Sunday, January 20, 2008

Hero Worship

Your'e exhausted. The last few weeks have been crazy. You've worked through lunch, stayed on late, and had to work through most of the last two weekends, sacrificing some quality time wth friends and family along the way. The customer has been vocally angry about the way the project was being concluded, but through a savvy mix of excellent negotiation skills, the use of your network, and your application of some techincal knowhow from your previous technical career, you and your team were able to pull it all together in the last few days and make the customer happy. Your boss and peers have taken note of your great work, your team gets a nice dinner with the VP, and you're told to expect "a little something extra" when bonus time arrives.

So I ask you - you who know that this sounds familiar - is this a good situation?

And I answer, in that way they taught us to always answer at Wharton School of Management: It Depends.

It depends if you want to build a culture of hero worship, or one in which good planning, clear requirements, excellent communications, and well-defined roles and responsiblities prevent this need for heroics or if you have a culture in which heros seem to be praised sometimes in favor of those who have done the better job of planning and control of their projects.

Of course, even if you do all of that excellent up-front planning work, there are going to be times in which the hero will have to make an appearance - that's the part of project management that's "fun". It comes from the fact that projects are unique - and by definition covering new territory. So, even with the world's best planning, there are going to be twists and turns, and heroics may be needed.

So what's the point? The point is that organizations need to be cautious of Hero Worship. I know I have written about Measuritis (see below), calling for us to be careful about what we measure, but here is a place where your key performance indicators may help you, if used properly. I'm suggesting that when your organization looks at how they recognize project managers, use a balance of rewarding heroic behavior and compliance to the organization's tools and methodologies for planning projects. Perhaps the reason you are putting out so many fires is caused by the fact that your plan didn't take into account fire prevention. So you need to have a way to reward those people who thought of fire-prevention (training, smoke detectors, etc., in this analogy).

I was inspired to write about this after reading the treatment of this subject by Anthony Mersino, PMP, in his excellent book, "Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers". I plan to review the book in an upcoming post.
So step back, and look at your organization's culture. Are you rewarding Superman at the expense of Clark Kent? Do you have more fire engines and hoses than you do a "fire-prevention approach"? Has your leadership ever recognized a project that didn't require heroics, singling it out because of its planning, monitoring and controlling? Do your metrics include 'compliance to methodologies', and more importantly, do those methodologies truly "prevent fires"? These questions are worthwhile for you to pose.

If you have comments about this, I strongly urge you to start a dialog right here on this post. Come on, heroes and heroines, let's hear from YOU!


lazymale said...

I agree that 'hero workship' may not be healthy in any org but you know what? i think every org does a good bit of hero workshipping at some point with someone and yes... it depends... it depends on who the workshipper is and who is being workshiped and for what. Tell you the truth - I do like being the hero. I like to be the guy who steps in to fix the situation. I'm the fire fighter. I AM superman when I use my super powers to save a situation from blowing out of proportion. My super powers are my effective management skills.

Craig Brown said...

And that little something extra at bonus time, and that promotion... They go to the Heros.

The squeaky wheel often gets the extra kudo, money and more important gigs.

You don't want to spend your whole working life in crisis mode, but it seems like it's in your interests to have a few hero moments.

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