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Mike Clayton was our special guest.

His Twitter: @mikeclayton01

Another web site to consider: onlinepmcourses.com

Also, please check: LinkedIn and Facebook.


[00:00:00] Yegor: Hello everybody, this is Shift-M podcast, next episode. And we have the special guest, it’s Mike Clayton, who is an author, a speaker, a book writer, a blogger, consultant, and there are actually 14 books on your website I found, this is the exact amount of books you published, Mike?

[00:00:25] Mike: Yeah, that’s right.

[00:00:28] Yegor: Oh, that’s amazing. Can you present yourself, say a few words about yourself?

[00:00:32] Mike: Ok, so basically I’m a project manager who trains people and speaks and writes about largely project management, but a range of other skills that professionals and managers need to be successful in their careers. And so a lot of my life training has always been in the UK but in the last couple of years I’ve been developing a lot of online video based training taking what I do live and putting it online making it available for an international audience.

[00:01:04] Yegor: That’s awesome. And the subject we decided to choose for this podcast is Zen Project Management which we found on your blog, that’s how we decided to speak about exactly that. And can you say a few words what do you mean by Zen management for our listeners?

[00:01:21] Mike: Well I was asked to write an article I think you probably found on someone else’s blog well I was commissioned to write an article and I was asked to write an article about project management, I took a look from a slightly different perspective and I’ve always since I was a kid being interested in the idea of Zen and Eastern philosophies. And it struck me that it applies very nicely to project management because what Zen is fundamentally about is a higher level of awareness of what’s going on in your world and seeing the world from what it is and also it’s about self-control and being able to be in command of your own choices, your own decisions, your own mental states and those are too very powerful and useful skills for project managers.

[00:02:16] Yegor: So this Zen management is for project managers, not for the team being managed?

[00:02:22] Mike: Well, no, I mean it’s for everyone, the article I wrote was from the point of view of project managers. But I think it applies to anybody who is trying to be professional and effective in a difficult professional or in the social role.

[00:02:37] Yegor: What are the differences between let’s say a traditional project manager and a Zen project manager, how different we are in a day work. What do we do differently?

[00:02:45] Mike: Well I think what I am trying to do with the idea of Zen project management is focus on really having a precise and accurate understanding of what’s going on around me. So I’m going to be open to all the information that’s there and I’m going to try to avoid making judgments about it, until I’ve properly understood it. So it’s recognising that life is rarely simple and that even the simplest things often have a layer of complexity that we need to understand to make wise and informed decisions. So that’s the first thing. And the second, I think is about being able to be relaxed and calm in the face of a complex and challenging environment, whether that’s a workplace environment as a project, or as a manager, or as a professional, or whether if I’m working in a social sphere some might be involved in leading a sports club or a youth club - all of these environments are complex and have a lot of pressure and the ability to stay calm, to stay in control of your choices - this is what I mean by Zen management.

[00:04:15] Yegor: It seems that the Zen manager is supposed to be way less reactive than the traditional project manager. It seems to me, from what you said, that if I’m going to be a Zen manager, I’m supposed to be more calm and chilling and I should give less back to my team to what they are doing and more observing that. Am I right? 
 [00:04:38] Mike: Exactly. I think it’s not so much about being less reactive. It’s about being more measured in the reactions that you make. A lot of the environments where my clients work, our environments where you can’t always predict what’s going to happen. Change is going to happen and you can’t control that. But what you can do is control how you react to it. Instead of a sudden knee jerk reaction is something… if you make a big mistake, if something goes horribly wrong, human beings have a very predictable set of standard reactions. We either freeze and we don’t know what to do and we can’t calm react or we act scared and we try to make it go away quickly or we get angry and aggressive. What I’m trying to advocate is that we have an alternative which is to say… let’s pause, let’s understand exactly what’s happened and then working with your team determine the best course of action, trying to keep people from reacting in an uncontrolled way.

[00:05:54] Yegor: Okay. It sounds reasonable to me, what you’re saying sounds more like a commonsense version or something new, or some unique knowledge. But the question is why all project managers are not doing that, what’s the cause of that problem?

