Project Culture Reflects Management Culture

I have a post, What’s the Culture on Your Project? that discusses the project issues of the Romney campaign. But there is a deeper issue. If you read the comments in The Romney Campaign was a Consultant Con Job, there is an insightful comment from someone named redcal:

who you hire to do the job DEFINES how well you do your job as a manager, especially in an organization as large/complex as a campaign.

Now, Romney himself may not have hired the project manager. I suspect not. In an organization as large as a campaign, the top guy is not going to do all the hiring. You have to have other people do the hiring for you. I bet it’s the same in your organization. And,  this is why it’s critical that everyone learn to hire the best people you can. You cannot afford to settle for second best. When you settle for second best, you often get third or fourth best. And that reinforces a management culture of second or third best.

What is culture?

  1. What can we talk about?
  2. How do we treat each other?
  3. What’s rewarded?

If you have second or third best people, they don’t talk about risk or release criteria. Not because they are bad people, but because they don’t know enough to talk about it. They might blame or placate people, not because they are bad people, but because they don’t know enough to try to be congruent in their behavior. They might decide that MBOs instead of team rewards are the only way to go even on agile teams, because they don’t understand that extrinsic motivation doesn’t work. They aren’t bad people. They are not the best people. And, you want the best. You don’t want to settle for second or third best.

How do you find the best people? You look for qualities, preferences, and non-technical skills, not tools and technology. That’s how. Boy, those are tough to see in a resume if all you look for are keywords. Keywords are not enough.

Every time you start with tools and technology you shortchange the job and the candidate. You make the job about something you can easily train, instead of about the person you need.

So what do you do?

Do the job analysis. Maybe even go back a step farther and do a hiring strategy and ask about the problems you are trying to solve. Maybe instead of consultants, you do want to have a small cross-functional project team in-house. Would that change the culture? Here, yes. Would you be willing as a manager to stick your neck out and advocate for that? That is the million dollar question, isn’t it?

How do you hire for culture? You start by writing a job description based on your analysis that took your culture into account. You use your analysis for the ad, the phone screen, the interview questions. You iterate as you proceed, updating your analysis, job description as you review resumes and interviews as feedback.

When you use behavior-description questions and auditions that reflect your culture, because they are based on your analysis, you draw candidates in.

What will you answer when candidates ask you, “Tell me about what happens at the end of a release?” If you reward heroes, that’s one kind of a culture. If you say, “We have a project retrospective, and continue on,” that’s another kind of culture. If you say, “We haven’t quite got the sustainable in sustainable pace yet. We were close for 6 months and blew it so we could ship last week,” they will know you are honest and understand and ask you more questions. As long as you are honest, you have nothing to fear.

Your culture is what separates you from everyone else. When people say “hire for attitude,” they really mean “hire for cultural fit.” If you have a culture of not discussing risk, of pushing information under the rug, well, your project culture is not open. If you are willing to change your project culture, you have a much better chance of success. And, if you are willing to change your project culture, maybe you are willing to change your management culture too?

Would you like to learn how to hire for cultural fit well? See Hiring Geeks That Fit. I’ll be running a series of webinars in 2013, assuming I can find a webinar provider I can stomach. Email me or sign up for the Pragmatic Manager newsletter so I can let you know.

About Johanna Rothman

I help managers and leaders do reasonable things that work.
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2 Responses to Project Culture Reflects Management Culture

  1. Pingback: Always Agile · Organisation Antipattern: Project Teams

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