A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer

Segment Thirty-Eight—– Do They KNOW You’re Proud of Them?

The image with this story is one of my sons. He’s the guy behind the podium. He’s getting an award for his ability to speak French. And he had just told a joke.  In French. Wow.  So Proud.

My other son had to wrestle through his career as a semi truck driver, featuring a Thanksgiving where he was on the road, missing the absolute best holiday of the year.  He toughed it out.  So Proud.

I strive to tell the boys over and over and over again that I am sublimely proud of them.  They’re amazing. They have gifts. Sometimes, others acknowledge those gifts (as with Adam’s French award). Sometimes, the only acknowledgment comes from their mother and I.

Think about the last time someone recognized your achievements. I don’t necessarily mean those big, here’s-a-Lucite-trophy achievements. YOUR achievements. I could run through a list of names of professional peers whose achievements deserve high praise. Lee Lambert, Lisa Hammer, David Newman, Gerald Leonard, Steve Edwards, Susan Parente, Scott Sax, Lee Strathern, Tom Tracz, David Hillson, Bruce Falk and LeRoy Ward to name but a handful. They don’t deserve praise for their contributions to the profession, as much as they deserve praise for sticking around as my friends.

They should know why they made my list. They’ve been there for the duration. They are part of what I consider the “gifted and talented” program. Have you acknowledged your gifted and talented peers (or co-workers) lately?  No, you don’t have to give them Lucite spikes or framed notices, but you do need to acknowledge them.

Lesson Learned: As a manager, I used to send out memos (yes, paper memoranda) to the people I worked with on occasion. When I spotted them doing something well (even if it was part of their regular job), I’d make a note to send them a memo to let them know that they had been noticed, and their efforts were appreciated. I did this because it’s been done for me from time to time through the years, and those notes are the fuel for the fire to keep pounding away at the job.  The only cost associated with this is the time it takes to write a “thank you” memo. The payback is dramatic and lasting.

It’s important to remember the work of Frederick Herzberg on motivation. If we want to retain people as allies, they need to be motivated. Herzberg’s writings point to the distinction between motivators and what he called “hygiene factors.” Hygiene factors are those elements that, over time, become standard expectations of the employee or receiving party. If I give you a Starbuck’s card when I get a nice note from a client, that’s motivational. If I give you a Starbuck’s card every Thursday like clockwork and tell you you’re doing a good job, that’s hygiene.  In very short order, you’re going to feel like Thursday is Starbuck’s day, and you should expect another card. It becomes an entitlement, rather than a motivator.

Lesson Learned: Project management is rooted in a number of basic principles.  One of the most fundamental is the idea that work needs to be broken down into meaningful, manageable chunks. As project managers (or as human beings), we need to know what a meaningful, manageable chunk actually looks like. In my writing, it’s three pages. In the backyard? It’s a 10×5-foot area of newly tilled ground for grass seeding. In developing slide decks, it’s ten slides. What do I give myself when I hit those marks?  A quiet motivator, like ten minutes for a smoke break (for while I haven’t smoked in over 30 years, I still love smoke breaks).  I find personal rewards and motivators. And when I’m working with others, I try to find the motivators for them, as well. The target of completion of a work package or user story goes a long way toward institutionalizing good practices for keeping your fellow workers (and friends and family members and yourself)motivated.   

Praise counts. Tying rewards and recognition directly to accomplishment is one way to produce higher retention levels. Sometimes, just recognizing that a particular effort is daunting is the incentive required for others to tackle the effort.  I just spent three thankless hours with the medical community, working on my project to be around this time five years from now. When I got home, I got just what I needed.  My lovely wife, Nancy, came up to me, hugged me, and thanked me for putting in the time at the Center.  (After 40 years, she’s still working on husband retention, and doing a darned fine job of it).

Up next?  A quick look back across 13-billion years.

If you want to review the previous elements of this e-book or blog, they’re all posted at www.carlpritchard.com/blog If you have insights you’d like to share or comments or conversations, my e-mail is the best way to reach me at carl@carlpritchard.com.  I’ll always get back to you within 24 hours.  Always.  And if you think I missed the mark?  Check your spam folder.  Thanks for joining me on this journey.