of the coin: what has been a constant in our client engagements that were not as successful? Most of these engagements lacked structure and clarity in project purpose, thus our client managers were unable to drive success based on clearly identified goals. I noticed these engagements saw a lot of reactive management, where client leaders had to focus their energy on solving issues and reacting to client or colleague feedback rather than leading the engagement efficiently.

If our engagements all begin with defining project purpose and identifying goals and definitions of success, we can prevent managing projects by cause and effect and instead cause the effect ourselves. If we know what the expectations are at the onset, then we can cause the effect we desire rather than chasing the cause that had a negative effect on our engagement.

So, what standards have we set and what have we left up to our client leaders?

1. Project Definition is step 1 in every project.

  • No matter how simple or complex a project is, let's define and document the purpose and end goal for all resources involved to see and agree upon.

2. Established internal monthly reporting expectations yet allow client leaders to determine client reporting delivery processes.

  • This will improve our understanding of key measurements of success and help us better identify risks based on key data metrics that can be handled before they become issues. Establishing these internal metrics as opposed to client-facing metrics improve overall client communication around budget, scope management and project status without necessarily requiring a specific delivery process that doesn't fit well into the existing client communication plan.

3. Offer a standard set of tools + optional tools that are available to use during project engagements.

  • We have non-negotiables, such as our time entry tool and internal document repository, but there are also a few options for client leaders to choose from in other areas such as task management, client communication, and internal project team communication. This offers a bit of normalcy to internal resources while also allowing client leaders to choose what works best for their particular management style.

I look forward to reporting back in 3-4 months on the impact these standards have had on our overall client and colleague satisfaction!

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