[00:06:14] Mike: I think a lot of good project managers are. The challenge I think is for younger, less experienced project managers who perhaps have their first experience on a nice easy project and they think things are going to go that way because they planned carefully, and then something suddenly something doesn’t go their way. What often happens is that this isn’t just a sudden out of the blue saying it’s the culmination of a series of increasingly stressful events, when we are under stress. We find it harder to control our reactions and project management is a good example of a stressful occupation because we are trying to control a lot of new stuff. A lot of changes will go, a lot of different people involved with different perspectives, some of whom would not agree with us and yet we have to take account of their acts, their point of view. So all of that can build up stress levels in us, which means that when something goes wrong or when something unexpected happens, we are likely to react in a sudden and possibly uncontrolled manner. And so the good project managers, the ones who learn, they did this, either I’ve done this for a minor site. These ideas are original. All that people are doing them when I’m trying to do is bring them to the awareness of the people who aren’t to say «You can do this too”. There are solutions to that kind of overreaction, or possibly underreaction rather like small creatures if you threaten them, they will curl up into a little ball and hope that nothing hurts them and we do that as well as human beings sometimes.

[00:08:00] Yegor: Can you think of a practical example from your real life experience, where project managers were reacting in a non-Zen way?

[00:08:10] Mike: Yeah I’ll give you an example from my own career because you know I struggled with this. There was a time I was working away from home, I live in the UK, I was working in the Netherlands so I was commuting weekly flying out of the Netherlands. It was a demanding project that I was leading. It required most of us to be working from 7:00 am through to often midnight. We were getting tired and more and more stressed and I certainly was, and there was a point where a client told me that they were not happy with what I was doing. They thought the project wasn’t under as much control as it should be. We’d failed to deliver something that was important to them. And I would certainly say that section of the fault was mine. So but instead of listening to what they said and thinking about it and then coming back to them with a reasoned response, my first response was to get angry and to get upset that they were blaming me and to try to find excuses and then I would say about 12 hours I wasn’t really any use to any party. I was kind of miserable moping trying to find excuses, rather than trying to understand and solve the problem. And that was a culmination of being overtired, overstressed and not having the resources to understand how I was going to react and therefore to moderate my reaction. Luckily I was able to pull myself out of it, otherwise my career might have taken a different turn I suppose.

[00:10:12] Yegor: And what did you do? How did you resolve after those 12 hours? 
 [00:10:17] Mike: Well it was about… you know, I think it probably happened early one morning and it was towards the end of the day when I was probably still quite tired but I started to realize that I had wasted the day and I needed to regroup. And I actually did it, I went for a walk. It was quite an evening but I went for a walk, got some fresh air and thought things through. But the important thing to me is not how I resolved it then, which was really just a matter of luck, it was the decision I made after that - “This should never happen again.” And so I started to learn about stress and how we respond to stress and what we can do as human beings to make ourselves more resilient to stress and that kind of has given me a set of resources that I can then teach other people. And the idea of awareness of what’s going on and self-control, are kind of two big important aspects of that.

[00:11:23] Yegor: Well it sounds like a good advice but I think, according to your story, what I’m taking from it, is that I think it will repeat exactly the same way if you would be again that tired and you would be again blamed for someone else’s mistakes and you would again need to give some excuses, I think, you would do exactly the same out of your just emotions and stress, don’t you think? 

[00:11:49] Mike: I think… Two things I would say, firstly, if I were that stressed, then yes, it could happen the same way. So the first important thing is to find ways that we can avoid allowing ourselves to get into that level of stress without realizing what’s going on. And the second thing is that I have developed a simple five-step routine, so soon as I recognize that I am being pushed to give an answer or to respond to something where I don’t feel ready, I can kind of activate that five-step process, and I teach people and they really-really value. And so that helps to diffuse the situation. I call it SCOPE process and it really just enables me to re-engage the thinking part of my brain and if you put to one side the emotional response, so it’s a two-pronged things, one is not as easily getting stressed and the second is having it all to handle those situations even if I am stressed.

[00:12:58] Yegor: And what are those five steps, can you tell us? 
 [00:13:05] Mike: Yes, well I call it the SCOPE method. And the first step is to Stop, to pause, to take a step back and think about the importance of not reacting. And the second is to Clarify, this is the awareness to it, instead of hearing what you’ve heard and then responding to it, become curious and ask more questions. And that has two very important effects. One is the process of asking questions, slows things down. And the second is allows you to gather more information because what I have found is when we’re under stress, we latch on very quickly to the first interpretation that we make of what’s been said and if someone is not speaking super clearly and we are not responding really clearly as well, we can easily just get the wrong end of the stick to completely misinterpret what’s required, so we stop and then we clarify, we ask questions, we try to really understand the situation. The next part of the scope process stands for Options, deliberately trying to identify more than one option of how you can respond. And I always recommend that three is the ideal, because if you’ve only got two options, it’s this or it’s that and it becomes a polarized kind of mental dialogue, so come up with some different options for how you can respond and then evaluate which of those options objectively is going to give you the best chance of regaining control of the situation and putting things right. And gain, when we are stressed, the emotional part of our brain tries to take control by deliberately forcing ourselves to think through options, and we evaluate those options. We are forcing our thinking rational parts of our brain to regain control of the process. Then once we’ve identified our options and chosen which one or which combination of options is going to be in our judgment, the best situation, we can then pay for Proceed and get on with it. But the mistake a lot of people make is they come up with a choice of what they can do and then they do it and keep going regardless because “I’ve decided what’s best.” What we need to do also is to either Evaluate what’s going on, constantly observe the impact or the choices we’ve made, because if we made the wrong choice, the sooner we spot that and are able to say “Whoa, hold on. That’s not working. I need to rethink this.” Then again the less stressful we’ll find it and the more control we’ll have. So SCOPE’s stands for stop, clarify, options, proceed and evaluate.

