Industrial Psychology for Project Management
(This post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure.)
Professor Tirado is a native New Yorker, and when he started out in this field he was one of 5 people in the world who married together managing initiatives through projects and industrial psychology.
In today’s Clubhouse room, we talked about what industrial psychology is and what it means for people in the project profession.
What is industrial psychology?
Industrial organisational (IO) psychology, or social organisational psychology, is the study of human behaviour in the workplace, and the foundation of how Bernardo has been able to do large scale change.
Project management is affecting how humans perform or adopt technology. PM always affects a human. What is the behaviour you are looking to modify or support as a result of the project?
Most people doing change work focus on the behaviour side and then end up working in the human resources function. However, that’s not the route Bernado took. He looks at, amongst other things, using automation to streamline processes and looks at the adoption that we are trying to implement as part of a project, and what is the desired change, and takes a much wider and holistic view of human behaviour at work.
He gave the example of changing from MS Word to
IO helps you understand how to create those messages, and who can help you create the environment for the change to be successful.
How does this relate to
IO is broader – how do you create a learning path for an organisation e.g. in a project where you are moving from waterfall to
IO is the umbrella where you have a massive toolkit and you can dip in to select techniques and strategies that will work effectively regardless of the kind of change you are aiming for.
What’s a top tip for using this with stakeholders?
Bernardo shared three tips:
First, think about how you are introduced at the beginning of a project. If you are a project lead for an initiative, you are now leading a group that you don’t necessarily have experience of working with, or in a matrix structure.
Them believing in you and seeing you as a leader is very important.
One thing you can do is to ask the project sponsor to make an introduction to you to the team. Have them actively introduce you: “We have brought on Bernardo, an expert in … to lead this new …” etc.
By doing that you have created the environment where people who may not have bought into the project and might not have wanted to be there, are going to perk up because the senior person is singing your praises, and they’ll be giving you an opportunity to lead in a way that they might have been closed to before.
Then it’s all on you.
Second, after you are introduced, it’s important to meet with every single person on the team. It’s labour intensive but it’s important. We’re in the human business, the business of relationships. One of the questions you want to ask is what motivates you, what do you want to get out of this project, what do you want to learn?
You can then start to create a profile to help motivate them and meet that specific need. What is currently on your plate? Are there competing priorities? Find out what else they have on.
We go into execution mode and don’t really consider that we have a team of volunteers from the organisation to help you succeed in the project. Truly understand the motivation factors that will make this project a success.
Third, you want to understand the organisational dynamics. He said he had worked on many transformation initiatives where someone wasn’t happy about it. It’s important to understand people’s stake in the project. Build relationships with the sponsor, the sponsor’s peers and others. Then you can understand what hurdles there might be and how to plan for them. There might be additional conversations and additional updates required.
Where is IO going? What’s the future of this branch of management psychology?
There’s a lot of work in implementing machine learning models and AI, and robotics. Those functionalities or automation are here already. There’s an acceleration due to covid but there are going to be initiatives where you are engineering people out of a role to be replaced with tech.
So as a leader, when you are automating and making roles redundant, what roles do you create to upskill those people into? Create the roadmap to empower people to take the next step in their career. For example, removing a data input role and empowering those people to add more analysis and value added actions through upskilling to a more strategic role.
Think about what role you play in ensuring there is a safeguard in their future?
Many companies may not be open to this kind of intervention. How welcome have you found IO to be?
Ego is the showstopper for any transformation.
When it comes to using these strategies, people who have been in their roles for some time might not have the skills or tools to be like a start up.
Try to understand what is stopping the transformation. Typically, the challenge is infrastructure and tech. It’s often led by the fact that they are trying to hold on to job security. This often ends in restructure because execs want to make the organisation lean and change the way people think.
The main aspect of it is the appetite of the organisation. When it comes to innovation, they speak a good game, but when it comes to the actual innovation part of it, there’s no investment dollars there. You need leaders who are looking to future proof the organization and push the status quo, to get the organisation to where they want to go in 3-5 years.
So where do you start if you are struggling with people buying into initiatives?
Project managers are not great at quantifying their value. It doesn’t mean you have to have a financial model you’ve created from scratch, but you can estimate the benefits. Business leaders speak numbers. It’s extremely important to speak numbers and show what value you bring.
One of the things we can always do is focus on the theory of loss of aversion. He gave this example: Let’s imagine you are in your 20s and your appearance is important to you. If you go to the doctor and you’re a smoker, the doctor could tell you that you’ll be healthier if you give up, but if they talk about losing your looks through stained teeth, dull skin etc, you may be more likely to take action. The difference is between gaining something (being healthier) and losing something (your appearance). If your appearance matters to you, avoiding the loss is more important than achieving the gain.
