Book Review: Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts

“If there’s one ‘disease’ that I’m trying to cure in this book, it revolves around our total misapprehension of our environment.  We think we are in sync with our environment, but actually it’s at war with us….If it sounds like I’m treating our environment as a hostile character in our life dramas, that intentional….Our environment is a non-stop triggering mechanism whose impact on our behavior is too significant to be ignored.”

– Marshall Goldsmith, Triggers

Review by Joelle A. Godfrey

Triggers.  We pull the trigger on projects, on goals, on decisions.  We don’t think much about how we are triggered by others words, ideas, events or even environments.  We like to imagine that we are independent actors – freely choosing our decisions and actions.

Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts; Becoming the Person You Want To Be, Goldsmith’s book on managing personal behaviorial change, rips the bandage off of that delusion.  As Project Managers, so much of our effectiveness is being able to manage our emotions and behavior.  When I read his description of how our environment tends to trigger behavior instead of our actions triggering positive change in others, I was certain of it.  This was a book I had to read.

Goldsmith defines a behaviorial trigger as…

Anything that impacts our behavior.

That could be a simple as an flame email or a difficult conversation in a meeting.  How to go about changing your reaction so that you are the positive trigger in the situation, rather than reacting, is the focus of the book.  Where most books on change focus on how to motivate yourself to implement the change – this book focuses on the obstacles that hinder us.

In his view, a few of those obstacles are:
  • We misunderstand who we are.  We are not just the person who plans and then acts.  There are three aspects of our personality that play into our willingness to change – The Planner, the Doer, the Coach.  Without that understanding, our ‘Planner’ may set out to accomplish something that (using the lense of Situational Leadership) our ‘Doer’ may need a little support or structure to complete.
  • We misunderstand the power of our Environment to trigger unwanted behavior.  We may enter a meeting with one intention and leave it with an undesired result due to the power of the environment (that combination of personality/ team/ timing/ topic/ what you ate for lunch, etc that triggers your reaction).
  • We underestimate the power of inertia.  “Given the choice, we prefer to do nothing.”  This can be as simple as continuing not to start the exercise program we resolved to start on New Year’s Eve because it takes more energy to start a new habit.  Rolling over and hitting the snooze button is far easier.
  • We don’t recognize the power of structure to help us change entrenched personal behaviors.  When we forget our New Year’s Resolution or fail to make a personal change, we don’t see the lack of accountability or a structured check as the reason for our failure.

In short, this book hands the thoughtful reader a number of tools and some very sound advice to facilitate change.  It guarantees effectiveness only if you apply yourself to its principles.  To me that seems like a better bargain than most self-help books that offer hope without an understanding of why we fail.

Have you read Triggers?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Quote: How Does Your Environment Impact Your Project?

Copyrighted by Dollar Photo - 2015 - by Wickerwood

Copyrighted by Dollar Photo – 2015 – by Wickerwood

“If we think about our environment at all, we probably regard it as an expansive macrosphere that is defined by the major influences on our behavior – our family, our job, our schooling, our fiends and colleagues, the neighborhood we live in, the physical space we work in.  It’s like a borderless nation-state bearing our name that reminds us who we are but has no influence on our decisions or actions.

If only that were true.

The environment that I’m most concerned with is actually smaller, more particular than that.  It’s situational, and it’s a hyperactive shape-shifter.  Every time we enter a new situation, with its mutating who-what-when-where-and-why specifics, we are surrendering ourselves to a new environment – and putting our goals, our plans, our behavioral integrity at risk.  It’s a simple dynamic: a changing environment, changes us.”

Triggers, Creating Behavior that Lasts — Becoming the Person You  Want to Be – Marshall Goldsmith, Mark Reiter.

Leave a comment, send a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

What Kind of Discussion Type Are You?

Copyrighted by Dollar Photo - 2015 - by ellagrin

Copyrighted by Dollar Photo – 2015 – by ellagrin

“Every person, every system, every product, every idea has faults. In the best-case scenario, an awareness of this fact can lead to a determined pursuit of perfection. But in many cases, focusing too strongly on the flaws of an idea or project stifles the open and positive approach that is essential for good working practices. The basic principle is to take an idea that is not yet fully developed and to continue developing it, instead of prematurely abandoning it.

People often reveal their character in their approach to discussions. Four basic types can be identified, according to how people react to suggestions:

  • The fault-finder: “The idea is good, but…”
  • The dictator: “No!”
  • The schoolteacher: “No, the idea isn’t good because…”
  • The Appreciate Inquiry thinker: “Yes, and we could also…””

The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking by MIkael Krogerus and Roman Tschappeler

Book Review: No One Understands You And What To Do About It

By Joelle A. Godfrey

“You are never really starting from scratch with another person, even when you are meeting him or her for the first time.  The perceiver’s brain is rapidly filling in details about you – many before you have even spoken a word.”

