​Are you being honest with your project managers about their performance?

​Are you being honest with your project managers about their performance?

When it comes to project management, there doesn't seem to be enough honesty around, says Colin Ellis.

Honesty is the best policy, it always has been. From pretending my watch had stopped when out late at age 13 to leaving my dad’s keys in his unlocked car when I was 17, I learned many valuable lessons that I have carried into my working life.

When it comes to project management, there doesn't seem to be enough of it around. In this year's PMI Pulse of the Profession report, only 18 per cent of organisations surveyed said that their project management capability was considered ‘high maturity’.

This despite spending over $1 billion on project management development in the US alone.

In the many roles that I had heading up project departments, I always inherited performance management issues. Issues of behaviour and knowledge that undermined the projects they were managing and that led to stakeholder discontent.

One look at the feedback from customers, project team members or the rates of delivery that we had, was enough evidence that things needed to change.

‘It’s too hard’ to manage poor performance I was told or else people were in denial that the issues existed.

Yet in order to create a vibrant culture where project management is valued in an organisation it’s absolutely critical that this poor performance is managed.

That means being honest with the project managers who aren’t performing and that in itself requires honesty, courage and knowledge of what good looks like.

Managing poor performance is just one of the many roles of leaders and is one of the most complex. It’s also one of the most rewarding in that it restores confidence in leadership and provides those whose performance isn’t up to scratch with evidence of those things that they need to change to become better at what they do.

In his book Drive, Dan Pink says: “Employees are motivated at work when they make progress. But making progress or getting better at something relies on feedback.”

That feedback can’t be sugar-coated or watered down in any way otherwise it won't be taken seriously and the things that are broken will never be fixed. It also needs to be regular.

Waiting until the end of a project or twice a year doesn’t work. Organisations such as Microsoft, Accenture, Westpac and Gap have already declared that they’re moving away from annual performance reviews to more regular honest feedback and that can only be a good thing for project management.

In the middle of last year, the Corporate Executive Board in its “Australia Key Imperatives” report found that on average organisations need a 20 per cent improvement in employee performance in order to hit their goals. They need to achieve this against a backdrop of the lowest employee engagement rates ever in Australia.

In order to correct this, they recommend executives become proficient in four areas and one of these is project management.

In Terry Bacon's book What People Want, 90 per cent of employees surveyed said that they wanted honest feedback, while 89 per cent also wanted fairness and all employees to be held accountable to the same standards.

If we're to get project management, as a profession, to perform anywhere near where it should be, then we need to start being honest with those not performing.

We need to be clear on what good looks like and then we need to give project managers the feedback on what's working well and what isn't. And we need to do this regularly.

If you’re not already doing this, then ProjectNPS (, does it for you.

It gathers that feedback on a monthly basis and provides project managers - and executives - with anecdotal evidence of the things to be retained and the things required to change in order to improve performance.

This feedback has to flow in both directions, to the project manager and the project sponsor as only through two roles working together can success in projects be achieved.

As Jack Welch said: “You have no right to be a leader if someone who works for you doesn't know where they stand.”

What are you doing to provide regular, honest feedback to your project managers?

Colin Ellis runs his own project management and leadership practice and works with organisations to improve their ability to get things done. His first book The Conscious Project Leader is available for pre-order here and you can connect with him on LinkedIn here or follow him on Twitter.

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