If you lead projects, you’ve likely had battles with motivation in project management—whether it’s to find motivation to complete your own work, or to mobilize an entire team to meet a goal successfully. You may have won a battle here and there, but sometimes it can feel like the topic of motivation can become an all-out war. But by instilling some basic values and using some helpful tools to help you figure out what motivates people, you can win that war before it even starts. On this episode, Brett interviews Ruth Pearce, who is an accomplished project manager and coach, and the author of Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based Project Management. In conversation, they cover:
Resources mentioned in this episode
Ruth Pearce is President and founder of Project Motivator (ALLE LLC) offering project leadership services and training and coaching for project managers. She is a Certified Coach Trainer. With 25 years of project and program management experience in financial services, state government and non-profits, working with teams across the globe, her focus is developing skills in human factors enabling leaders to build empowered and engaged teams that deliver. Using character strengths and positive psychology, she helps project leaders and their teams feel better about work. They find their purpose. She is the author of Be A Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths Based Project Management.
Ruth speaks about social intelligence, character strengths and mindfulness to audiences worldwide, online and in person and has reached over 16000 people worldwide to date. She has spoken at three live global PMI events as well as many PMI Chapter meetings. She also contributes to PMWorld360, Forbes magazine, and the project management platform ProjectManagement.com. She has been a guest on numerous podcasts and was interviewed by Dr Ryan Niemiec, Director of Education for the VIA Institute on Character.
Her motto is Be hopeful; Be strong; Be brave; Be Curious
Ruth’s signature strengths are Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence, Bravery, Curiosity, Fairness and Gratitude.
Get in touch with Ruth:
Brett Harned: Hey. Welcome to Time Limit, the podcast that aims to provide advice from experts on how to manage your projects, your teams, and even your time, with ease. This week, we're talking about a topic that affects everyone, and that's motivation. Ruth Pearce joined me for this conversation, and I think that the outcome is full of great advice. In the interview, we talk about Ruth's book, Be a Project Motivator, and her views on how to be a motivator, and how to be motivated. Ruth is the perfect person to speak on this topic, not only because of the book, but because she's a seasoned PM and a coach. I love her knowledge, understanding and even her approach on this topic, so check it out. All right. I'm so happy to have Ruth Pearce with us today on Time Limit. Ruth, how are you doing today?
Ruth Pearce: I'm great. Thank you. How are you, Brett?
Brett Harned: I'm doing really well. And I'm really excited to talk to you about motivation. Really love the topic of your book, Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based PM. What inspired you to tackle this topic overall?
Ruth Pearce: I think that's my favorite question to be asked.
Brett Harned: Oh, good.
Ruth Pearce: What motivated me, right? That's the question.
Brett Harned: Pretty much, yeah.
Ruth Pearce: So what motivated me was really my team, a particular team that I worked with. It was a few years ago, and when I started with them, they were a little discouraged. And they'd been going through some tough times with the program and the project, and I took over the project, or the program. It was a large program. And we started doing this work on character strengths, and really had a great time just changing the dynamic of the team. And we tackled all sorts of things like the layout of the room. It was really about empowering the team to see the best in themselves, see the best in each other, and then really work together to create a positive working environment. And we did lots and lots of things to do that. We rearranged our open plan room so that it was more conducive to getting work done. We implemented things like quiet time, where we told the other programs that if you're going to talk to us, you need to book a meeting room somewhere else and give an invitation, because between 2:00 and 4:00 on these days, it's quiet team for the IT team to get on with some work.
Ruth Pearce: And that was a great relief to people, was to know that there were carved out times that were meeting free and were quiet. Just that quiet, focused, not needing to be disturbed by lots of conversation going on and things like that. And when the program was over and we went our separate ways, and some of us have still kept in touch, the team actually encouraged me to write a book about it. And my first reaction was, hm, I'm not sure that I can write a book. And I'm not sure that people would want to read it. And they kept saying, "Write it, write it. Share what we did and share these ideas with other people." And one particular person kept pinging me about it, and asking me what was stopping me. And underneath it all, there was this urge to be able to share these ideas with other people, so they could make use of them.
Ruth Pearce: So they were tapping into that motivation I kind of had that was being stifled by, I don't know, shyness, or a sense of humility, or whatever it was that was getting in my way. But they were really reaching into something that was already there, which was this, hey, it worked for us, so maybe it can work for someone else. And how can I share this and get it out to other people?
