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Engagement - what does it mean to project managers?

16 Jul 2018

Recently, we’ve been considering project management and whether it’s been left out in the cold in the current corporate push to build a more inclusive and people-centred culture within businesses. Part of the cultural change that has been taking place is a focus on engagement. But what does that mean to project management professionals?

Cynics say that businesses are only interested in employee engagement because they think it will improve performance and have a demonstrable effect on the bottom line. Well, everyone needs a job, and there are worse reasons for a corporate initiative. But the companies that will build truly successful engagement and reap its full rewards, are those who “get it”. This means understanding that if you want a modern, effective business, you have got to start treating people differently. 

So engagement requires accepting employees fully, in all their diversity, and allowing them a meaningful way to engage with their job role and with the organisation. Engagement produces people who are committed to the success of the business but it’s a two-way street. The employees expect the business to engage with them too, by sharing values and aligning interests. 

Project managers - out in the cold when it comes to engagement?

So where does this leave project managers? They work in an environment where you have to perform and deliver, whether you believe in what you’re delivering or not. Project management is very cut and dried compared to the employee engagement agenda. Some project managers feel that a bunch of millennials are being treated with kid gloves, while they, the hardened professionals, are expected to get on and deliver the impossible without lashings of praise, non-stop counselling and being asked how they feel every five minutes. 

This isn’t a good situation for the organisation or for the project management team. Perhaps one of the take-away points is that employees who aren’t touchy-feely or spontaneously creative types, also need to understand that they are part of the diversity that drives the organisation. They too, need to feel that both their workstyle and their particular contribution are valued. Another take-away is that everyone, even the most command and control, task-driven manager likes to be appreciated and thanked. 

Lack of engagement with the wider organisation

One of the problems is that project management can become an organisational silo, characterised by a lack of progression in the main organisation. Where does a successful project manager go? Onto a bigger project. There’s not usually any opportunity to do something different and become engaged with the wider organisation. And if these managers don’t feel engaged, they’re certainly not going to build engagement with less experienced people on their team. 

One major way to build engagement is to allow project professionals to see the results. For example, if you have a project involved in specifying and commissioning a specialist vehicle, it may be entirely possible to conclude the project successfully without the project manager ever setting eyes on the finished item. A day out to see the road trials, have lunch and talk to the team that is going to use the new vehicle is a great engagement builder. And this can be applied to all sorts of projects.

So yes, project managers can do engagement, but they’re only human. Giving them something to engage with, encouraging contact with the wider organisation, providing enhanced career opportunities and showing an appreciation of what they have delivered, are all great ways to start.

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