[00:16:28] Yegor: Is it your own invention? The name and everything.

[00:16:33] Mike: Yeah.

[00:16:35] Yegor: It’s sounds amazing for me, honestly, I’m going to use in my life. That’s really easy to remember and that’s really interesting. And it’s not applicable only for the project management, I think, for everything.

[00:16:49] Mike: Oh, no, no. I mean anyone who has to live in the world and deal with anything that they sometimes find challenging is going to find that useful. And it’s one of the tools I trained people in project management, time management and all sorts of different areas, just general management and leadership skills, because it is so powerful as a way of just if you know thatб you can just trigger it and just regain that sense of I’m in control of the situation, I have choices. And I might not make the right one but at least I understand what I’m doing and I can change direction if I need to.

[00:17:31] Yegor: What is the most difficult part out of these 5 steps for people usually, what do you think? Where do they fail mostly?

[00:17:42] Mike: I would say, to stop. Because when you’re under pressure, remembering that you’ve got that tool, remembering that process, so I don’t think this isn’t unique to me. Lots of stress management trainers and people will say “I should just take a deep breath, few deep breaths”, because physiologically that will calm you down, just when we take deep breaths that send signals to our brain to calm us down

[00:18:15] Yegor: So you’re saying that most of us are getting into trouble because we don’t stop and then the rest of these four steps they don’t make sense because we failed the first one, right?

[00:18:26] Mike: Yeah. If we don’t stop then we don’t think or clarify, we just shout or we get upset or we stomp off miserable. This isn’t science, it’s just my way of thinking about it. But I think like deep inside of our brain it’s still a two year old. And when we are not feeling at our best and we are under pressure and we’re stressed, that 2 year old has more and more control over our behaviors. And so because we therefore have less and less adult control of our behaviors, I’ve tried to boil it down some very simple. Just stop. Tell that two year old to sit in the corner, woah, daddy or mummy thinks through what to do. And that’s exactly what it’s like, don’t know if you’ve got your children, do you know exactly what it’s like. When something happens at home and you go small child. You just need some time as a grown up. Think about how to handle it. And sometimes you just need to tell your small child “Please just be quiet from home, so that I can think” and that’s what you’re trying to do to the 2 year old inside your brain.

[00:19:38] Yegor: That’s true. You know you are saying stress, many times we used that word but every time it sounds like something negative but I read a lot of research actually about stress and they say that there are two types of stress. One is the stress which we feel occasionally and which actually boosts our performance and moves us forward and helps us to get more organized, motivated for a short period of time. And then there is a distress, they call it, which stays longer with us, like for days, weeks or months and this is the type of stress that kills us and makes something harmful to our bodies and our brains