– Heidi Halvorson, No One Understands You And What To Do About It

Copyrighted by Dollar Photo - 2015 - by apinan

Copyrighted by Dollar Photo – 2015 – by apinan

After reading No One Understands You and What to Do About It, it would be easy to throw it across the room and give up.  After all, the odds are against you.  You’re fighting the cognitive miser in each of our brains.

I’m sure you’ve read about it in other business books.  The rotten Cognitive Miser. I read about her too, but for some reason, it only became clear to me while reading this book how big a role she plays in our thinking.  Or lack of it.

The Cognitive Miser, for those of you who are new to the term, is the part of our brains that makes snap judgments and decides how we feel about people after the first few moments.  It seems that we are not the only ones making snap judgments.  Apparently, so is everyone else.

It’s not just the first impression you have to fight.  Apparently, there are lots of other ways our cognitive misers try to shortcut thinking.

Imagine the scenario: You’ve dressed up and prepped yourself for the first meeting and you think that the only ‘noise’ they’ll hear is that coming our of your mouth.  Halvorson makes it clear that there are assumptions made that are playing in the background coloring what you say and what they hear.  Those mental shortcuts can lead people to misunderstand you, your behavior and misread your intentions.

What exactly is filling in the details?  Well, a few examples..

  1. Their first impression about you.
  2. The assumption that you are different from them in some way
  3. Their approach toward risk – are they opportunity focused or risk averse?

And those are just a few of the mental shortcuts that can snag you and distort their perception of you and your effectiveness.  The further you read, the more you realize the miser can twist or enhance your words, depending on how you manage the event.

But all is not lost.  Apparently there are some ways to mitigate the cognitive traps and bad impressions that you make.  Rather than going with the flow of the cognitive miser, Halvorson recommends that we take a little more care so that others get us right.  And how would we go doing that?  The book has a number of suggestions that might help us elude some of the snares that lie in wait for the unsuspecting.  A few of them include:

1. Never go into a meeting cold – that is, without knowing something about who are you are about to meet.  Your knowledge about their likes, the groups they belong to, their interests could later play a key role in your ability to come across in a positive fashion.

2. Identify areas of common interests or common groups.  Where you are similar, the cognitive miser is thinking “People who are similar to me in one way are probably similar to me in other ways.”

3. Avoid ambiguity.  To alleviate the anxiety of the risk-averse person, she recommends that you take extra time to be completely clear.

I liked this book for two reasons:

a) She opens your eyes to ways you can misrepresent yourself, without fully understanding why.

b) She reminds us near the end that it’s not always how other people misunderstand you, there are times that we deceive ourselves about how well we come across to others.

Copyrighted by Dollar Photo - 2015 - by Carbonresource

Copyrighted by Dollar Photo – 2015 – by Carbonresource

In the end, her message is that we need to make it easier for people to get us right.  If you’ve read this book and want to leave a comment, please do. Or you can send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

A Rose By Any Other Name: Project Manager, Scrum Master? Flow Manager?

hot cabinet in bakery with pastry - Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Coka

Hot cabinet in bakery with pastry – Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Coka

I love Pastries.

So it stands to reason that I really like Bakeries.

Several years ago, I used to frequent a German bakery that sold authentic German pastries.

I had to drive 20-30 minutes to get there, but it was worth every minute when I bit into the apple pastries I bought.

Bakeries need to fill several roles in order to sell enough pastries to stay in business.
  • Someone to manage the counter
  • Someone to ensure that the supplies the bakers need are available
  • Someone to tend to the business of managing the Bakery – are the bills being paid?
  • and then finally, someone to actually bake the pastries

It makes sense that if you have a baker that he can handle the other roles.  That one baker or some number of other bakers would have to manage the counter, order supplies and pay the bills, but it *could be done*.  But that means that someone is off doing something other than making the pastries.  There is an opportunity cost that must be paid by someone.

Notice what is not disappearing:
  • The need to manage the bakery
  • The managing of the counter
  • The need to tend to the business of managing the bakery

In fact, the more successful the bakery, the more important these roles become.

<And so the rant starts.

I like agile.  I love the idea of a self-organizing team.  I’ve never been in an agile environment long enough to see a individuals get used to working together to be a well-formed team, but I have heard that they do exist out there.  And I believe!

Hand drawing Project Management flow chart with red marker on transparent wipe board. Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Ivelin Radkov

Hand drawing Project Management flow chart with red marker on transparent wipe board. Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Ivelin Radkov

I bought into the idea that hey – you don’t really need a project manager to manage the work – the team can do the work.  The problem seems to be the remaining tasks that need to be managed.  The boring non-coder tasks.  The status, forecasting, risk management tracking, coordinating inputs and outputs, updating the plan: in short, the paperwork and providing that status to the powers that be.