Brett Harned: I love that. That's so exciting. I mean, it's you repositioning the question of what motivated me, I mean, how perfect. But also, how perfect to have your team motivate you to write a book about the practices that you've rolled out with them. And obviously, that was a really strong working team. And you must've put out some really good projects and made some really good relationships along the way.
Ruth Pearce: Yeah, definitely. The relationships became very strong. And actually, we were in multiple locations, so the relationship building was virtual. I know that's the question that comes up for a lot of people is: How do make these kind of motivation things, connecting with people, engaging with people, how do you make it work across the internet and across time zones and across cultures and geography? And we really experimented with that and put a lot of things in place to make the team feel as close to each other as possible, even though there was this remote aspect. And that seemed to work quite well as well. And one of the things that I particularly noticed was that this tool that I use, character strengths, the character strength survey, really does ... The research that was done on it shows that it is a universal tool, that it's all of the strengths are recognized by all cultures around the world, and that so you really can use it with anyone, anywhere.
Ruth Pearce: But I really experienced that with this team, that it seemed to connect with people wherever they were, and whatever their cultural background was. And that was really nice as well because that really helped the team bond because they shared this interest in that topic, and we wouldn't necessarily have expected that from if we did a different kind of assessment or something, we may not have had that same sense of connection and shared experience.
Brett Harned: Absolutely. So I kind of want to take this back probably a half step. For those of us who don't know, can you explain strengths based project management to us?
Ruth Pearce: Yes. My second favorite question to answer, so that's perfect.
Brett Harned: I'm batting 100.
Ruth Pearce: So you are. I'm going to pause and just gather my thoughts. So strengths based project management, my experience of project management early on in my career, and I've been a project manager for longer than I care to admit, was that we were driving things, that we were kind of hopefully getting together with the team to come up with the basic plan. But then we're that taskmaster saying, "Is it done yet? And are you on time?" And I know there's the image of the project manager sort of with a clipboard and checking off boxes and things like that. And that never really sat well with me, that sort of very process focused aspect of the project management, was the least interesting part. It's important, we need to be doing it. We need to be managing to the plan and adjusting the plan and all of that kind of stuff.
Ruth Pearce: But it wasn't what really appealed to me. It was that team aspect, and how you get a team to work together well, and to flourish. And what I started to notice was that we can get very hung up on functional titles, functional roles. And we can pigeonhole people. And it was actually a discovery I made by accident on a particular team, was when we were trying to work something out, and somebody mentioned to me that another member of the team in a past life had experience of the thing that we were trying to get to. It was to do something data analysis that we were doing. And they said, "This person used to be a database analyst," and that they might be able to help out. And that wasn't their function anymore.
Ruth Pearce: And so I went and spoke to them and said, "Is this something that you would have some interest in helping out?" And their eyes lit up. And they said, "Oh, yes. I actually really miss that. I'm glad I have the job I have, but I miss that aspect of my previous role. And I would love to help out." And it just triggered this sense that we're missing out on those intrinsic motivators that people have, the things that they are passionate about, that we're not tapping into. And so I started to look into this concept of: How do you play to those passions, those strengths, those things that people really connect with? And that's where the strengths based piece came in. So I'm trying to encourage people to shift the focus, not completely away from process and the sort of standards of project management, and the cycle we go through. I'm not saying throw that aside.
Ruth Pearce: But what I am saying is focus some attention on your people and knowing those people, and understanding what their core strengths are because those are their drivers. Those are the things that really motivate them to show up and get stuff done. And if you can align what they're doing with what they feel most strongly positive about, then they're going to give more. They're going to be more successful. They project is going to have more chance of success. And because I use this, I use multiple tools, but I use this tool the VIA strength survey, it's about character strengths.
Ruth Pearce: And so I've focused the methodology on this strengths based project management of start with the character strengths of your team, and then work from there to see. How do you align the team? What do you need in the team that maybe isn't already there in terms of strengths to really sort of bolster the team at different phases of the project and so on? So strengths based project management is this approach to looking at your team members and your stakeholders and your customers, and I'll assume they're part of the stakeholder group, but looking at those people in terms of these character strengths, which are their motivators, and understanding what makes them tick, so that you can get them behind the project in the most effective way, and not just be constrained by what function you've been told they play. That this person is a business analyst, and this person is a quality assurance person, and this person is a designer. Look beyond that to see what really connects with them. Play to their strengths.
Brett Harned: I love that.
