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Ruth Pearce knows everything there is to know about motivating your project team. She’s even written the book on it.
I caught up with Ruth to find out more about how to motivate teams and why it’s something you should be actively doing.
Ruth, let’s start at the beginning. Why do you think motivation on project teams is so important?
Because motivation is intrinsic. It is the reason people do the things they do.
When we connect the goals of a project to those intrinsic motivators, we see amazing results. People will go further, think more creatively and consider more options to get the project done.
When we don’t connect to their own motivation, we are trying to drive behavior from the outside and that is harder work for us, and less satisfying for them.
So how do we do it? What’s your top tip for project managers wanting to inspire their project teams to do their best work?
I love this question. We assume that inspiring teams is hard, and many of us believe we cannot do it!
In fact, the approach that has the biggest impact is to model the behavior you are looking for. People copy what they see.
We do it as children, we do it as teenagers (often terrifying our parents in the process) and we do it as adults. Modelling is the reason we don’t want our children to hang out with “the wrong sort of influence” and it is the reason we want them to hang out with “the right sort of people”.
We know, instinctively that our kids will copy what is around them and the same is true of us at work.
If you want joyfulness and zest, be exuberant and energetic. If you want dedication and commitment, be dedicated and committed. If you want people to be curious and inquisitive, ask questions!
And, if you want behaviors that you find hard to model – maybe you want people to be sociable, but you are shy, enlist the help of others who can model it for you. Not only will they help the team, they will give you a behavior pattern to copy.
When you motivate someone, they engage more with the project. What does ‘engagement’ actually look like?
Engagement is closely related to motivation. It looks like enthusiasm, a sparkle in the eye, focus, excitement.
You are likely to notice more creativity and innovation, the mood in the room is uplifting.
How do you get engagement?
A great way to engage others is to see their intrinsic strengths, highlight them and help them to find ways to use those strengths, even if the official definition of their job does not seem to call for it.
If you have someone who is curious and loves to learn, assign them work on the project that entails data gathering, or research. If you have someone who expresses love and kindness, ask them to put together some ideas for a team activity, to give back to the team.
Meetings are a great place to spot strengths, and the activity helps keep up interest in the meeting! Make a note of the strengths you see in people and take them aside afterwards and express your appreciation. Be specific about what you saw and why you value it!
Your work is centered in strengths-based project management. Tell us about that.
Strengths-based project management is an approach to project management that focuses on the people rather than the process.
We have so much material about what processes to use, and yet it is estimated that 70% – and possibly as much as 81% – of project success depends on the human side of projects. (Gertman et. al., 2001.)
Strengths-based project management starts with the project manager to develop awareness and application of their own strengths on a day-to-day basis. The next stage in the process is to take it outward to the project team and then other stakeholders using different tools and techniques.
We cover character strengths, mindset, learning and planning styles and appreciative inquiry to build skills in the project manager that increases engagement and connects people to their own personal motivators.
And it is not all sunshine and roses. We also explore ways that strengths get in the way, conflict resolution and inappropriate use of strengths.
How can people find out their strengths?
One way is to take the VIA Character Survey at http://CSPM.pro.viasurvey.org. This is a free survey and you receive your ranking of the 24 character strengths right away. And anyone who takes the survey using the link will receive a personalized 3-part follow up to help them take the strengths and start applying them.
We all have all 24 strengths to varying degrees, and research shows we can cultivate character strengths, so it is always an option to boost our lower strengths. One thing that it is important to explain is that the survey does not measure weaknesses, and lower strengths are not weaknesses, they are just strengths we use less often and with more effort.
How can you use that information to build a more motivated and rounded team?
One way to supplement our own strengths – particularly at work – is to partner with people whose top strengths are different to ours.
I had a team that explored their strengths, and once they had, they were only too happy to call on others to help them out. For example, our curious, creative people working on new product design would ask those high in perspective, judgment and prudence to sanity check their ideas. Not only does it provide shortcut to getting those strengths, it also fosters collaboration, mutual appreciation and team-building. It is a win win win!
Your book covers all of this. What was fact that surprised you as you were writing it?
That is a hard question to answer because it was such a special experience. Writing the book gave me a wonderful opportunity to look back on my many projects and savor the moments that were meaningful. I ran a couple of surveys about project managers – to find out what project managers and non-project managers think about the role and that has been fascinating.
I am still compiling the results, but one thing that was a pleasant surprise was that both project managers and non-project managers think that it is essential to have a project manager if you want a project to succeed.
And both groups believed that project managers make things happen!
What’s next for you?
Well I am speaking a lot this year which is really exciting, and I am writing for various publications. I have a new website on the way, and I am building out lots of free resources for project managers who want to take what is in the book and apply it for their teams.
I have a big project that I am the project motivator for that I am loving, I believe it is important to keep project managing and practicing and enhancing the techniques that I share.
I will be running some workshops and doing some coaching. And three times a year I teach an ICF approved coach training course through the Center for Coaching Certification. I hope to get more project managers to take the training to build their skills. The courses are all eligible for PMI PDUs which is great!
I hope to write another book in 2020, but I am waiting to see what my audience wants to know more about before I start that. In 2020 I also plan to offer a workshop in mindfulness-based strengths practice (MBSP) for project managers.
I hope to get the book Be a Project Motivator accepted as a course book for some of the newer project management courses that are being developed on the back of PMBOK 6th edition and I want to bring coaching skills and mindfulness practices (2020) to project managers.
About my interviewee:
Ruth Pearce is CEO of Project Motivator, an author and speaker, and a practicing project manager. Her 25 years’ experience is in a variety of industries including financial services, state government, and non-profits. Ruth has spent her career learning and experimenting to engage teams to make them happier and more productive and has published a book for project managers about team motivation. She is disrupting the traditional process focus of project managers by bringing awareness and facility with human factors into project management practices.
She is an energetic and engaging speaker with a track record of bringing the new science of positive psychology to the world of project management. She believes that the role of the project manager must change to become more pivotal in this time of accelerating change and disruption. A big part of that change is that it is no longer someone else’s challenge to build engagement and motivation. Project managers have the chance and obligation to change employee experiences in the workplace and to build better organizations for the future.
Ruth has conducted three independent studies into project managers, examining their role from the perspective of the project manager and from the perspective of non-project managers, exploring their relationship to engagement and the part that they play in team engagement and identifying their most prevalent – and least common – character strengths. In November 2018, her book Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secret of Strengths-Based Project Management was published by Berrett-Koehler. She is a contributor to PMWorld 360 and is a regular presenter at PMI chapters, and online project manager forums including Projectmanagement.com
This interview first appeared in 2019.