A large part of my role – and a passion of mine – is helping people develop their careers. I have two people on my team currently whose next logical step is to start line managing others so I was going to document some of the things I do as a reference point for them, but then it occurred to me that if I posted it here I could get feedback from other professionals to help me develop, so here goes…
The people I manage are all project professionals – project or programme managers - so the first thing I do is have them all complete a self-assessment based on the International Project Management Association’s (IPMA) competencies. This means that if in future they decide to align themselves to a professional body, typically the Association for Project Management (APM) or the Project Management Institute (PMI), they will be able to point to knowledge and experience gained in each body’s competence framework.
To help this, I’ve mapped the APM to PMI competencies to give people flexibility. I need to do both as my team is spread across four countries and three continents.
Once each person has completed a self assessment of their existing knowledge and experience of each competency – I guarantee the assessments are confidential between me and the individual – we agree on objectives for the next twelve months based on those competencies where they scored themselves lowest AND the needs of the company; I’m strongly against “box ticking objectives” as I think they are demotivating and a waste of the company’s money.
In addition to these very focussed objectives I always try to give people one or two “stretch goals” – things above and beyond the day job that contribute to the company or to our team’s continuous improvement and in turn to the individual’s skills set.
I make myself available whenever anyone needs to talk to me, but we also have formal one-to-one meetings once a fortnight. The PMs understand that these sessions are their time; they dictate the agenda and can discuss issues with a current project, career goals or whatever else is on their mind.
Having said that, I also use those sessions to occasionally prod about how certain objectives are going, just to keep people focussed, and to give them feedback on their performance. No surprises in my annual appraisals!
Where I have direct reports who are also line managers I do “Skip reviews” twice a year; by this I mean I skip one reporting level to have one-to-one reviews with the direct reports of my direct reports. This helps reassure me that line management across my extended team is consistent and gives people a confidential forum to express concerns or issue up bouquets for their line manager.
Career planning help
I’ve given everyone in the team a career-planning mind map using The Brain software (check it out, it’s a brilliant application!). It maps things such as career goals, short-term goals, what they already have to help them reach the goals and what they need (possibly from me) to help them achieve their goals. They are free to use it and share it or decide it isn’t for them – their choice. They know that they can say within it that their long-term goal is outside of project management and I will help them work towards another path if that is what they want.
Where it has been used and shared with me it has facilitated great discussions where we can both plan in depth the route someone wants to take and how best they can achieve it.
I also encourage them very strongly to use a Continuing Professional Development log – hard to avoid these days if you want to advance in any professional capacity, and a great way to track your progress and prove commitment if you seek any professional recognition such as the APM’s Registered Project Professional status.
Regular, planned one-to-one meetings
I like to use MS OneNote to keep track of my one-to-one meetings. I have a section for each project manager. In it, I list personal things like their hobbies, number of children etc. because it’s important not to lose sight of the human side and life outside work. I also list their objectives there for ease of reference, and have a separate page for each one-to-one. Between meetings I note on the next page praiseworthy things they have achieved since the last one, reminders about things we have discussed in the past and should revisit and sometimes notes to jog their memories about an objective particularly relevant to what they are doing at present.
Of course, outside of these meetings I never miss an opportunity to recognise when someone has done a good job. Most people respond well to praise for a job well done and I would hate people to think I take them for granted.
Catch them “doing it right”
One of the most important tools I use is a document of “Positives” for each of my direct reports. In it, I note every time they have done something I’m particularly grateful for or admire. I also welcome feedback from peers and stakeholders about how individuals are performing so that I can include that in the document. This makes the annual review a breeze, as I can draw on things they might have done even eleven months earlier and reaffirm my appreciation.
What I don’t do is keep a document of negatives! They are discussed straight away. We learn from them and then we draw a line under them.
Finally, I keep a table of people’s job titles, when they were promoted to their current role, what relevant qualifications they have and what qualifications they should be aiming for next to keep them driving towards their medium- and long-term career objectives. This helps me start forming potential objectives for the next appraisal period.
I think it’s important to identify meaningful training courses/exams for people, to be paid for by the company to confirm its commitment to people. I remember reading somewhere once (probably LinkedIn); a CFO says to a CEO “What if we train our people and then they decide to leave us?” to which the CEO responded, “What if we don’t train them and they decide to stay?”
The whole basis for all of this is to encourage continuous improvement – of the team, of me, of our processes. The annual appraisal should be nothing more than the formal documentation of what we discussed during the year. If it’s worth saying, it’s worth saying now. Don’t wait for an artificial meeting just because the company mandates one.
I realise everything I’ve described is a very mechanistic approach to management. Soft skills are more difficult to document, but what I would say is never forget you are dealing with human beings with lives outside of work and let them see that you too are a human being with a life outside work.
For what it’s worth, that sums up my approach to managing people. Over to you – how do you think I could improve my approach?
Steve Syder is a Registered Project Professional, a Fellow of the APM and an RPP Assessor. He has in his time implemented Programme and Project Management frameworks for organisations as diverse as the UK Hydrographic Office, EDS and Orange amongst others. Until recently he was Director of Programme & Project Management at OpenBet, and he has now turned his attention to the creation of an international programme and project management function at Tyche Consulting.