Ruth Pearce: It's going back to the old adage, play to the strengths.
Brett Harned: Absolutely. I like the idea of kind of putting the basics of PM, things around process and things like that. Those things are important. Right? But setting them aside to focus on the people, because to me, the people is really what will make your project happen. So the more that you can work with them to identify where they can help out, even if that's outside of their role, is a motivator in and of itself. Right?
Ruth Pearce: Exactly. Exactly.
Brett Harned: That's the kind of thing that as a PM, getting to know those people, it should be a motivation to get to know those people so that you can get the most out of them and get the best for your project.
Ruth Pearce: Yeah. And they feel more seen. They feel recognized because they are people beyond the function that they play at work. You get into what motivates them in their personal life. You start to hear about teamwork doesn't just exist in work. They use teamwork when they're home with their children, helping them with their homework, or with their partners getting dinner ready for the family. And they're working together side by side to get that done, that's teamwork too. So it sort of extends beyond that work life, and really helps to integrate the different parts of our lives. So I don't really like that thing about work life balance because it's all life. We spend too much time in work to be saying it's something separate. And it also cultivates the idea that work is something that you slog through in order to get to real life at the other end. And that's a pretty depressing way to spend your working life.
Ruth Pearce: When you can touch on these core motivators, they spread across that boundary. And you start to really connect with the whole person and make them see the connection between themselves and what they're doing in the workplace, as well as what they're doing in the rest of their life.
Brett Harned: Absolutely. So I know that I've managed a lot of projects where something happens and the project goes sideways, the team loses interest, maybe morale goes down. And it's tough, right? And it happens fairly often, or at least it has happened fairly often in my world. And I'm wondering, in your career as a project manager, was there a time where you faced a challenge in actually motivating your team and trying to get work done? I'm wondering if you're willing to share an experience.
Ruth Pearce: Many times. It's hard to pick. I've worked on many projects and programs that were very large and complicated. I've very often worked in environments where it's been multinational, so many of the organizations I've worked for have been the US presence of an overseas entity, so the US branch of a French entity, or a Swiss entity, or a German entity. And that complexity of head office interest versus local interest, like you could be in the middle of a project, and suddenly head office says, "You know what, this isn't the priority anymore because there's a regulatory requirement in one of the other locations, and we have to switch focus." And now all of a sudden, the work that you've done seems to be for nothing, and that can be really hard.
Ruth Pearce: Sometimes there's just the general strain of projects that go on a long time. I worked in one particular organization where we did a major, major conversion program, and it was three phases. And we started the first phase with this sort of flush of enthusiasm. Everyone was excited. It was going to be the new, shiny thing. The new system was just going to be incredible. It was going to make everything work so much easier. And then of course, the reality hit that it's very hard work to switch from an old system to a new system with all the conversions and testing and all of that. And then we got to the second phase, and everyone kind of had conversion fatigue, and that was very hard.
Ruth Pearce: And the third phase, we really did have it scaled down, so we lost some people who were no longer on the project because the third phase was much smaller. So then we had the demoralizing aspect of people we'd worked alongside for a couple of years were now no longer part of the project. And in a few instances, where they were freelance contingent workers, they were no longer with the company, so there was that sense of loss as well. So yes, definitely, that's just one example I can think of.
Ruth Pearce: And what strikes me every time, it's a couple of things. One is modeling. It's very important that we model the behavior we want to see. And that doesn't mean to deny the difficulties that we're facing. I think that's one of the challenges that feel ... People who are in a leadership role, is if you're feeling stressed, if you're feeling depressed, if you're feeling overwhelmed, or that maybe this project isn't going to come off, or whatever it is, do you share that with the people around you and potentially bring their mood down? Or do you keep it to yourself, and maybe talk to your friends and have a drink at night to help you feel better? And what I've found is there's a balance to be struck, which is, if you don't share it, pretending it isn't there doesn't mean it isn't there. People's sense of dismay or frustration doesn't go away because you don't talk about it. And in actual fact, it can get worse because then you encourage cooler conversations. And people start to sort of G each other up, and then they don't feel able to talk to you and find out what's really going on.
