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  1. 1. Project Management National Conference 2011 PMI India Application of Select Tools of Psychology for Effective Project Management 2|P a g e Dr. Pramod Damle ‘Executive Coaching’ as an effective tool for development of a Project Manager
  2. 2. Project Management National Conference 2011 PMI India Application of Select Tools of Psychology for Effective Project Management Contents 1 Abstract..............................................................................................................................4 2 Keywords...........................................................................................................................4 3 What is Executive Coaching?.............................................................................................4 4 Why Executive Coaching for a Project Manager (PM)?....................................................6 5 Relevance of Coaching.....................................................................................................10 6 Conclusion........................................................................................................................11 7 References........................................................................................................................11 8 Author Profile...................................................................................................................12 3|P a g e
  3. 3. Project Management National Conference 2011 PMI India Application of Select Tools of Psychology for Effective Project Management 1 Abstract ‘Executive Coaching’ brings many advantages to a project manager. Firstly, what has brought her to the current position would not help much to keep on and to move ahead. Some skills like broadening the vision have to be learned afresh, while some others like obsession for microscopic details need unlearned. Human element merits now higher weight. Shrewdness to prefer effectiveness over smartness by occasional deliberate ‘let go’ for trivia has to be cultivated. Success may usher in a distorted thinking pushing the project manager, may be at an unconscious level, to claim every credit for success and to disown each cause of failure. It is then essential that someone – and who else but an independent coach – asserts that both success and failure are functions of multiple factors and that she can exercise control over only some of them. Other blind spots, if any, in her cognition need to be brought to her notice with a sly approach ensuring a long lasting change initiated from within. Such a metamorphosis is possible with ‘executive coaching’ that helps in experiential and individualized development. Other interventions have inherent limitations, e.g. training has a fairly rigid agenda; consulting aids in solving a pre- chosen few major problems; mentoring is an asymmetric interaction with an influential senior; finally counseling is averted due to its stigma of the subject. Coaching, as a partnering association, aims to bring best of all these and offers a developmental opportunity for a project manager in a time-box, non-offending, personalized, open-ended manner. 2 Keywords Executive Coaching, Developmental Intervention, Meta-cognitive skills, Project Manager 3 What is Executive Coaching? Word ‘coaching’ triggers a picture of veteran sportsperson busy grooming the budding next generation aspirant to scale the heights in the world of sports, like Pullela Gopichand training Saina Nehwal on a badminton court. Well, the executive coaching sounds to be the same concept extrapolated to the business realm, though it goes much beyond and gets much broader. A more fitting example would be from a spiritual realm with an accomplished guru like Ramakrishna Paramhans grooming a disciple like Swami Vivekananda to set and secure the supreme goal. Executive Coaching – a multifaceted activity 4|P a g e
  4. 4. Project Management National Conference 2011 PMI India Application of Select Tools of Psychology for Effective Project Management gaining wide-spread popularity in the corporate circles in the past few years – is targeted mainly at the top corporate brass for the wholesome development of an individual and in turn an institution. Executive coaching has been described as an experiential and individualized development process that builds the executive’s capability to chalk out and achieve individual goals aligned with the organizational agenda. Coaching is experiential inasmuch as the coach conjures up opportunities for the coachee – in this case it is the Project Manager (PM) – to learn from real situations and firsthand experience rather than merely bookish reading or spoon feeding and to facilitate self-realization of own flaws or areas of improvement rather than such issues being explicitly pinpointed by others that may cause bruise and brunt. In line with the coaching principle of mutual trust and respect, this approach ensures that self-esteem of the PM is unhurt. Coaching mission is individualized due to its very nature as one-on-one sessions [1]. Besides, it