Why is Effective Communication Key to Project Management Success?
Organizational Psychologist of a different breed. Fascinated by the power of the human-technology interface in organizations. Executive Coach and Trainer focused on emotions at work, peak performance states, communication, marketing and sales. Founding President of Entrepreneurs Organization in Israel. Psychology, Statistics and Research Methods Lecturer at Illinois Institute of Technology, Northeastern Illinois University. Sensemakers Co-Founder and Director.
Dr. Eyal Ronen
Project management involves a lot of different components. When we consider communication in project management we focus on the human factor.
One of the common characteristics of project management is that the manager does not have official and formal power over the people whom he or she is managing. It is necessary to switch in thinking from management to leadership. Project managers need to be able to lead people through the process. In order to be able to do so, one needs to very quickly find ways to motivate the team, to mobilize the people without any formal power. A key element in motivating people is through communication. That’s the first component.
Effective communication allows you to motivate different people in different ways. And I am not talking about the external motivation that comes from compensation and rewards, I mean the motivation that comes from the sense of accomplishment or from internal desires that people have. If a project manager has the ability to communicate very clearly how the success of your part contributes to something that is meaningful to you, that increases your motivation. However, it is very important to notice that not all people are motivated the same way. That is why any communication has to be tailored. It is not the same communication that works equally effectively with all people.
Here’s what happens when you do not communicate effectively when managing a project: If you communicate ineffectively, merely using your own natural style, you might miss a lot of people. It might lead to an inability to motivate them. Then, you might need to drag them through the process, to pull them, push them, and exert a lot of energy.. In turn, the team members will experience you as a micro-manager, they will not enjoy the process, it will reduce the level of satisfaction and the level of effectiveness. That’s why effective communication is important.
The second component is the need to be highly structured and very clear with what you are requesting so the project can move forward according to the specific parameters that you have decided are critical for the success. What really matters is the combination of motivation and clarity — both are critical components from the human factor side.
This requirement is more procedural, task-oriented, moving people along the process with great clarity. And even here, different people will hear different things as clear or not. Let me give you an example. Three or four days ago I was auditioning a group of trainers for a position with SENSEMAKERS. The candidates’ goal was to teach the group a psychological concept within 7 minutes. There was one person who tried to teach us something called Movement Psychology. Very complicated, a lot of different dimensions, but I understood what he wanted.
Another person who was there in the room with me said: “It was impossible to follow, I had no idea what he said, I do not understand any part of the concept”.
And the reason is not because I am smarter, it is because my communication can follow abstract concepts and the other person needed to see something written, maybe a list of bullets and some other visuals. For a project manager it is important to recognize that when we need to communicate with different people who have very different types of understanding and ways they perceive information. It is crucial to any project success to have very flexible communication in order to tailor the message to the audience.
If you communicate ineffectively from the procedural side, people will not understand what you want, they will do whatever THEY think is most important, but they will not see the full picture, resulting in them taking the task and running with it. This will lead you to having dozens or hundreds of people running in different directions, projects taking much longer, becoming much more expensive and even never getting to the result. I very often see teams that work for a project for 6 months with no success, and such teams make incorrect conclusions that the problem was with the task planning, but not with the way the project was approached.
Thus, there are two core principles: motivational flexibility, and clarity through tailored communication. The common thing is that a project manager or anyone inside the project needs to be able to be flexible in order to communicate and needs to modify the communication according to the listeners.
I once consulted a company that works in the HR-tech field. They have a solution that increases alignment, performance, and learning, through gamification. They increase performance in organizations and they do a really great job. And then, COVID-19 started and suddenly a lot of things that were very important to that company and to their clients were no longer important. So they had to pivot very quickly. They identified the need to manage workers remotely.
So the CEO of this company together with product and project managers created a plan that was first focused on enlisting and enrolling everyone into the importance of being able to make this change. When everyone understood the need they very quickly focused on this shift. That company itself also has shifted to work from home. They were able to do so because of their focus on the overall motivation. Understanding there was a new need on the market and it was important for them to deliver a solution, they were able to motivate people and to create a whole new product within a few short weeks.
I ended up helping them launch and the clients’ reaction was phenomenal. But the story here is not about what happens to the clients, the story is what happens to employees, when they are motivated and understand the importance and are able to connect to the mission. It allowed them to drop everything else and to focus on executing.