Ruth Pearce: The more senior you are, the more actual facts you can share, so that's something else, is to be able to give people real information. And then balancing that with hope, and I think hope is one of the key things that is very important, and is also very often misunderstood, is that people think that hope is about wishful thinking, or an optimistic, it will be all right on the night. It will all come together kind of sentiment. And in actual fact, what research shows is that hope has two components. One is that future looking, goal oriented, problem solving, this is what we're moving towards, we're going to get to. And then the second component is agency, so taking steps towards that goal, not just sitting there and saying, "I think it will work out," but starting to figure out. Well, what's one step I can take to move towards it?
Ruth Pearce: And if you as a leader can incorporate those two things, acknowledge the difficult sensations, talk about the difficult emotions, talk about the losses and challenges, particularly when people are no longer working with you and things like that, let people express those, and then move it to: Okay, what's our vision of the future? And what steps can we take, even if they're tiny steps, even if they're baby steps, what can we take to move forward towards that future that we want to have happen? And then people can feel, again, empowered that they have some choices, they can make some contributions. And they start to feel more positive about moving forward to the next step and getting things going again.
Brett Harned: Yeah. I think that's so important. It's almost like you read my mind because I did want to ask you about how to handle the stress, how to be a motivator and kind of always have that game face, or even that friendly face on in times where things are just coming at you, and they're not going your way. And for me, as a leader in an organization, it was always important to have that certain person that I could go to and speak really frankly with, and maybe talk about the things that I wouldn't share with the team. I'm not sure if you agree with that. But it feels like there's kind of two, or maybe even three levels of information that you might want to share in a team setting, and not everything needs to get through to the team. Do you agree with that?
Ruth Pearce: I do agree with that. Yes, I do think a very important role of the project manager is to be that shield, the umbrella, and to filter information. They do not need to be bombarded with everybody's mood change. We've had sponsors that are sort of, they blow hot and cold. And they're enthusiastic about a project one day, and then the next day, they're not so sure anymore, and things like that. And the team certainly doesn't need to be dealing with that. I very strongly feel that a mentor is a great thing to have, which is to have that person that can be the sounding board, can listen to you, and can even help you explore which pieces to share and which not. I also think there's a lot of value in having opportunities to share in a more informal setting. So that delineation between work and outside work, or the workplace and outside the workplace, having a night out somewhere, or a meal out, or something like that can often offer the opportunity to explore a topic that if it was discussed in the office, or wherever you work, might feel too official, and sound like you're conveying information in a more weighty way than if it's just a casual conversation.
Ruth Pearce: And you can ask people, "Well, how are you feeling at the moment? And what's going on for you at the moment? And you heard this news the other day. What did you think about that? Or what are you hearing?" Asking questions about what are you hearing, the whispers in the corridor, and that kind of stuff. So I think that informal exchange is very important as well. But I do think having someone who, as the leader and project manager and this umbrella, you can talk to frankly, as you said, and just be very open, so that you can get it off your chest. It could be a coach. It could be a mentor in the organization. It could be a coach.
Ruth Pearce: Another thing that works really well is there's lots of research that has been done on this, particularly by [inaudible 00:19:15], is that writing, writing about your challenge. Handwriting is supposed to be best, but even typing. And you take 10 minutes or 15 minutes, and you just write. No editing, no going back and putting in punctuation, or anything like that, you just write about whatever is on your mind. And putting it out there on paper really helps you get a different perspective and clarify it, and kind of offload it. So even if you don't have that person to go and talk to, you can talk to yourself in this different way by writing about it. And it's more effective than talking out loud as well. So an option is to record yourself or something, and listen to what you have to say. But writing really makes that connection for the brain to be able to process the information and take a look at it in a different way.
Brett Harned: Sure. Like you said, it's almost just like getting it off your chest, and knowing that someone's heard you. But I think what you mentioned that's most important is doing it with someone who can help you, someone who might give you perspective and make you think about the issues or challenge in a different way, so that you can be better personally. And I think that's really important.
Ruth Pearce: Yeah. And ask questions as well. We all have biases and assumptions that we work with. We fill in the gaps in the information. So if we're getting information piecemeal in an organization, for example, we will create a story for ourselves that makes sense of those pieces of data. And to have someone else outside say, "Well, how real is that? How sure of that are you? Where do you get that information from?" And you start to realize, well, you know what, only 10% of that is actual data and information. And the other 90% if what I've given to myself as an explanation for what this picture looks like. And having that other person just ask those questions and challenge your thinking can switch your thinking, can change your perspective and make you less certain of a story that is just a story that you came up with.