prefers the capacity building in a long-term perspective over any short-range solution to a problem at hand. Thus, the areas of focus could be broadly bifurcated in two parts: Firstly, an intra-personal phenomenon of incessant alertness to sense own interoceptive processes, to trace etiological undercurrents, to edit the self-talk, to streamline the thinking process, to balance the thoughts and emotions, etc. and secondly the inter-personal aspects like developing the emotional intelligence to recognize others’ feelings, and managerial effectiveness through team building, conducting a meeting, conflict resolution, expectation management, etc. It may occasionally include the functional areas too, provided the coach has a well-rounded experience in that specific domain. Having reached a middle-to-senior position in the organizational ladder, the PM typically has attained certain maturity. Equally, with the pyramid progressively narrowing toward top, she faces quite a few new challenges, viz. solitude at the senior positions with rarely any peers for sharing, increasing pie of the daily chore that is absorbed in human interactions, lessening time slice for actions to be done hands-on, and alike. Coaching helps in many such cases, as it is driven by data drawn from multiple perspectives, e.g. 360 degrees feedback on the PM that offers a solid and sound substantiation about specific individual traits of the PM. Such a finding is hard to reject because it is a common representative remark reverberated from all angles, i.e. seniors, juniors and peers. A PM is specifically inducted in project related multi-point perspective, e.g. she tracks the project progress in two different calibrations: One in terms of milestones for juniors and another in terms of periodicity for reporting to seniors. In generic terms, she is not fully aware of this diversity of perspectives. The 360 degree feedback highlights that point very effectively. Howsoever nice aid to baseline and boost the inter-personal relations, this 360 degree feedback should not be construed as a tool for performance appraisal, unless the organization has reached the threshold maturity about it.[2] Having received a feedback, the coach would help PM in twin modes: One that of a considerate and compassionate listener who would empathize to appreciate the current context 5|P a g e
  5. 5. Project Management National Conference 2011 PMI India Application of Select Tools of Psychology for Effective Project Management and its perception by the PM and another that of a friend and guide who would objectively and cooperatively show the way out in a pragmatic positive manner without an iota of stingy sarcasm. Obviously, the organization, the PM & the coach need to work in partnership to optimize the results. Coming to the duration of the coaching exercise, it would be interesting to note that majority of coaching assignments run for 3 to 4 calendar quarters, with other main variations shown in the survey results below: Duration of the Coaching Assignment Percentage to Total Assignments 7–12 months 45 2–6 months 27 13–18 months 18 This may seem to be a bit long period and the readers / PM’s toying with an idea of availing coaching service may have an apprehension about time factor. Well, the coaching activity is not conducted every day, rather it takes place at certain interval of say 2 to 4 weeks, thus eating the time slice of hardly 2-4 hours in a period of fortnight. Secondly, with the emails and phones becoming a part of life, many coaches are not averse to occasional sessions through these media, though most of the sessions are face-to-face. Here’s a quick look at the growing use of phone calls and emails, to make the interactions feasible and more frequent: Interaction Mode Percentage Face-to-Face 63 Phone 29 Emails 8 4 Why Executive Coaching for a Project Manager (PM)? Well, the concept of coaching that has traditionally aimed at senior management is being applied to the PM here. So, why do we shift – or lower – the focus from top brass to the next tier of PM? Let us see the reasons behind this extrapolation and the benefits of coaching to the PMs and their organizations. First we explore what coaching has to offer for newly inducted PM and then delve into what awaits for a seasoned PM. Alongside, readers will also find some of the real life 6|P a g e
