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It’s great being the new boss. Your direct reports are eager to make a good impression; they’re showing deference, listening attentively, competing for your attention, laughing at your jokes and being tolerant of your dumb questions. Even better, your own superiors are cutting you some slack; you’re new and, although great things are expected of you, they’re allowing you a little time to settle in.

It’s that all too short honeymoon period; enjoy it while it lasts.

It’s tempting to get stuck into the day to day operations of your team; you want to make a difference, to see and be seen. But you should be selective in the meetings you attend. The presence of you as a boss can dampen frank discussion and discourage deeper examination of facts. As any army officer will tell you “The party changes when you arrive and it changes when you leave.”

In other words, your very presence can bring about a restrictive – and harmful – groupthink. Sometimes the best way for a true leader to reduce undue influence is to leave the room or avoid going to meetings where you could unwittingly tilt the outcome.

So don’t rush in. You are still new and it might be best to let your people get on with the job, at least in the short term. Meanwhile, you should raise your gaze and focus on what’s ahead; strategy, direction, enablement – you know the kind of thing; real management. Make the most of your newcomer perspective, while you still can.

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shutterstock_364801853Interesting article in a recent McKinsey Quarterly on the challenges faced by project managers running business transformation / turnaround programmes. These are usually internal appointees who have been plucked from their day jobs. All too often, however, these internal PMs are “. . . concerned about protecting their legacy, pursuing their next role, or tiptoeing around long-simmering internal political tensions.” For such reasons, internally appointed PMs have a tendency to play safe and shy away from pushing the CEO and top team to do the things that really need doing.

External project managers can be more objective and have fewer qualms about pressuring the bosses. They are not exposed to company politics. Project management is their specialism and they sell themselves on that basis, rather than on their knowledge of the internal culture, the very culture that a transformation programme aims to change!

Of course, the decision to go with an internal or an external PM will depend on many factors including cost, availability of qualified candidates, etc. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide which is best for your business.

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shutterstock_344266400Nice piece in the latest McKinsey Quarterly.

“. . . take your gut feeling as an important data point, but then you have to consciously and deliberately evaluate it, to see if it makes sense.”

“. . . premortem is a sneaky way to get people to do contrarian, devil’s advocate thinking without encountering resistance. If a project goes poorly, there will be a lessons-learned session that looks at what went wrong and why the project failed—like a medical postmortem. Why don’t we do that up front?”

“. . . ask about the quality and independence of information. Is it coming from multiple sources or just one source that’s being regurgitated in different ways? Is there a possibility of group-think? Does the leader have an opinion that seems to be influencing others? I would ask where every number comes from . . .”

. . . decorrelate errors of judgment. . . There’s a classic experiment where you ask people to estimate how many coins there are in a transparent jar. When people do that independently, the accuracy of the judgment rises with the number of estimates, when they are averaged. But if people hear each other make estimates, the first one influences the second, which influences the third, and so on.”

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shutterstock_1853825So it’s late August and you are enjoying your final days on the beach, afloat on a boat, hiking the hills, or whatever. It’s been wonderful: seeing the sights, exercising, spending time with loved ones, eating well and sipping mojitos.

However, somewhere at the back of your mind, you’ve already started thinking about work. Maybe you’ve decided it really is time to act on that simmering issue. Or you are making a mental to do list, figuring out priorities, and so on. You may be on waterskis just now – keep an eye on those rocks – but you remain a senior manager of the company and your responsibilities endure.

But don’t just make a list of things you want other people to do. Reflect a while on your own performance and, in particular, where you might need to make improvements when you get back. A recent McKinsey study highlights how top managers overestimate their visibility. Well worth a read on the plane home.

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outside insideInteresting article in McKinsey Quarterly, How new CEOs can boost their odds of success

It finds that externally appointed – as opposed to internally promoted – CEOs have a greater propensity to act: they are more likely to make effective strategic moves, such as management reshuffles, mergers and acquisitions.

“External CEOs almost certainly have a leg up when it comes to bold action. They are generally less encumbered by organizational politics or inertia than their internal counterparts. They may also be more likely to take an outside view of their companies.”

“ . . . over their tenure, they outperformed their internally promoted counterparts by a margin of more than five to one.”

“It’s critical for insiders to resist legacies or relationships which might slow them down . . .  approaches which help insiders adopt an outsider’s mind-set have great potential.”

As I’ve said in an earlier blog, an outsider’s perspective can work wonders.

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Project ManagementThere are day-to-day business operations – and then there are projects, by which we mean all those short-term, transient initiatives to fix a problem, create a product or improve a service.

Some businesses undertake quite significant projects without seeing the need to nominate a project manager. They may fail to recognise the value of the role, considering it an overhead. Or they believe the objectives are obvious, the management task is trivial and their people should just get on and do it.

But every project – no matter how straightforward it may seem – needs someone to:

  • Be accountable for the outcome
  • Provide a point of contact
  • Control the scope
  • Manage the costs
  • Schedule the work
  • Deal with the risks / unpick the complexities
  • Communicate with stakeholders

Who is going to do all that stuff? Only a project manager.

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observeI’m pretty cynical about the whole mindfulness thing, especially in business. It’s only mentioned in passing in this McKinsey Quarterly article. But don’t be put off – it’s a very thoughtful piece. There’s some useful stuff about coping with – nay, countering – the insidious “always on” work culture. And I agree wholeheartedly with the message to observe more and react less. A nice pointer to a more productive and effective way of working.

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US Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, 1936 – 2016

“The main business of a project manager is to take the romance, the mystery, the irony, the ambiguity out of everything he touches.”

(OK, hands up, it’s a quote I’ve pinched from Antonin Scalia, the US Supreme Court Judge whose death was announced today. He actually said it about lawyers – but I think it’s equally applicable to project managers)