[00:20:17] Mike: That’s absolutely right. If you think about human beings thousands of years ago, our ancestors before we evolved into the human beings we are today. They would have had a stressful life in the sense that they’re out trying to gather food for the family and then a giant bear or a lion appears, and of course that triggers the stress response and so their body shuts down everything it doesn’t need to survive. So you don’t need to be mending that scratch you got the other day, or chapped lips. You don’t need to be hungry, it’s actually quite often, your whole digestive system shuts down and empties everything out ready to run away. And so things like eating, sex, all of that stuff has no interest whatsoever. The only thing that matters is plenty of blood flowing to the muscles that will allow you to run away as fast as possible or fight for your life. And nasty equivalents of… I’ve got to go on stage this afternoon and present to a thousand people and I’ve got butterflies in my stomach, I feel excited and scared. And that’s what drives a really good performance. But if you get continuous stress, so our ancestors would have run away from that lion. One of two things would have happened. Either the lion would have eaten them, then that’s fine, no more ancestors. Or they get away and then they get back to the hut or in the cave, and they’re breathing heavily and they relax and gradually all that stress subsides. But for a lot of people in modern life, we get home from work and we’re worried about things we haven’t done at work, we’re worried about our families, we’re worried about will we be able to have a good holiday. And so that stress doesn’t dissipate through the evening and then we go back to the next day and it builds up again and so the stress never dissipates and therefore our body starts to get into a situation where it never properly starts looking after itself, so we start getting cold and flu and cuts that we’ve got take a long time to heal, our appetite is disrupted, so that we either overreach or we don’t eat properly, or we eat junk food, you know, our sexual function doesn’t work properly and so on. So all that stress becomes very destructive and fundamentally stress comes down to not feeling in control. If this lion appears in your office, you’re not going to feel in control and then to get massively stressed, if your home-work life is one where you don’t feel properly in control, then gradually that stress can get to you and that long term stress will drive damaging responses both to your physical body and to your mental state as well. So you are quite right. There’s the long term damaging stress and short term exciting stress. And americans always have a good phrase but they talk about in sports, they talk about clutch and choke as the two opposites of the stress response. So clutch is where you have a very difficult and important sporting fit to do, maybe you’re a golfer and it’s the last hole or you’re a basketball player and it’s the last basket, or you’re a football player and you’ve got to hit that guy and hit that goal and clutch is where all of that combined with your skill and your experience and your training [inaudible voice 00:24:05], choke is where you let the psychology and the stress get to your brain and that stops you from performing properly because it gets in the way of you accessing all that training and experience. And so putting to those terms, what I’m trying to do is give people resources to go from choking when something bad happens to that kind of clutch performance. I’m under a lot of pressure and now I’m going to know exactly how to respond to that pressure. I’ve got resources and therefore I will be successful.

[00:24:49] Yegor: And when do you think people are moving from clutch to choke, they do it, right, by themselves? So they have this temporary necessary needed stress, positive stress and then all of a sudden we understand that now we are in the distress situation. So what happens between that and how to prevent that? That’s my question.

[00:25:10] Mike: Yes. Well the sports psychologists spend more time I think working on the mental game than they do on the physical game. It’s like you know the best sports teams, the best sports players around the world and technically they’re all as good as each other. They’re all you know phenomenal athletes. What’s going on in the brain is the important thing and I think the two things that we can work on to allow us to perform at our best, to harness all that training and experience, are firstly to reduce the amount that the stress gets to us in the first place. And I think the things we can do with that are making sure we get plenty of sleep, making sure we prioritize our family and our personal relationships because people keep saying, we’re making sure we make sensible choices about eating and about where you are eating, there’s a lot of people in the UK who eat mainly bad food and drink too much alcohol and then they’re poisoning their bodies and reducing their ability to cope with stress and also getting the right amount of physical activity whether you choose to dance, or to do gardening, or to do sports, whatever. If you attend your relaxation, and you attend your exercise, and you attend your food, and you attend your relationships, that will keep you on an even keel and can reduce that stress. And then the second thing. Whether it’s the sports arena or whether it’s the professional project management world, the second thing is to have a mechanism to keep focused on what matters and for me, that mechanism is the SCOPE process. It keeps us aware, it keeps us in control of our responses.

[00:27:04] Yegor: But it sounds that your SCOPE process is focused on decreasing the level of stress, when something happens unexpectedly, something which we didn’t expect that happens, then we need to stop, we need to calm down. We need to somehow lower the amount of stress coming into our brains and our body and then make the decisions, but as we agreed before, our ancestors, when they were in the wild, they needed that stress, so they needed to be stressed, they needed all the blood you know coming in their brains and body, everything. So maybe right now we as project managers also need that, maybe we don’t need to stop the stress. We need to welcome the stress and say “It’s okay when something unexpected happens, it’s okay that I’m getting nervous, it’s okay that I’m getting angry, because like my ancestors, I need to fight with the lions, so maybe let’s not stop”. What do you think?

[00:28:04] Mike: It’s okay to be nervous and it’s ok to recognize that you’re under pressure, but if all of that results in you not having control over your choices, because you defaults to getting angry and shouting or worse, then that isn’t going to make the situation better. Because we have bodies that are designed to cope well with lions and tigers. But actually modern work isn’t like that. If your boss starts shouting at you, the right response is not to shout back at your boss and certainly isn’t to hit your boss and yet that’s kind of what you want to do when you’re angry. So yes, we need to accept that we will get stressed and a little bit of stress isn’t damaging in itself, it becomes damaging immediately, it limits our choices. If you just sit there and say “Well, I’ve got three choices and one of them is to hit my boss and I know that could get me in trouble, but I’m prepared to get into trouble then.” Okay, I might not agree that’s the right choice for you. But if you’ve made the right choice and take the consequences well then you have made a choice despite the stress. If the stress is making the choices for you, then you’re going to find yourself getting into all sorts of trouble with no control over that and that can never be good.