Brett Harned: Absolutely. So I mentioned earlier that motivation is a pretty big topic, at least in our sphere at TeamGantt with project managers because I think PMs find motivating others a challenge, often because they're not directly responsible for, or actually managing team members. I know that I read somewhere that you said, "Even if all you can do is work on yourself, that's enough to influence those around you." Can you talk a little bit about what kinds of things we can do as individuals to help build that influence?
Ruth Pearce: Absolutely. So I mentioned before about modeling, that I think modeling is very powerful, and there's lots of research that shows that. And what I've found is that in organizations where maybe the organization doesn't buy into this sort of team building, focusing on team building, or certainly having a project manager do team building, if the project manager can find a way to explore their own motivation. And again, I always recommend the character strength survey because it is evidence based. It's research. But also, it's free. The basic survey is free, so anyone can go and find out at least the beginnings of this, so it's very accessible, is that what you find is when you start to see these strengths in yourself, and you start paying attention to where they show up, when they show up, and when they don't, maybe if you're really observant, you'll start to notice when maybe you overuse a strength.
Ruth Pearce: So for example, one of my top strengths is curiosity. And for the most part, it's really useful. There are times though, when I'm stressed, when it can be quite painful for other people. And the example I always give, but it is a very legitimate example, is that if I go to a party or a gathering of some sort where I don't know many people, and I've been doing that a lot recently because I've moved, and so I've joined a different chapter of the professional organization I'm a member of, and things like that. I will meet a new person, and I ask them questions like it's going out of fashion. I ask a question, they answer it. And then I ask another question, and they answer it. And I ask another. And by the end of it, they're sort of backed up in a corner wishing I would go away because my stress is such about being in this group of strangers that my defense mechanism is to ask lots of questions.
Ruth Pearce: Now that's my strength being overused. And to be able to notice that, I don't need to have any discussion with the other person, as long as I can observe that for myself. And I know that curiosity, I now know because I took the survey years ago, and I keep taking it just to see if anything changes, I know curiosity's very important to me. That absolutely feels true. When I saw that in the results, I was like, "Oh, yeah. That's me. Curiosity's a high strength." But I can start looking then at: How do I use it in the best possible way? And I've started noticing now when I'm in a social context that I'm not giving the other person space to come back with a question, or to expand, or make comments, or whatever it might be. I'm also [inaudible] them more open questions, so they can be more discussive and all of that.
Ruth Pearce: And that's just me working on it by myself. And other people can do that too, so they can start to observe their own strengths, get familiar with their strengths. Think about how to use them more and less. See which ones ... People always get hung up about the strengths that are at the bottom of the profile. There are 24 strengths, and they always go to the bottom. And they assume those are weaknesses, and they're not. They're strengths. We don't measure weaknesses with that survey. They are strengths that we're just less comfortable using. They don't come so naturally. But we can look at those and say, "Well, do I want to focus more attention on that?" And when we start to do that, what we notice is we get happier, all associated with increased wellbeing. When other people see you seeming happier, less stressed, more positive, more engaged, they want some of that.
Ruth Pearce: In the best case, they ask you about it. What are you doing? It seems like things have been different recently, whatever. And they'll ask questions. But at the very least, they'll start copying what you're doing. So if you can then incorporate things like starting to be brave and spot other people's strengths, they'll start doing it too. So one of my favorite things to recommend to people to do when I'm doing workshops and things, people very often say to me, "So how do I start this?" I say, "Have a list of the strengths." And it could be the ones that I use. It could be some other instrument that you really like. Have a list of them in front of you. And when you're in a meeting, instead of having your phone under the desk and sneaking a peek at social media because the person speaking is not keeping your attention, have that list and listen to them talking. And highlight strengths that you recognize in what they're talking about.
Ruth Pearce: And then after the meeting is over, go to them and say ... Highlight the strengths that you saw and tell them why you appreciate it. We call it the SEA method, so it's spot it, explain it, and appreciate it. So explain what you saw, where you saw it, so they can repeat the same behavior in the future if they want to. And then express your appreciation of why that mattered. So you saw their kindness when they offered support to a colleague who's going through a tough time at the moment with a sick partner, or something like that. And I really appreciated that kindness because it meant we could move on with stuff without putting too much pressure on that person. And share that. And what you'll start to notice is, first of all, it feels really good when you do it.