  6. 6. Project Management National Conference 2011 PMI India Application of Select Tools of Psychology for Effective Project Management cases the author has come across; with names of the people changed in the light of professional ethics. For most of the organizations, the middle tier of project manager (PM) plays a crucial role. A PM has to ensure expectation management for many stake holders simultaneously. These include customers/ end beneficiaries, project sponsors, senior management, direct reports and agencies for supplies/ services. Besides, it is this PM rank which has a potential to provide leaders of tomorrow. It may seem a bit odd, but many a newly inducted project managers have to learn the ropes hard way, as they come from some functional domain – like a software designer promoted as IT project manager, a civil engineer elevated to the post of a construction manager, a production supervisor raised to take care of a manufacturing project and alike. The experience and skills that helped one to reach this level will not help that person to fulfill the role of a PM. That’s why it has been well said that what brought you here will not take you further. In most of these cases, the sudden shift of the spotlight from the first- hand work asking for lot of technical insight to the tactics of oversight of the workforce is not easily swallowed by the incoming PM. Moreover, apart from this people management, there are quite a few practical aspects of the real life situations that are not covered in any syllabi of project management. This is where coaching would come handy for the PM helping her deliver the goods. Managers – especially the newly minted PMs, and occasionally even the seasoned executives – are often not skilled in the self-reflective process. They are found to be frequently unaware of the exact impact of their behvaiour on other people. Focused on the process and concerned about the results, they tend to undermine the sentiments of the team around. This may at times stretch to a stage where the relative weights attached to the action and to the actor are goofed up. As an obvious outcome, the emotional warmth cementing the team together is lost and consequently team members start seeing the PM as a mechanistic person solely interested in the work with no affinity for workers [3]. The PM then needs to be encouraged in self-appraisal for this inter-person dimension. He should be brought round to the point to appreciate and accept that the perception of his team about his behaviour is one of the fine barometers of self appraisal and a pivotal factor for project success. Consider the case of Ashok who has been all the success throughout his progressive march as an assistant, project manager and then program manager. With the gifted intelligence, tremendous drive and a swift pace of reading, thinking and expression, he used to be always in a high speed lane. Over a period of time, it culminated into an obsession of a typical ‘alpha male’ as he started expecting all his team members to work at the same tempo and that was obviously impossible. Ashok then briskly started fuming and fretting at his juniors and peers, making them (and himself, too) restless and irritated. He had to be coaxed and cajoled to spotlight on the errant behaviour and later on it was demonstrated clearly to him how that was negatively impacting the atmosphere as well as productivity. It took a while for him to accept futility of such a behaviour, but once 7|P a g e
  7. 7. Project Management National Conference 2011 PMI India Application of Select Tools of Psychology for Effective Project Management he appreciated it, things changed for better. This, as also other facilitations through coaching, are possible through coaching, as can be seen from following results of a world-wide survey where more than 200 coaches participated: Achievement through Coaching Percentage Facilitating a transition 96 Developing capabilities of a high-potential manager 94 As a sounding board on strategic matters 94 Enhancing the interactions of a team 91 Addressing a “derailing” behavior 87 There are some points worth unlearning. In her initial days, a PM finds that she is tempted to get into the minutest details of every single work or activity. It’s natural, though not advisable, that the erstwhile priorities keep on lingering. Sheer out of past habits, she may devote more than reasonable time for the all nitty-gritty, making injustice to the project on the whole. At this point, someone – and who else but a coach – needs enlighten her to realize how this ‘penny wise, pound foolish’ tendency could affect the project, thus helping her resume the focus on a steady set of macro aspects and letting go some undesired micro aspects. As the PM tastes the success of a few projects, the cautious & careful approach gets a bit relaxed and a sense of confidence and ease emerges that slowly tends to be transformed into pride and vanity. Occasionally there are cases of a PM trapped in a strong belief that all the success is solely hers. Credit to success is then solely grabbed by the PM and causes of failure attributed to others. Bill Gates aptly put it in one of his speeches saying, ‘After repeated success stories, one thinks that now he can walk on water’. A coach is the right person to bring that misconception to the notice of PM in a gentle yet resolute manner to convince her that her contribution is a major, but not the sole factor behind success. Such cognitive distortions do occur. After all, even a genius of a scientist like Newton dug two holes in his lab door for a smooth passage of his two pets: A small hole for small cat and a large hole for a large cat! Introspectively, let us recall how we as fresh PM were tempted to build a project plan merely in terms of ‘deliverables’ ignoring the building blocks of ‘functions’. Thus, even after acquiring a few years experience, a PM could reap several gains from coaching like meta-cognitive skills of learning, unlearning and relearning, preference of effectiveness over smartness, work-life balance, true & mellowed goal setting, etc. that help a PM gear up for assuming a higher role in future. For the sake of brevity we discuss just a selected few here. 8|P a g e
