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Tuesday, January 13, 2015


     The campaign was very persistent. This ambitious entrepreneur wanted my signature on a contract tying me to his consulting company for X number of years.
     He kept after me. I kept resisting, refusing to do it.
     In the climactic conversation on the topic, he offered me three incentives to sign. The only one I now remember was the first, tickets to a boxing match. Turning that down was not a problem, since I’m not a boxing fan. The other two were no more attractive.
     No deal. We concluded that intense exchange when he finally said, “Man! Are you difficult to deal with!”
     There was a point there, although he had it aimed in the wrong direction. It indeed is difficult to persuade a person . . . when you’re clueless as to what motivates that person.
     It is a fact that you can’t motivate anyone other than yourself. People motivate themselves. I am moved to action because I expect the action to provide for me something I value.
     How about when you seek to convince someone else to do something? Especially if it’s something that person would not otherwise do?  In such a case, you must give the person credible reason to expect that compliance will satisfy some need or desire of theirs.
     In short, you provide sufficient incentive and the person will motivate himself/herself to act.

     In the case of the signature, I saw no value in any of the “goodies” dangled as rewards for my signature. What else could convince me?
     Would I be motivated by the prospect of pleasing my new partner? Did I care enough about this relationship that I would go along with him just to preserve and enhance it?
     There might be good reason to do that. This was my midlife launch into an entirely new career. The old way of life was gone for good, and I had been without income for some time.
     This training consultant had come along and offered me a vice presidency in a company he was starting. Consulting seemed to use some of the skills I had acquired over the years, and there was the prospect of a whole new interesting way of life.
     So I decided to give it a try.
     The president of my new organization had connections with promising clients. I agreed to buy $2,000 worth of stock in his corporation, to be financed by a percentage of the income I now was going to generate – at last – through his contacts.
     Once I hooked up with him, I was utterly dependent. I had no idea how and what a consultant does, or what a small business is all about.

     So I had the needs, and he had the solutions. Why wouldn’t I formalize the relationship by signing the contract?
     Because I didn’t completely trust him, that’s why. In addition, the stock purchase and other arrangements were already done, and not directly related to the contract. This formal agreement would just be a legal limitation on my freedom to go elsewhere should I want to do that.
     Subsequent events proved that my wariness was well founded, but that’s not the main point here. The example illustrates an essential point about leadership: Motivation arises with the prospect of gain in the judgment of the person to be motivated.
     If you want me to sign a contract – or make an equally binding commitment to your project – you need to know why I would do that. In the immortal words of the sales trainer, “What’s in it for me?”
     That sounds pretty self-centered, because it is. People do what they want to do, and they decline to do what they don’t want to do. When they want to do very noble and unselfish things, they set out to do those things. Desire drives decision. It can be either a bad thing or a good thing.
     Managing this motivation business is what leaders do – and good project managers are leaders.

     People assigned to project work virtually always have multiple competing obligations.
     Yet, well-run projects require people to apply themselves, with energy, discipline and dedication, to their project assignments. They must make this project a high priority among the demands of their jobs. They must be motivated.
     The project manager is the key party – other than the team member herself/himself – in making that happen. How?
     The first incentive the project manager has to offer is good management. Good people love good management.
     Getting those good people is an important early requirement for the project manager. The quality of those chosen is an essential determinant of project success. As a companion value, when good people look around in this new project and see that they have competent teammates, you’ve got yourself a big early incentive.
     You also devote attention to other factors important in creating a motivation-rich project environment.
     Groundwork includes making effective workload/assignment arrangements and building productive relationships.
     The arrangements part is on the management side, and the relationships part is on the leadership side. Both are essential.     
     Organizing workload for project team members means defining duties that fit their qualifications and interests, and have reasonable requirements and deadlines. Equally necessary is working with their functional managers to assure that back-at-the-shop tasks are modified so the over-all demands on the person are also reasonable.

     Within the project process, the project manager must be devoting time to listening, explaining, problem solving – in constant contact with key team members. Their questions and ideas go somewhere, and earn timely response in action as well as word.
     Developing those good relationships takes time as well as strong people skills. The effective project manager makes that time. He/she manages excellent group communication and collaboration, and early on makes a priority of getting to know each person well.
     It is neither simple nor easy to pull off the arrangements and grow the relationships in the welter of competing demands and pop-up problems of the typical project.
     The effective project manager does it. The amazing strength of these people is in their skill at weeding out low-value distractions and devoting proper attention to what really matters.
     What’s all that got to do with motivation?
     Plenty. The manager who sets things up in a professional way impresses professionals. The boss who actually pays attention to you and delegates appropriately to you earns your respect and appreciation. You look up to the one who runs interference with the stakeholders.
     You’re going to trust this person. You are inclined – maybe eager – to respond in kind.
     If those are your values and that’s what’s going on around you, motivation will just about take care of itself.

SEE ALSO: Move Me If You Can


  1. Jim, Great article with valuable insight. Much appreciated.

  2. Thanks, Norm. This is one of those "stealth" issues that underlies much of what people wrestle with in project management and other similar situations. I hope I am paying enough attention to the "how-to" side.

    It's so easy to describe the problem that we sometimes forget that people can agree you got that right -- but left them worse off by failing to offer ideas for dealing with it.