The Soul of a Project #27: Turn The Peter Principle Inside Out – Focus On the Story

by Gary Monti on October 16, 2012

The last blog focused on pushing through the Peter Principle by building interdependence. The power to move the project forward radiates from this interdependence, which includes power being shared by key stakeholders.

That interdependence has a very short half-life. So, the obvious question is, “How is it kept alive and encouraged to grow?” The answer lies within the story. The story is what binds people together to work as a team and move the project forward. There are a few things to consider when generating and disseminating the story.

  • Honesty. This is foremost. The moment the team senses they are being played the project fragments. Honesty requires being open and vulnerable regarding the consequences associated with the project including big payoffs that some might get. Not that they have to have every detail. They just need to be included as to the consequences. If the team is put on a “need-to-know” basis the members can feel diminished and it puts the interdependent bond at risk.
  • Discipline. Emerging from the Peter Principle typically has a lot of positive energy but there also are few rules present that work. New rules need generated or the old ones need modified.  You must be able to deal with the ambiguities of the situation and rely on core principles in pushing through to create a new gestalt as to how the team will work and the project will move forward.
  • Energy. With the old rules sitting in a jumbled mess the team instinctively will look for leadership as to what to do next. Here is where a big challenge is present. You must substitute yourself for the policies and procedures that fell apart in order to hold the team together. This can be sustained only so long. A plan is needed.
  • Delegate.  You can’t do it alone. Having key people willing to pick of some piece of the power and hammer out new rules/guidelines/etc. will go a long way towards re-establishing order, building the plan, and lowering the demands on your personal energy. It’s impossible to stress too much the need for a critical mass of people who can commit to something bigger than themselves. Falling short of this critical mass by even one person can cause the situation to implode.
  • Clean House. This is a corollary to delegation. Those who are creating difficulties need to either turn around or be removed from the team. This may seem a bit harsh. It simply is the reality of the situation. I’ve worked on projects and organizational changes where inability to get rid of a key gossipmonger torpedoed the changes.
  • Know where you are going. All of the above comes together to support your moving towards the end goal. Know what it is and state it clearly.

By doing the above the story will unfold from within you. You’ll find it spontaneously arises and you will instinctively know when to pause and reflect, talk with others, or push forward. This may sounds crazy but you will become the story. Think of El Cid. The myth, the story overtook him to the extent it was bigger than his own death. (Not that you want to have your career die!) What works best is having the aura of the project’s story radiate from you. This sounds corny but it isn’t. You know it is happening when people take your lead, when they listen to you in meetings and suggest ways to achieve goals, when the team looks forward to the meeting, when the milestones begin to be met.

Who knows? Maybe someone will write an epic poem about you, too!

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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