You can do the same: switch the message to avoiding the loss. We innately don’t want to lose something. You can build this into your messaging e.g. “Did you know we can avoid losing $x per year if we do this?” instead of focusing on the gain.
Another thing you can do is focus on how you speak with stakeholders. He said that he’s seen a lot of people spend hours on a 50-page presentation. All you need is 2-3 pages max and make it a discussion. Many times, you prepare for an hour long presentation and all of a sudden the exec only has 15 minutes. You don’t prepare for the shorter conversation so you can’t take advantage of it.
Not only are you leading teams that don’t report to you, you now have to create a brand, storytell and these are important if you are trying to get support for initiatives. We don’t tend to advocate for ourselves when running multiple projects.
What about the role of the PM becoming broader? Do you see that happening?
You do need to know procurement, resource management, how to make comms plans – it’s an insurmountable responsibility on top of being able to execute. There’s an acknowledgement that PMs, the best ones, are able to be generalists and see how all the pieces fall together when planning an initiative.
Project failure happens because of poor planning or poor leadership. You can’t plan for everything, of course, but if you aren’t really thinking about all these components, you risk the project itself failing altogether.
When he starts to create a plan, Bernardo runs it past people who don’t know about the project and gets their input on what could go wrong. That gives additional feedback about what else he could be planning for.
The new PMBOK(R) Guide guide crystallises and tests people in these areas, to have a multi-disciplinary understanding when you are responsible for changing the way that an organisation functions.
When it comes to PM, especially if you are not interested in getting a
@willpaikin How did you marry the fields of IO and project management?
Prof. Tirado. The process of marrying started when I moved into a transformation role. As part of a SWAT team at Amex, my role was to help execs be efficient. When you are looking for efficiency, you have to talk to people who don’t want to talk to you because they are fearful of you removing their job as part of the change. So I started to value and lead with people first, which is often forgotten. Within tech organisations, they often lead with the solution, not the user. They come up with solutions that they think that the user wants, without ever asking what the user needs. Look at how does the solution get mapped and what is the complexity of the tech that you are expecting to implement?
In The Social Dilemma, there are social scientists behind the scenes looking at how people interact with the social network tools and how to keep people on the apps as long as possible.
When looking at ed tech, it’s really about behaviour. What tech can you create in parallel?
He shared a story of introducing an employee productivity tool, for a company that was keen on using consumer products for enterprise use. He spoke to the senior execs and looked at the adoption rate. He looked at the generational differences within the user population so he could understand what they were currently using. After doing that analysis he found that most of the employees were not using the social tool that the company wanted to use. He had to convince the execs not to go with the tool they had selected and instead to give him a reduced budget to look at other options. He looked at demographics and then analysed the solution to establish how best to use behavioural patterns to extrapolate usage data.
@m_suarez For some reason, I always end up working with the difficult people! The project is just starting and will end next year. What can I do to deal with the situation?
Prof. Tirado. What is it that leads you to believe that the client is difficult?
@m_suarez She has gone back and forth, there is some yelling.
Prof. Tirado. I would never run away from working with difficult clients or individuals as that’s how you learn about yourself and it helps you develop resilience and lets you strategize how to deal with someone who comes across as difficult. It’s hard to answer without data. For example, it could be the communication style, it could be that she is frustrated. She’s clearly agitated if she is yelling, and there could be many different factors, so you can get to the root cause and then that will help.
Look at expectations of success, short quick wins so they can see progress. Consider what is the driving force behind her behaviour. Then you can, in the future, see how to learn from this and respond differently to future scenarios.
@leighespy What if you have large scale resistance to organisational change for a system that is already implemented?
Prof. Tirado. It sounds like you are trying to do
@mohebelbanna Can you share resources for earning my
Elizabeth. I’ll send some relevant articles.
@alexchantennis How do I share my experiences in a way that helps employers see the value you add?
Prof. Tirado. Show the value that you can bring to solving problems, and lead with some of the experiences you’ve had to add a different lens.
Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss
You Say More Than You Think, Janine Driver
What Every Body is Saying, Joe Navarro
Note from Bernardo: Baseline any body language to make sure that you are aware of any neurodiversity before making judgements.
Follow us on Clubhouse: @elizabethharrin and @professortirado
Follow us on Instagram: @elizabeth.harrin and @professortirado