[00:23:42] Yegor: It sounds like we’re talking about self awareness, right?

[00:29:45] Mike: Absolutely. I say awareness and self-control, they really drove that sense that the Zen metaphor was a good one.

[00:30:03] Yegor: You know I totally agree with that. But let me play the devil’s advocate now and tell you that I read some books and research and according to my experience as well, people don’t really enjoy working with very stable calm and self aware people. They prefer to deal with you if you are emotional. If you are sometimes getting angry, if you will react emotionally, if I shout at you and you shout at me back. So when I shout at you if I’m your boss for example, I shout at you and you just stay calm and look at me and say “Okay there are three options”, I get more nervous because I can feel that you are stronger than me emotionally and it makes me a little bit weaker and I don’t like to be weaker because I’m your boss.

[00:30:53] Mike: Yeah, I think you’re right. The answer I think in one word: balance. People don’t like being with other people who are too controlled, because they don’t feel like they’re properly human. But also we don’t like when we’re people who are out of control, because they scare us. So it’s not about going to one extreme or the other. It’s about having that flexibility to move around in the middle ground. And I think you’re also right that if your boss is out of control and you are not, they can feel embarrassed that they’re not in control and they can resent you for that. But again, if you are in control, you then have the choice to say “I get it, I understand why you’re angry, understand why you’re upset and I will give you an answer but I need to think about it”, and you can then remove yourself from the dangerous situation because as you say there might be no way of winning. If you argue with them, that’s bad. If you don’t argue with them, that’s bad. So the best thing to do possibly is to say: “I get it. Give me some time and I’ll get back to you.” And that allows you to diffuse the situation. The thing that’s most important I think is knowing your boss in this situation, we can conjure up all sorts of different situations and examples about the real world is populated by people with their own distinct personalities and as we get to know our colleagues, we can figure out what’s going to work with one colleague, but may not work with another.

[00:32:42] Yegor: Absolutely. I was expecting that answer actually, that it depends on the person to person. I’ve been in a few situations in my life when exactly that happened, the boss was angry because we seriously failed at some point and I was trying to be calm and I got the answer that “You just don’t care, why are you so calm, why you don’t cry, why you’re not screaming, why you’re not running around the office and shouting at everybody? Because you don’t care, obviously. And if you don’t care, we don’t want to work with you.” That’s kind of a reaction you may get from the management if you completely stay calm and always you will stop at some point and consider options and do everything you just said. So maybe that formula, the pattern is perfectly alright for your internal psychology, for the internal us, but maybe on the external side we need to behave a little bit differently.

[00:33:42] Mike: Yeah, it might be right. I mean the other thing that strikes with that is, you know, if you’re contractor, or a consultant, or an advisor, actually pointing out look, you’re not paying me to care, you’re paying me to fix the situation. And so I’m working on fixing the situation. You work on caring, I’m working on fixing the situation you’re going to take the one that’s needed at the moment. But again, with some bosses they go: “Oh, yeah, just fix this thing”, with others though I won’t take that answer and therefore you hopefully won’t have given that particular answer. And did you manage to resolve those situations?

[00:34:33] Yegor: Well to be honest, I was playing a little bit hypocrite, so I was behaving like I care, I mean like pretending to be emotional about that. But inside I was understanding that I need to stay calm, because I don’t need that stress, because it’s just computers, money, servers. We don’t need to kill ourselves after all that. I totally agree with your phrase that they don’t pay me to care. They pay me to fix the problem. And the more I care it doesn’t mean that the better I fix the problem. In most cases it’s the other way around, the more emotional I am, the more I care, the less effective I am. It’s like the good example with these people who do surgeries, like surgeons, they care a lot about their patients, that’s why the surgeons are not supposed to do the surgery on their relatives, because they care about the people and that’s why they’re going to do the less effective surgery, right?

[00:35:25] Mike: Absolutely. It sounds to me that you described exactly like I recommend people. You thought about the situation: “Ok, it might be a little hypocritical, but my boss needs to hear that I care, and I need to create some time and space to go and fix the situation”, that’s exactly the kind of self-awareness and self-control that I’m advocating. I’m not saying you don’t ever show emotion, but what I am saying is that if you can make choices about what emotions to show, then you can really make a better choice than if you just succumb to whenever an emotion happens to be going on in your brain.

[00:36:08] Yegor: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m just thinking about this metaphor with surgeons and I’m trying to imagine a surgeon which before the surgery would be asked like “Do you care about that person?” and he would just say “I don’t care, I just do the surgery.” Nobody would like to go with that surgeon, right? So we want that doctor to care, but at the time of surgery we want the doctor to do the right job instead of crying for example about the blood which is lost and about everything he or she is doing, right?

