Wild horses. Mustangs. Amazing creatures. Strong willed, defiant and free to take any path they choose. Highly skilled at surviving in an unpredictable environment and with the strength and stamina to keep moving until they reach safe ground.
Sounds like knowledge workers to me. Mini-CEOs of one. Extremely knowledgeable in their respective domains. Self-directed and working in ways that feels right to them.
So how do we tame knowledge workers and get them all pulling in the same direction? Just like the horse whisperer, we first need to build trust, then tame and then lead. Translation: it’s all about providing clear guidance and setting the right expectations. This means setting objectives, providing parameters to work within, offering encouragement and then getting out of the way.
Looking at project managers and consultants as examples of knowledge workers; that direction and guidance might look something like this:
1. Set a vision based on the common values of the business – e.g. "Every project is a successful project for our customers and for us".
2. Convey a strategy with guiding statements to achieve the vision – e.g. "The work we deliver is both profitable and good business for us".
3. Agree the mission by providing specific statement(s) with measurement(s) that describe achieving the strategy and vision – e.g. "Maintain project margin at 40% while delivering 100% customer satisfaction using the right level of resources at the right time".
4. Set objectives which align and support the vision and the mission – e.g. "Projects are delivered and measured using our established project methodology with estimates, using our templates and tools and future estimates are updated to reflect actuals".
5. Establish goals that support critical success factors and key KPIs – e.g. "Measure margin and cost, utilisation and adherence to the delivery methodology".
6. Provide plans which cover Who, What, When, Where, Why, How – e.g. "Take similar types of projects and assemble them into pre-defined packages which are consistent in quality, repeatable and predicable in terms of outcomes and revenue".
7. Schedule regular reviews to check in on progress – e.g. "Let’s talk about how things are going against these parameters that we agreed to, how are you doing with the process?"
8. Support with checklists – e.g. "Let’s follow this checklist so that we stay aligned and – crucially – don’t veer too far from expectations".
Once we have had these important conversations with staff, we then need to ensure we provide them with the right solutions and tools to remain aligned.
In terms of the knowledge workers in a project manager or consultant role, this means providing systems which allow them to see and monitor their project margin and cost, to baseline where they are today and to effectively select the best resources to minimise unexpected deviations from the baseline.
So, just like the horse whisperer, build the trust, show them the way, provide the tools they need and allow their passion to go to work.