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Resource Management: Getting What You Need from Workers

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Type: Article, Report or Whitepaper

Topics: Project Management

Date: August 2012

By Bradley A. Malone, PMP

This is the 12th in an ongoing series of organizational project management maturity articles by InfoComm University™ senior instructor Brad Malone.

Here’s a question all AV companies need to ask: How do we manage the people inside our organizations — those people working within our processes, supporting the projects and operations that are part of our well-defined strategy and visible portfolio of opportunities?

Such an important question invariably leads to others: How do we manage the utilization of our resources effectively? How do we set objectives that our people can meet? How do we motivate and incentivize people to meet those objectives? How do we set up clear and definable metrics?

Answer: three steps.

The first step in effectively managing resources is alignment — establishing and communicating to our people the organization’s big picture (its vision and mission). This allows employees to better appreciate the importance of what they’re working on and to understand the direct correlation between their jobs and the value that the company is generating (and hopefully measuring).

The second step is to create processes inside the organization through which people have meaningful work to do. “Meaningful” means that they can see how what they’re doing contributes to the vision/mission and value of the company.

The third step is to give employees the opportunity to improve how they do the work they do through continuous process improvement. They also need an opportunity to improve themselves through heightened competence, cross-training, leadership and management opportunities, etc.

I find that most people are incredibly creative, yet a lot of us expend our creativity trying to work around the processes that are put in place for us, rather than systematically measuring and improving those processes. Leaders in a mature organization need to channel that creativity toward creating value, allowing their human resources to see the link between their actions and the company’s value, and then rewarding people for creating and using processes that enhance productivity and performance.

In many organizations, we’ve begun to treat people like machines. They are cogs in an often-undefined set of wheels and gears. What they work on has lost its purpose — it doesn’t seem to have any value — and when that happens, their work turns into just a job. Their brain (and motivation) checks out — their job is just a paycheck. That’s a sad commentary, but it stems from the lack of a holistic and communicated view of a company’s strategic portfolio, beginning with the answers every individual should be seeking, “Why am I here and what value am I adding?”

Management Through Alignment

A mature organization effectively manages its resources through the alignment of a visible portfolio of operations and projects; linked with measured, value-added processes; combined with people who know why, how and where they make a difference. Leaders in a mature organization establish a priority system for its work that demonstrates value toward its strategy. Managers are responsible for the competence, allocation, assignment and utilization of resources that are working on the projects or within the operations. They have to align their resource allocation and their resource utilization based on the company’s visible and communicated portfolio. They also have to be held accountable for managing work processes and creating better ways for people do work that adds value to projects and operations, which ultimately adds value to the portfolio.

In projects, people are often the key resource (although some still argue it’s the equipment). Projects usually create something new, or they create something different than before. It takes a lot of mental horsepower and often physical labor to do a project well. Therefore the human resource is the most valuable resource on a project; it should be treated as such.

Company leaders typically go awry in managing resources when they don’t align the assignment of people to the purpose for which they’re there. They also tend to overuse their key people. It goes something like this:

“You’re really good at doing X, so we’re also going to make you do Y, because you ought to be good at that, too. So you get to keep doing X while you also do Y, and oh-by-the-way, we just hired Joey — take care of him, too, and teach him how to do some of X in your spare time.”

Now, of course, that employee has no spare time. This is very much a North American phenomenon: We take our best people and give them more roles, more problems to solve in a reactive fashion. I’ve noticed that many other cultures grow their people very differently. They don’t assume that because one person is very good — technically or functionally — that he or she will be a good manager or someone who can take on new things.

We create too many roles for our people, with little or no prioritization, which creates a feeling of attention-deficit disorder, or of simply being overwhelmed. People can’t focus on what they’re doing now because they keep thinking about all the other tasks they should be doing. And because they’re very good at what they do, people constantly ask them to do more. Often, these are also the people who see opportunities for companywide improvement, but when they bring up an option, they’re told, “Great idea, why don’t you make that happen?” So they stop making suggestions because it just creates more work for them.

This kind of resource problem can be traced back to a lack of portfolio management and/or systematic prioritization. It also reflects a breakdown in process management when there is no standard way of doing or training. Without these types of controls, everything is important and must be done now — by any means necessary. That’s no way to manage your most important resources.

Effort or Value?

I find that people are often measured by how busy they are, rather than how productive they are. I was recently working with a company and the president said, “I want people who put in lots of effort.” I asked him to define that.

“I want them working from seven in the morning until ten at night,” he said.

I asked him whether he would know if they accomplished anything valuable. “Well,” he replied, “At least I’d know they were giving the effort.”

Given that this company president was rewarding effort, I more fully understood why he had lots of busy-looking employees working lots of hours (with hourly employees billing overtime and salaried people ending up over-used and under-compensated). But they weren’t creating much productive value and had actually introduced a lot of chaos and waste into their systems. When I asked the employees what they spent most of their time on, they replied, “Re-dos and tasks that make us look busy.”

Here was a demoralized company. People felt that they weren’t valued and didn’t have a say in how to improve things. And the metrics and rewards system wasn’t in alignment with the results the company needed.

Sometimes, management confuses motion with progress. Here in the U.S., at least, some companies have made this mistake and created a nightmare. We often reward people based on what’s easiest to measure — not always on what is most important to measure. Figuring out the latter is key to maximizing a company’s most valuable resources.

Bradley A. Malone, PMP, is an InfoComm University™ senior instructor and president of Twin Star Consulting, an organizational excellence and program management consulting company serving multiple industries worldwide. He holds the Project Management Professional (PMP®) designation from the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is one of PMI’s and InfoComm’s highest-rated instructors. Please share your thoughts with him at brad@twinstarconsulting.com.