Ruth Pearce: They will always be positive about it. I've never, ever had anyone say, "What? You think I'm kind?" [inaudible] thinking unkind, because they're all strengths. And they're all universally recognized as strengths. So no one's ever going to hate the fact that you point it out, so you don't have to be afraid of it being wrong. And you'll see they start to do it to other people because you're modeling this behavior. So then they'll start saying ... And they may not use the same language, they may not use the language of the character strengths like I do.
Ruth Pearce: They might say, "I really see how diligent you are when you follow up on this stuff." Well, to me, that's perseverance. But I see how diligent you are. You always go the extra mile to find out just a little bit more about what we're talking about, and it really means we come up with a great solution. And it just ripples. It's amazing. So you start with you, practice your own practice diligently, and you'll see other people start to copy you. And so that's why I say if you can only work on this yourself, do it because you will influence the people around you by that work.
Brett Harned: Yeah. That was great. I mean, what a simple way of engaging someone, making them feel good about themselves, and then also motivating them to keep doing that great work. That's such a great way of interacting with people. I'm curious. One of the things that you mentioned was that curiosity is kind of a high strength. Are there any other strengths that you think that PMs should possess, or maybe even work on?
Ruth Pearce: So that's an interesting question. And it's something that comes up quite a lot, especially when I'm doing workshops and presentations, is: What's the perfect profile for a project manager?
Brett Harned: That perfect one.
Ruth Pearce: Perfect profile. What should project managers look like? What do the best project managers look like? What are their top strengths? And my answer to that is that I don't believe there is a perfect profile. I don't think there are strengths that project managers ... How do I put this? If they get their strengths profile back, and particular strengths aren't at the top, they shouldn't start saying, "Wow, I shouldn't be a project manager." That's not what this is about.
Brett Harned: Great.
Ruth Pearce: What it's all about is optimal use of your strengths. So I always give the example of leadership, that I've worked with people whose leadership strength based on this assessment I use, is not particularly high. It might be in the middle. It might be down in a more in the sort of high teens. And so they look, and they say, "Well, I'm in a leadership role. And how do I do that? How can I be effective if leadership is not my top strength?" And then what we'll do is we'll take [inaudible 00:29:19]. If we can, we'll get a 360 assessment going, so that they get feedback from other people. And we'll get examples of where people felt they were an effective leader. Describe the situation, and then look at their top strengths. The top five to seven strengths in a person's profile is what we call signature strengths, which are the ones that are our go to strengths, and we use all the time in practically every domain.
Ruth Pearce: And I'll have them look at those strengths and say, "Okay, given that scenario that's being described to you, or you've identified yourself, how did your top strengths play into that?" And people will realize that different aspects of their profile support them in combination. You don't use one strength at a time. So it's not that you need this one strength or these two strengths. It's about how you blend the strengths that you are really comfortable using. So for example, appreciation of beauty and excellence, which is taking pleasure is an example of that, where you stand out in nature, and you're just amazed by the beauty of the trees, or whatever it is.
Ruth Pearce: But it's also seeing the excellence in somebody who's skilled. It might be admiring an amazing violinist, or whatever it might be. And using that strength is really useful for spotting the skills and contributions of a team member. So you don't necessarily have leadership, but you've got that strength high, you've got that strength that allows you to appreciate the contribution of each of your team members and what's special about them. And then maybe you've got bravery as a strength. That's not typically a signature strength, but you have bravery. Well, now you're brave enough to speak out and actually share that with them, and be able to say to them, "I really appreciate this," and at other times, having brave conversations about where maybe the person is not delivering what they're obligated to deliver under the contract that they're working under.
Ruth Pearce: So that bravery comes into effect, and that's part of it. Gratitude is one where being able to express gratitude, feel it, and express it, is really, really great in a team situation. But each of the strengths is like that. If we look at the blend of people's strengths, their top five strengths, I've not seen a profile yet where after we've done this exercise, people scratch their heads and say, "Wow, I really should not be a project manager. Or I really shouldn't be whatever it is." It's about optimal use of the strengths that accord to you.
Ruth Pearce: The one thing I will say, though, is that I've been doing some research about project managers and the strengths that show up for them, which ones are most commonly reported as high strengths, and which ones are not commonly reported as high strengths. And one that stands out as, it's not down at the bottom, it's not terrible, none of them are terrible. The lowest strengths are not terrible, but the one that stands out is social intelligence. And I have wonderful conversations with project managers at workshops where I'll say, "What do you think the importance of social intelligence is?" And they'll say, "Well, it's critical to a project manager because you've got to engage with people and read people and respond to them appropriately."