According to Agile, these are supposed to be managed by the team.  But I keep seeing articles that use weasel words to take what I thought were free floating responsibilities and put them on what is looking suspiciously like a project manager.

I don’t mind if project managers get added back to address what needs to be done  – we want the bakers to focus on baking, not running out to the cash register to ring folks up. I just really hate weasel words. In some cases, folks have said outright that the scrum master was the project manager.  Now I’ve heard the term Flow Master.  Flow master?  Really?  Do we really need another name for a role that, stripped of the weasel word, is simply a project manager?

businessman holding workflow scheme in hands - Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Ivelin Radkov

businessman holding workflow scheme in hands – Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by denisismagilov

Obviously, we need someone to own the free floating responsibilities that need to be taken care of, but can we stop pretending that project management has no role – even in an agile environment?  I don’t much care what you call it, a rose by any other name…

Rant ended/>  If you want to join in or explain why I’m just wrong, please leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Book Review: Meetings Matter

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Rawpixel

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Rawpixel

It is unusual when blurbs on book covers capture the truth about a book. I tend to read the blurbs with a large scoopful of salt. For all I care, they could be saying “The. Greatest. Book. Ever.” They tend to build false hope.

The blurb on the cover of Meetings Matter, by Paul Axtell, is just the opposite. The quote reads: “If I were running an executive development or MBA program, this would be mandatory reading.” I strongly agree.

From my perspective, there are two major themes running through the book:

First – to change your perspective of meetings. No, they are not all unnecessary and a waste of time. Where they seem to be a waste of time, it is generally because they are poorly done. Meetings are not a bad idea. That perception is generally the result of the poor use of an effective tool.

The author, Paul Axtell, breaks out what is at the heart of effective meetings: conversation and relationship. His in-depth explanation of how these create the foundation for meetings and life would be a solid course on its own.

The second major theme in the book is to encourage users to improve. In the main body of the book, additional chapters and the appendixes, Axtell gives the reader tools and examples on how to continuously improve their meeting facilitation skills and even improve their participation in meetings they did not schedule. The book could be a textbook for use in a number of MBA and Project Management courses.

Beyond the obviously themes, though is his intent to do more than just improve your ability to run meetings. Axtell also wants to improve the level of our attention, the quality of our listening and ultimately the quality of our lives.

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Rido

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Rido

He writes, “Conversations shape who we are. They shape our experience of life. We make decisions about what is possible for ourselves early in life, and most people can identify decisions they made about themselves based on what they were told or what was said in their presence.”

I am reading and rereading this book to learn more. My recommendation is to buy it and tell others about how good a book it is. Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Is Project Management the Right Career For You?

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by AniriAnA

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by AniriAnA

If I had picked up a crystal ball, spun it around and then peered deep into its depths, I would never have imagined that I would have ended up as a Project Manager.

Through a set of coincidences that I don’t think could be repeated, I was offered the opportunity to project manage a small project and that morphed into a move into project management as a Career.  I think most project managers backgrounds are similar.  I’ve heard the word, ‘accidental’ used a lot in relationship to becoming a PM.

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by crazymedia

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by crazymedia

If you are a recent graduate that is considering entering the field, you may be asking: Is this career right for me?   I can’t look into the crystal ball and answer that question for you either.

What I can do is ask you a  couple of questions that might help clarify what you’d be headed into.

The only thing I ask is that you be honest with yourself.  Are you ready?

Question 1:

Do you think that following the PMBOK is all that you need to be a good project manager?  If you think that devotedly following each step in the PMBOK will result in a successful project then you may be headed in the wrong direction.  Each project, each team is different.  There are times it might be wiser to use the PMBOK as the standard it is meant to be, but follow the spirit of the standard.  Not the letter.  Can you be flexible and work with the constraints of the project and the needs of the team?

Question 2: 
Do you think you need to be an expert in the Subject Matter or are you comfortable knowing absolutely nothing at all?

This is actually a bit of a trick question.  If you are expert – it may be helpful, but you may have a tendency to be overly involved in questions your technical lead needs to drive.  If you know nothing at all, you may be led down the garden path unless you know to ask more questions about vague answers.  What is important is know when to facilitate the conversation and when to push for a decision?  And are you comfortable with either role when needed to allow the team to move forward?

Question 3:
Are you easily upset when “your project plan” crashes and burns or is dramatically impacted by a change in requirements?

Change happens on every project.  Depending on the environment, Industry or methodology , it may happen far more frequently than most ‘Makers’ of standard waterfall plans assume.  Now more than ever, you need to be open to change. Change to the plan, the resources, and/ or the scope have all happened on my projects in the last few years.  Change happens – can you be open enough to it to respond constructively?

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by ra2 studio

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by ra2 studio

So what do you think?  Do you think project management may still be the right career for you?  Experienced PMs: Are there other questions that a potential PM should ask herself?  Leave a comment or send a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.