Project Implementation Best Practices: Choosing a Project Leader

January 23, 2018 Jeannette Criscione

project execution best practices - choosing a project leader: person drawing a yellow arrow with chalk on a chalkboard

Why is project implementation so challenging? According to an IBM survey of 1,500 change management executives, people issues are among the biggest barriers to success. In particular:

  • 58% of executives struggled to change mindsets and attitudes
  • 49% were stymied by corporate culture
  • 32% cited a lack of senior management support

But wait, change management is done by people to help people. So what’s the problem?

Change Leadership

One crucial—and grossly underappreciated—best practice to keep in mind is the people leading the change.

When new strategies are being implemented, companies usually turn to high performers to lead the initiative. However, that may not mean they’re getting the best people for the job. To successfully implement major transformations and other project implementations, companies need to find leaders who aren’t just well-versed in change management methodologies, but who also have a high EQ (i.e., Emotional Intelligence).

Why? To win the minds and hearts of people whose daily routine is about to be disrupted, Change Managers must be keenly aware of all potential impacts of the change. If they come from other areas of the company, they may have little understanding of the project’s goals and nothing directly at stake. And if the people who are affected by the change aren’t on board with new strategy, they’re more likely to slow, complicate, or even counteract it.

Here are three additional things to keep in mind when choosing a change manager:

1. Emotional intelligence is more important than administrative competence.

To be successful, your change manager needs to help your employees understand stakeholders’ positions, how their views affect the project, and how to demonstrate the WIFM (what’s in it for me). That’s why it’s important to look for leaders who have a high EQ. Tools and methodologies are important—as are administrative skills. But EQ is what’s required to guide new thinking and behaviors and bring your project to a successful close.

2. Communication should be constant.

By now, nearly everyone has heard the Silicon Valley mantra about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. But Change Managers and Project Leaders still tend to wait until everything is in place to communicate with the rest of the organization. Their intentions are good: to make sure all communications are direct, focused, and reliable.

But waiting till things are perfect to communicate usually means that there’s no communication at all. While management waits for perfection, the associates will be swapping information that has not been verified—which means it’s most likely not true. That, in turn, gives the Change Manager the additional burden of dispelling all the myths. Questions from employees like “Did you know about this?” or “Why didn’t you tell us earlier?” can undermine relationships and derail plans.

It’s always good to communicate—even if it’s just to say that there is no concrete information. Communicating isn’t just a way of sharing information. It also lets people know that you understand their concerns and anxieties and appreciate their interests.

3. It’s not a part-time engagement.

Successful change management requires a full-time commitment from someone whose only goal is to successfully effect your business transformation. There are, of course, prescribed methodologies. But the real, sustained change happens when the Change Manager sends an email to an associate who she recognizes is struggling with the new way of doing business. Or when she passes by a desk and has a casual conversation about unrelated matters, which added to a sense of trust. It’s the sympathetic ear, and understanding nod of the head away from formal meetings that allows the Change Manager to win the minds and hearts of others, which in turn translates into helping associates ease into their new role.

Transforming your business is never easy. In fact, according to IBM, only 40% of business transformations meet schedule, budget, and quality goals. By helping your employees navigate the change—making sure that everyone understands why they are being asked to change and how the change experience will help them personally as well as professionally—effective Change Managers can help you overcome those odds, and become one of the best-in-class organizations that are ten times more effective at change management.

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About the Author

Jeannette Criscione

Jeannette Criscione is a change management expert who helps companies manage complex, global projects, driving process improvement, leading change, and effectively managing teams.

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