  8. 8. Project Management National Conference 2011 PMI India Application of Select Tools of Psychology for Effective Project Management In this Internet era of information explosion via cyber-publishing, webinars, podcasts, blogs and e-symposiums, every day new data, analyses, standards, processes, models and methodologies are poured in the public domain. A busy PM finds it hard to keep track of latest developments in the generic area of projects and specific domains of her interest. Sifting through this heavy inflow to separate the pertinent nuggets from the irrelevant husk is a formidable task. One finds entrapped in the dilemma about such updates – If ignored, some significant new happening may be missed out leading to some awkward situation arising out of ignorance. On the other hand, if devoured into the rushing current of the updates, she may be drowned in inundation of unnecessary info bits. The coach, in such cases, could turn out to be an extended arm of the executive in researching the new things, skimming, trimming and pruning the info channels for condensation and comprehension. More importantly, after a couple of such handholding episodes, the PM could well learn the ropes to do it on her own without help of the coach. As Chritine Turner shows, Just in time learning has been mentioned as one of the major benefits the executive derives from the coach [4]. Like any other workaholic executive, another mid-life vulnerability for a PM is getting carried away with the office work and making injustice to the family and personal life. In the excessive professionalism, such a person – certainly with a good intention of serving the organization better – tends to devote more and more time & energy to the project on hand, month after month and year after year, until the delicate fiber of work-life balance is stressed and strained. Aftermath is disastrous for those unfortunate PMs who eventually lose on two dimensions: One is the health that laterally and latently deteriorates due to lack of nutritious & timely intake and adequate & regular exercises. To borrow from Stephen Covey, after all, one has to be evenhanded between the production and production capacity [5]. Unless proper care is taken well in time, this disregard to fitness coupled with sustained sedentary life style results into nothing but irreparable damage to the health. Second outcome of this disturbed equilibrium reflects on family front, with spouse and kids breaking up far away – physically, mentally and emotionally. In some cases, this disarray gets so chronic that the split is unbridgeable. Howsoever hard and harsh may it seem, but the practical reality remains that many organizations ignore such a vital aspect of HR for the myopic gains. A coach could bring it to the notice of the PM and help her reset the balance at an early stage. The author came across a manager whose workaholic behaviour crossed the tolerance limit of the family. So much so, that eventually the disturbed family life started telling on the office work. This left- brain dominated executive had to be induced to think of opportunity cost of the family factor. With a reversed role play, he was encouraged to stand in the shoes of his wife, when as if by illumination, he realized his mistake and earnestly set out to straighten the things. A veteran coach can facilitate a quantum shift for a coachee in realizing the futility of mirage of ephemeral exploits and helping her focus on long lasting and 9|P a g e
  9. 9. Project Management National Conference 2011 PMI India Application of Select Tools of Psychology for Effective Project Management deeply satisfying parameters of contribution, meaning and happiness on a broader canvas. In the process, the coach may also dispel the wrong notions of the executive who might be continually hankering for newer aspirations and thereby starts living in the future with more of anticipation for the would-be events and less of contentment for those already achieved. Such an executive may be convinced to realize the true worth of life ‘here and now’. As highlighted by Buddhism, the only time we can find happiness is now and the only place we can find happiness is here [6]. 