Ruth Pearce: And then I'll say, "And where do you think social intelligence is for project managers on average?" Obviously, there are some that have it high and some not so much. But on average, where is it? And they look, and they think about it. And they go, "Now I come to think about it, it probably isn't one of our highest strengths." And they're right. It is on average, we rank social intelligence lower than a general population. I usually use the 600,000 people who took the survey in the US. We rank it lower. And that means potentially we rank social intelligence lower than our colleagues on our teams because they are the rest of the world. So that's one strength. And of course, there's tons of research done by lots of people showing the emotional intelligence and social intelligence are huge predictors of success in a leadership role, or success in teams, team building, and successful teams.
Ruth Pearce: So I do think that is a strength that is worth thinking about, and how we can build it. And the beauty is that doing this strengths work, having a strengths focus, builds that social intelligence because you go actively looking for the core things about the people around you. And as I say, I always refer to this one particular assessment. But there are different ways of doing the strengths thing. You don't have to use this particular assessment. Some people are familiar with the Gallup Strengths Finder, for example, and do all the same things with that. So that strengths focus and really actively looking for: What are the people around me contributing? What is it that seems to excite them? Having conversations with them about: What is it that you most like about the role? What do you want to be doing that would make you feel more connected and more comfortable and confident in your role? Really probing into that, that builds social intelligence.
Ruth Pearce: One of the things that is amazing about these character strengths is you can change it. There's more and more research that shows you can change your personality. We used to think personality was kind of fixed. And the evidence is showing now that that's not the case. So you can work on that social intelligence. And it does seem to be a key element in building teams, so that's the one strength that I think ... I talk about social intelligence a lot when I do workshops and stuff because of that, that it's so core to team building. And it does seem to be one area where some project managers maybe want a little help in building it up.
Brett Harned: Absolutely. I think that makes tons of sense. I mean, I think a lot of the work that you can do to motivate a team is based on who they are, kind of like what you describe, so spending the time to get to know those people and understand what motivates them is going to benefit you in the long run, so that absolutely makes sense. All right. So I want to ask you one final question. So as you know, the podcast is called Time Limit. We're kind of giving a nod to the fact that everyone's doing our best work with limited time and resources. And I think project managers often find themselves stretched for time, working on multiple projects with multiple team members and stakeholders. It can be tough when you're trying to build relationships and get people to do their best work and work cohesively. So I'm wondering if you have any quick tips that maybe can help to motivate team members to make good process, but maybe things that don't take so much time. And maybe these are things that happen after you've done some of the survey work and discussed strengths.
Ruth Pearce: Some of it can come from that. I think one of the things that definitely comes from doing that work if you have the time to actually spend a bit of time doing some exploration of that, one of the things that I find more and more, as I'm talking to project managers, is this challenge of communication. And I often talk, because that's what we do so much of the time, there are statistics that show that we spend 90% of our time as project managers communicating, and it's very time consuming. And one of the things that I think we do is we try to be efficient by minimizing the different ways that we communicate.
Ruth Pearce: I had a conversation with a coaching client where this came up, that she didn't want to tailor the communication because that seemed very time consuming. And then what I often ask audiences is, as project managers, have you ever had the experience where you compiled this absolutely amazing email on Monday, could be any day of the week, but you've compiled it on Monday to give an update to everybody on where we stand with the project. And in your mind, it's got everything in it that it needs. It's got visuals that support what you're saying. You've got key performance indicators included. You've got details of everything that we've been doing, the tasks that have been completed, the things that are coming up. You put it all in this amazing email, and you send it out on Monday.
Ruth Pearce: And you spend the whole of the rest of the week trying to backtrack from that email because basically, you've confused everybody. The people who want high level information got bombarded with information, couldn't find what they needed. The people who like really detailed information don't like the sort of high level introduction, and they want detail on something else, and you haven't gotten detailed enough. There are people who are visual who don't like the wordiness of it. There are people who just want it in words. There are people who'd rather be told in person. There are other people who'd rather have a meeting, and someone else, who maybe would like you to video the update and do it as a vlog instead of sending it out as an email.
Ruth Pearce: And I think one of the things to do is to really consider the communications methods you're going to use. And you can't obviously, if you've got 100 people involved in a project, you can't do 100 different ways of communicating. That would be silly. At the same time, don't go too limited. And the time spent on really effectively communicating with the different groups, and how really understanding how they process information, so that you tailor the communication to maybe four or five different ways of communicating the same things at different levels of detail and so on. I think that pays huge dividends because you're one and done. You send out the information. And you may have two or three people that it requires a call to them. From the get go, it requires a call, and you're walking them through it, rather than just sending something out to them.