[00:36:39] Mike: I don’t know what those things are like with you, but certainly in the UK it is widely recognized that surgeons are not the kind of caring due to just the medical profession. They are quite calculating and quite precise about things. And it’s the right thing. You can’t afford to succumb to emotion when you’ve got someone’s insides in front of you. There are other people who are paid to act in a compassionate way. The nurses perhaps, the physicians and junior doctors who are there to look after your mental well-being.

[00:37:20] Yegor: But you know how the question comes to my mind is actually we work in a project management area, we work with people, we don’t work with the kidneys and hearts and pieces of the body, we work with people around us, so maybe we should care more and be less calculating people, what do you think?

[00:37:40] Mike: We need to care about our projects. One of things I often talk past the importance of motivation, because talking about that two year old, if you ask children to do something, they go “Why?” If you don’t have a good answer for them, then they’re just going to keep going: “There’s no point.” And it’s the same with us as adults. If we don’t understand why we’re doing something and we don’t see what the value of that thing is, if we don’t care, then we can do it as a job because we are paid, but we never going to feel motivated to do it. So I link this to motivation. The more important something comes to us, more we care about it, and the more motivated we are going to be to take responsibility and to make it work. But again, if you care too much about it, then you may not be able to make objective decisions. Let’s say I’m delivering a new piece of technology and I care too much about the design, specification that’s been signed off. When the business says we can’t afford to deliver that, we need to really specify the project, I’ve got to be able to be objective enough to gather requirements, to re-evaluate the budget and to make some hard choices about letting some of my stakeholders down and producing a product which I may not think is as good as we could have produced, and as project managers, this kind of situation we find ourselves in a lot.

[00:39:21] Yegor: And what do we do in those situations? Which side do we have to be, on the calculating side, or the side which cares about people and… 
 [00:39:38] Mike: I think we need to be on the couch than actually side. We have to get those requirements and then we apply our sense of carry to making sure that giving the information and giving a new situation, we care enough to take the time to make the right decisions and to consult properly and inform properly the people you need to know rather than just say “Okay it’s not going to be what I wanted. That’s why I don’t care anymore.” Recognize that projects change and the fundamental thing is it’s got to be something you care about. So it’s back to that word balance again.

[00:40:16] Yegor: And who do you meet more frequently, more often, people in your practice and your experience, when you deal with project managers and just managers. These people are in general more calculating or they actually more “people” people?

[00:40:33] Mike: That’s a really good question. I would say in terms of the “people” people versus calculators, the people I train tend to split down the middle. I wouldn’t like to say which is the majority, there’s no clear majority. And I think a lot of the “people” people worry that I won’t make good project managers because they’re not comfortable with detailed planning, and scheduling, and budgeting because they just good at talking to people. I try to reassure them that 80 percent of good project management is communicating well with your team members, with your colleagues, with your bosses and with the stakeholders, who are going to be affected. And that’s the hard hard project management. And I think “people” people, those who are good at relating to others and enjoy communicating, and talking, and listening are able to make some of the very best project managers.

[00:41:41] Yegor: Huh, it’s interesting. So you’re saying that the skills which although project management literature is teaching us like budgeting, scheduling, scope control, I don’t know, quality control, risk management, although those things, they fit into that 20 percent of the expertise when you apply to be a successful product manager. The rest is 80 percent is just the human skills, but how to deal with emotions of people around us?

[00:42:26] Mike: In terms of success, in terms of complexity? Yes. You know, putting together a project plan it’s relatively straightforward. Yes, there are going to be difficult decisions to make and there’s a little bit of maths to master, but compared to understanding how people work and how to influence people, who may not be necessarily supportive of your project - that’s the difficulty. And if you were to write a book about all of it and dedicate the right amount of space to each part, I think you’d find that when you start writing about how to handle conflict between two people, how do you handle persuading someone who’s not sure, that would take a lot more writing, a lot more explaining because it’s a lot more difficult.

[00:43:25] Yegor: Interesting. And people fail here as well more often, I get it, right?

[00:43:32] Mike: A lot of projects fail not because they’ve been delivered late or they’ve been delivered over budget. Usually that doesn’t matter that much anyway. What really triggers the failure often is that somewhere along the line the people who need to be engaged, who need to make use of the new processes or products that you could use aren’t interested and they don’t engage, and they don’t use products and the technology gets misused, because nobody’s motivated to use it, they moan about how they liked it the way it used to be. And everyone says this is a rubbish project and yet you’ve delivered exactly what you promised to deliver and possibly back on schedule and within your budget.