5 Relevance of Coaching Mentoring, consulting, training and counseling are some other commonplace and traditional interventions. Most of these roles have their own strengths and weaknesses and a coach mixes and matches them with other coaching tools while developing the meta-cognitive skills of the PM. Let’s have a quick comparative look at these various hats the coach has to juggle. Mentoring is quite useful when a senior and seasoned executive is to groom his junior, in some cases a successor. Mentoring essentially implies an unequal partnership between a veteran executive and a budding manager. This asymmetry denotes an influencing role of mentor that puts a mentee in a bit awkwardly inferior position which in turn mars the free exchange of ideas and knowledge that is otherwise possible with parity of coaching. Secondly, in majority of the cases, within her project team a PM has no seniors for mentoring and those at higher rungs have neither time nor commitment necessary for mentoring, because their functional target areas are often non-cohesive or even skew. Consulting is a time-tested measure for sorting out a specific problem on hand using well defined procedures to arrive at the solution. However, the closed and confined nature of consulting by and large focuses on some minute fractional part of the entire project – a mere cog in the whole machine. This makes consulting not an attractive or efficacious answer for broad-based generic aspects. Besides, consulting is more targeted at the problem solving, not at the personal and professional development of a manager. Thus, the consulting loses ground to the coaching from the standpoint of the PM. Counseling is a sure remedy to get rid of psychological disturbance & attain normality; But there is a taboo attached to the counseling. Unlike free and frank discussions on bodily ailments like diabetes, cancer or heart attack, a reticent hush shrouds the psychological problems like depression, anxiety or phobia. It reduces the applicability of this otherwise useful measure for those having some marginal abnormality like personality disorders or other mild predicaments. Counseling has an equal potential as a tonic – for betterment from normality, in 10|P a g e
  10. 10. Project Management National Conference 2011 PMI India Application of Select Tools of Psychology for Effective Project Management boosting the emotional intelligence and streamlining the thoughts – but that also remains largely undermined and underutilized due to social stigma. It might not be out of place to mention that a considerable segment of coaches has received well grounding in psychology to identify and refer such cases, if required, for further help. Along with the insights of domains of business and organization, the coach also needs to have psychological knowledge to make justice to the profession [7]. Training as a cliché intervention is targeted at honing the skills particular to a given job/ function, training is very much narrow in scope, just harping on the specific learning objectives. With its run-of-the-mill pedagogical styles, training gets quite rigid. In spite of its case-based approach and other techniques seeking participation, training remains an externally imparted phenomenon, largely in a monologue manner. It expects an audience of multiple participants, so not suited for a single PM who would get substantial benefits of coaching that is designed for an individualistic one-on-one setting. 6 Conclusion As explained above, coaching for a PM is a dynamic activity and there is no recipe for the perfect coaching experience. Perhaps that is why more than 94% coaches in a 2009 HBR survey have stated that the scope of the coaching changes during the engagement period. There will be some sure gains and along the way, unpredictable opportunities and challenges, will also arise. Chemistry of the coach and the coachee is then a deciding factor [8] in transforming these situations to make most out of it and even transcend to fulfill the life-time goals. 7 References [] Carol Kauffman & Diane Coutu, “The Realities of Executive Coaching”, Harvard Business Review Jan 2009 [2] Richard Lepsinger and Antoinette C. Lucia, “360 Degree Feedback and Performance Appraisal”, The Training, Sept 1997 [3] Anthony M. Grant, “An Integrative goal-focused approach to executive coaching” [4] Christine Turner, “Ungagged: Executives on Executive Coaching”, Ivey Business Journal, May/ June 2006 11|P a g e
  11. 11. Project Management National Conference 2011 PMI India Application of Select Tools of Psychology for Effective Project Management [5] Stephen Covey, “Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People“, Free Press Publishers, 1990 [6] Marshall Goldsmith, “Feed Forward To Get There”, ISB Insight, Sept, 2007 [7] The Executive Coaching Forum, “The Executive Coaching Handbook, developed”, Nov 2008 [8] Federal Consulting Group, “FCG Executive Coaching Guide”, Feb. 2007 8 Author Profile Dr. Pramod Damle Working at crossroads of management, psychology, IT and executive coaching, Dr. Damle has been balancing practice and preaching for past three decades. A freelance researcher, adviser & professor, earlier he held corporate positions like Director, Business Unit Head; academic ones like Professor & Dept. Head, Distinguished Fellow and contributed to corporates like State Bank, L&T, IBM and academia of IIMs, Symbiosis, ASCI, NIA, Pune Univ. Having received instructions in Maths, Banking, Laws, IT, Info Security & Psychology and acquired a host of certifications and a PhD, he guides the students of PG/ PhD. ppdamle@vsnl.com 12|P a g e

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