Ruth Pearce: So because then if you communicate really effectively, you get to communicate less because the people get it. And it builds trust, that's the other thing, is that building trust, you said before about relationship building, building trust is partly comes from the other person feeling seen and understood. And so if the communication is tailored to them, then if they don't get communication for a little while because there's nothing to tell them, they won't be saying, "Have I been left out? Am I not getting the updates? Have I been [inaudible] of the email distribution?"
Ruth Pearce: So you won't get bombarded with that stuff because you'll have built that trust that when there's something to say, you'll share it with them. And so I think that's a really worthwhile investment upfront, is to establish really good, effective communication, so that you aren't constantly running from one person to the other, hand holding them through what's going on in the project. And that was a big learning for me, as I used to think that I could come up with the perfect form of communication that would deal with everybody. And what it does is it really doesn't deal with anybody because it doesn't 100% suit anybody's needs.
Brett Harned: I think this is all great. I think if I could summarize it in a few words, it's focus on yourself and your own behaviors, and focus on getting to know other people and their behaviors. And it kind of opens up opportunities for stronger communications, openness, trust and everything that leads to better work.
Ruth Pearce: Yes. And what I've found in my own experience is when we do this work with the strengths based approach, and we focus on that quality of communication, we end up with less to do because people will take it and run with it themselves. And they'll come to you. They'll let you know if there's a problem.
Brett Harned: Absolutely.
Ruth Pearce: They'll let you know that stuff is done. They'll keep you informed because there's that trust and relationship there, so you're not having to be the person that is chasing. You're not following up because it's natural for them to have this back and forth with you. So it's that upfront investment. One of the things I always do on every new project I start, is I meet with every single person on the project individually. And it can take me four weeks to do it, depending on the size of the project or the program. But meet with them and ask them lots of open questions about: How are things going? Not: Do you think this is working? Not closed questions. But how is it going? How is it feeling for you? What's something you want to see done differently? What's something you want to be doing differently? And I'll have four or five questions, and I'll have each person answer it and see what patterns come out.
Ruth Pearce: And I'm not afraid to use a survey as well. I will survey people. I've done that on projects, where I'll send out sort of a satisfaction survey. And I always make the commitment to respond to every answer, sorry, so even if an answer comes back, and there's nothing I can do about it, I've had that a few times, where people have said they want the commute to be shorter. Well, there's not much I can do about that if the office is here, and they live there. That's on them. But I'll always answer their question and say, "I understand the stresses of the commute." If I can I'll talk to them about: Do we change the schedule, maybe? Because maybe it's easier to come in at a different time or something.
Ruth Pearce: But if there's really literally nothing I can do about their problem, I will still acknowledge it because I want them to know that I've heard it and seen it. And I'm aware that is a challenge for them in particular. And that helps too, so it's that trust building is so key. And then people will do things that just amaze you. I've had people who stayed all night to get something done. And no one's been more surprised than me. I've come in the morning, and they're still sitting there in the same clothes they were wearing when I left. And they decided to do it because they have ownership and accountability.
Brett Harned: Right. Well, Ruth, thank you so much for joining me on Time Limit. It's been amazing. I think that there's a lot more that we could probably talk about. Unfortunately, we don't have any more time. But I am motivated to look into your book. And hopefully, this conversation will lead some people to read your book as well. I've read a few snippets, and it's really great. I cannot wait to get it. It's on its way to me in the mail. But we'll share links to a lot of the things that we've discussed about in our show notes. And if there's anything else you want to share, we'll do that too. But again, thank you so much for joining me today.
Ruth Pearce: Thank you very much, Brett. It's been an absolute pleasure.
Brett Harned: Thanks. All right. That's all for this episode. Thanks again for listening to Time Limit. Check out the show notes for the resources mentioned in the interview, as well as more information about Ruth Pearce, her book, and her work. You can check that out at teamgantt.com/podcast, or where you're listening to your podcasts yourself. And while you're at it, please leave us a review. The more reviews, the better we'll be able to get more experts to interview and help you out. And of course, I really appreciate the help, so thanks so much. Come back for the next episode, which will be all about project managers and how they can lead the design process.