[00:44:26] Yegor: In other words, it’s stakeholder management failures.

[00:44:28] Mike: In other words it’s stakeholder management failures, yes.

[00:44:34] Yegor: That’s interesting. And your recommendation for that. I mean let’s say our listeners are project managers who are going to become more professional, so what’s the recommendation for them, how to become more successful in the area of stakeholder management?

[00:44:49] Mike: The first recommendation is I would give it here in the UK, we are increasingly no longer talking about stakeholder management, we are talking about stakeholder engagement. Because if you try to manage your stakeholders, I think you going into it with the wrong mindset, and you know we’re both speaking English, it’s my first language, but not yours. I guess for us the term management and the term engagement mean very different things. Engagement means getting involved with people, it means listening to them as well as talking to them. Management means to me trying to get them to think what you think, and that seems rude. Firstly, you should not only start talking to your stakeholder, but also listening to them, getting them involved. And the stakeholder engagement process is not difficult, think around who your stakeholders are, understand about them and come up with a plan for how you’re going to communicate with them and get on and do it. And the tricky thing is to make the time and again it’s that 80 percent communication. I think if you can as a new or inexperienced project manager firstly find in yourself the will to engage with people who possibly don’t share your point of view, and you can allocate enough time to it so that you do it well, that’s all there is to it. It’s rather like customer service and customer care. The most important thing about customer care is that you actually care about it. Once you get that, everything else becomes straightforward common sense you just do what it takes. If you don’t care about the customer, then no amount of procedures and processes are going to give the customer a good experience working with the organization.

[00:46:43] Yegor: And I see you have a book about listening and speaking so that people can listen. So it looks like you’re saying that first of all we need to listen before we can start speaking.

[00:46:55] Mike: Yeah, I mean that book has made some people listen, I think it’s the only book I’ve got that has actually been translated into Russian. That’s the one. But I also have a book called “The influence agenda” which is all about stakeholder engagement which is possibly my biggest most complex book, but I’ve tried to keep it simple and talk about different techniques and strategies to influence people, to understand people, to build a communication campaign for stakeholders in projects and when you’re trying to change things in your organization, in your community or whatever.

[00:47:37] Yegor: And do people change? That’s my question I’ve been asking myself and all the people I know around who are consultants, they’re consulting other projects and I always wonder is it possible to change people who are in the projects in the area we’re talking about right now. So if somebody doesn’t like or doesn’t know how to listen, according to my experience that person will never listen, no matter how many books you’re going to sell for that person, that person doesn’t like to listen, so do you have in your experience, have you seen any successful stories or somebody after your consulting or somebody else consulting actually change and start listening and start understanding people better and caring more?

[00:48:22] Mike: Well, you’re right. If someone doesn’t want to listen and doesn’t want to change, you can’t force people to change. You can get someone to change their behaviors temporarily by creating the right motivations, either reinforce positive behaviors or perhaps challenge negative behaviors. I’ve been very fortunate in my training and consultancy, the people I’ve trained have been people who want to change, who want to learn how to do things differently and therefore when you tell them here’s a process that will help you listen more effectively, a lot of them will pay attention to that and they will be willing to give it a go. Yeah, some of them will give it a go and they won’t continue and it won’t become a habit. And there’s the word workshop and others will give it a go. They will like what they find. They’ll keep working at it and it will start to become a habit. It’s rather like any challenge that we want to make in our lives where we want to do a bit more exercise, or change our diet, drink less coffee. If you do it once or twice and then you think “Well I’ll give it a skip for today. And maybe then two or I’ll come back to it” and you know if you never change, watch stick. If on the other hand you say “I’m going to do this and going to discipline myself, to do it as well as I can, so the next four weeks”, after four weeks when we start actually seeing changes in the results we’re getting, we say “You know what, this isn’t so bad, I’ll keep doing it” and eventually if we do it for long enough, it just becomes part of our habits. And if you can discipline yourself to listen more carefully or to spend more time with people, that becomes a habit and that just becomes who you are. Well I think some people do occasionally change massively overnight. I think most people change slowly over time. And the people who want to change or become more effective and recognize that this particular skill or that particular skill is going to help them, if they commit to it and do it, they will change. The danger I was fine with you know training courses, I often like to fill my training courses with lots of different things. And some people come there and say “That’s brilliant! I loved that, I want that.” And I said to them “Do not try and do all of this because that’s too much change, you will not be able to change, but if you pick one or two things and practice them for a few weeks and then when they become habit, then choose another thing to practice and build up, because you can’t change everything at once.”

