I Told Them That But…


At the beginning of my project management career I had hard time getting project team members do what I wanted. I would do my best to develop a strong plan – which was getting better with each project management book I read. I would then assign people to activities and tell them to roll up their sleeves. Results were poor.

“Well”, I thought, “it is hard to work with people. I must impose my will. I must be tough.”

I couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Now, years later, I see that other project managers have the same problem working with people. They are not necessarily new to project management. Some of them are PMP-certified. The problem is that in project management trainings one usually learns all kind of technicalities but not how to get commitment from people.

I am amazed how often I hear from a project manager or a people manager comments like: “I told them that so many times but they still don’t get it. We have a communication issue.”

It is not a communication issue, it is a matter of motivation. Telling people what to do seldom works, no matter how much you back it up with rational arguments. People will be happy to do what you suggest only if they desperately need your advice.

When faced with a decision, it is in human nature to ask oneself: “What’s in it for me?” And if the proposed course of action is beneficial for the company or for the project, but the employee or team member fails to see how it is good for them, it is no surprise that they will not do their best.

Skillful marketers and salesmen are well aware of this attitude. They do not stake on rationality but go out of their way to arouse an eager want in potential buyers of their product or service.

Sales and Project Management are two distinct professions. Nevertheless, today’s project managers need strong sales skills to be successful in motivating their teams and stakeholders. And the key to that is to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question.

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