I’m currently at a Project Management Institute conference in Dublin, Ireland. The attendance is comprised of over 800 project managers from over 100 different countries, leading to a great deal of diversity of management and leadership styles. An instance of such diversity appeared today during a session on Change Management.
Early in the session, the discussion was on the topic of the language of resistance, and the concept of resistance on the basis of motivation versus competence. The idea is that a motivation deficit occurs when a person does not want to participate in a change, and a competence deficit is when a person does not have the skills or ability to participate successfully. Two sample responses from a manager were put forth. The first is the statement: “I support the change, but, I don’t understand why this should have any priority over any of our current projects and we simply don’t have the bandwidth to support this any time soon.” The second statement is: “I support the change, but I’m not sure what you need from my team to make it happen.” The resulting question is: which statement is easier to overcome to implement the change?
To me, and most others in the room, it was instantly obvious that the first statement is a motivational problem. The person claims they support the project, but essentially state they don’t see any value and therefore will not be supporting it. They blame this on resource bandwidth, but it would seem this is more of a passive resistance to say no without simply saying they don’t want to support the change. The second person, on the other hand, indicates their willingness to support the project, but simply needs guidance for the implementation of the change.
A smaller group in the room, however, firmly asserted that they disagreed with this assessment. They stated the first manager simply had a staffing issue and needed guidance on how to reprioritize or to be given additional staff to support the change. They argued that the second person, in saying they didn’t know what was needed, was clearly demonstrating an unwillingness to complete the required tasks. Despite a few minutes of back and forth between the two camps of thought, neither side could convince the other of the merits of their argument and the discussion was finally terminated by the presenter to continue the presentation. The takeaway from this example and discussion was meant to show that it is much more difficult to overcome motivational problems compared to competence problems.
The key takeaway from the presentation was that all projects involve a change, and projects tend to fail because the project leadership fails to properly manage the human aspect of the change. Based on my experience, I would tend to agree with this assessment. The recommendation is that large projects should include a trained change management practitioner. I would certainly agree that for very large projects, this would certainly be a great addition, and for smaller projects it is definitely worthwhile for the project manager to focus on aspects of managing the human side of change.
During the question session at the end of the presentation, it became apparent that there was a portion of the group that did not agree with this assessment – the same group that initially disagreed on the motivational versus competence question. This group questioned that, at a project level, the addition of change management tactics would be completely unnecessary. Their position was that by the time a project was initiated, the client had already embraced the change and so no further change management was warranted. The presenter countered with the fact that most changes are initiated by management and impact the full company. The disagreeing audience was not moved by this explanation and continued to argue that change management is not needed on the basis it has already been accepted and further efforts would be unnecessary / inefficient.
I initially had difficulty understanding how this group could so firmly hold to this perspective, which to me seemed clearly incorrect. I noticed, however, that this group, which was dispersed around the room and presumably not colleagues, seemed to be of similar cultural / national backgrounds. To guess, I might think this included middle eastern regions. My theory is that this distinct difference in perspective originates from the management paradigm within their cultures.
Studies have ranked various cultures on their work environments and if they are more collaborative or hierarchical. In a more hierarchical culture, there is a more clear distinction that, within an organizational structure, information flows upwards, and decisions, strategy and policy, flows only downwards. In the hierarchical culture, it would be considered subordination for a worker to question or resist any decision made by management.
I believe this may account for the difference in perspective. For those professionals from such a culture, the concept of a change management would be of lesser importance. If management had approved (and funded) the project, then they’ve clearly embraced the change and desire it to be implemented – so no change management is necessary. For subsequent levels of management and workers, they should accept the changes without question as they represent the decision of a superior. Under this premise, change management would be unnecessary – you wouldn’t need to convince someone of the importance of doing something they fully intend to do.
Being accustomed to the management and work styles within the United States, it is difficult to imagine a paradigm of such subservience. The culture within the United States is much more questioning where it is not only acceptable, but often required, that various levels of management will express concerns and provide input on situations they feel would adversely affect the organization.
Obviously these differences could also be explained by differences in personal experiences, different understandings of the presentation, or various other factors. Regardless, I find it very interesting to consider the impact of culture perspectives on management and leadership styles.