[00:51:22] Yegor: But have you seen people after buying your books and reading them? Have you seen them emailing you or telling you that something actually changed in their lives, that they started differently. That they are getting more success in managing or engaging stakeholders?

[00:51:47] Mike: Yeah, to be fair, most of those ones that I get are after training, after live training rather than from books.It’s not common. People get in touch with me, having read works some do and not with the stakeholder, but certainly with one of my other project management groups, I had someone to say this is just really made a huge difference to those two working community projects just get things done around community, and that was hugely valuable to them. But after training, quite a lot of people do stay in touch and talk about how the training has given them new opportunities, and they’ve been successful in projects where they want to believe they could be successful. So that’s really nice to hear.

[00:52:25] Yegor: And what do you do on those trainings, you really train people to communicate with people?

[00:52:35] Mike: Yeah. I don’t get to do the kind of training which I’d loved to do, but I love spending three days on some of these topics. But even in a short training session, there’s something for everybody in those sessions, lots of different ideas. I know there are going to be a few people who are going to take some of those ideas, and they’re really going to work on it, and some, yeah, we do stay in touch. In fact I got an email just the other day in response to one of my regular email newsletters from a chap that I worked with about 10 years ago, possibly 12 years ago. He still remembers the project management training that I ran in his organization and that he still still values. So it’s nice to know that I can make a small difference to some people’s professional lives.

[00:53:42] Yegor: And speaking about the newsletter, I just want to tell our listeners that it’s possible to subscribe and I’m looking right now at your website, where do I click to subscribe to your…

[00:53:50] Mike: You’re looking at my Clayton website? 
 [00:53:51] Yegor: Yeah, that’s right.

[00:53:54] Mike: Yeah. There will be a box coming up when you first come onto the website, shortly after you first come on.

[00:54:04] Yegor: There’s a link at the bottom of the website, it says “Email Tipsheet”.

[00:54:10] Mike: That’s the one, yes. I’m just really trying to get that up, yes, there is a Tipsheet. That’s I can’t get, write in a footnote “Sign up here”. And that will tell you….

[00:54:22] Yegor: What are you sending there, like what kind of information is there?

[00:54:26] Mike: Every three weeks you get an email with usually 10 tips on a particular subject. So for example let’s have a look at the last few that I’ve done. Let me just close all up and give you an example of some of the ones I’ve done. So the most recent one was Convince [inaudible voice 00:54:45]. If you want to win over skeptics you need to get some of these psychological tool needs. I always put how long it takes to read and it’s usually around two to three minutes if you are a fluent English reader, then there was one quite relevant to what we’re talking about keep cool which is about self-control. And one about how to create a buzz around your next project, Crisis excitement. What about being assertive? So I try to pick topics that people who are working in a business or public service or voluntary environment, delivering products and services will find useful to help them in their careers. And I try to keep it easy to read because I know a lot of my audience first don’t have English as a first language. So I try to write it so they will be able to read easily. And I hope for everyone in amongst those 10 tips will be one or two where they think “Aha, that will be useful for me. I can apply that and it will help.”

[00:55:56] Yegor: Well I will subscribe now and see how it goes, because I’m always interested in those tips and that’s really interesting. In the area of project management, I think it’s never enough, every time you get something new.

[00:56:08] Mike: Those tips are exclusively for project managers. I have a second website which actually gets a lot more attention at the moment.

[00:56:19] Yegor: Which one?

[00:56:20] Mike: It’s called Online PM Courses dot com. And that’s a website. You can sign up there and get my project management tips each week and that’s more of a kind of a single thought around project management. I know there are on the tipsheet, so on my client site there are occasional things that aren’t working as they should, because I don’t give it as much time as it needs to maintain it. But I’ll make sure that the tipsheet sign up works properly. By the time this goes on.

[00:57:06] Yegor: Sounds cool. All right, I’ll subscribe. I actually subscribed already, I think. Well I’m going to finish filling out the forms, so I’ll be your subscriber. That’s for sure.

[00:57:16] Mike: Right.

[00:57:16] Yegor: And I followed you on Twitter already so I’m going to put all this information on the footnotes after the podcast, so all listeners will be able to become your followers. So I have to thank you very much because we’re running out of time. And there was a really interesting conversation. The SCOPE idea - amazing. I’m just going to use it from now on till…I don’t know how long. Thanks for inventing it.

[00:57:41] Mike: Great. Really enjoyed speaking with you.

[00:57:43] Yegor: Absolutely. Maybe we’ll have with you another time, sometime later.

[00:57:48] Mike: Great! I’ll keep your line. And we’ll stay in touch.

[00:57:55] Yegor: Absolutely. Mike thank you very much. Bye bye.

[00:57:57] Mike: Thank you.

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