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The Building Blocks of an Effective and Sustainable PMO – Part 5
By Laura Barnard

This post is part of a series. The previous article in this series can be found here.

The PMO Talent Profile

Why Getting the Right Talent Matters

For the last 14 years, I feel like I have been in constant hiring mode. Actually, I have been in constant hiring mode. Building, transforming, rescuing, and running PMOs requires a constant focus on talent management. I constantly had resumes on my desk and have looked at thousands of resumes and conducted countless interviews. What I have found in that process is that there are definitely things to look for in the resume and in those early phone conversations, but you have to be able to spend time with this person face to face to see if they are going to have what it takes to drive real change for you.

So, what characteristics do these super stars have?

First…they usually do have at least one certification. Whether it’s the PMP or another continuing education certification or degree, I’ve noticed that the people that are really into the profession and the kind of people that like to continue to grow and further their careers all have some type of designation or credential. Not only does this show that they have a leaning toward their own career development and improvement, but it allows your team to have a common language when they communicate. That saves a lot of time in translating when you are asking them to share information or help each other with a project. With that said, that only gets your resume in front of me. It doesn’t determine whether or not I will hire you. In my book, that’s simply table stakes.

Certifications matter, but only so much…

So, what does this talent look like? Sure, they have PMPs and they have experience managing projects and programs. In order to be competitive and the kind of person I want to hire, they have to have really sharp communications skills and have the ability to influence anyone to do anything. As silly as it sounds, they also have to be…well…likable. I’ve seen some of the sharpest minds lose an entire audience by not being able to reach them on a personal level. Where the rubber really meets the road is on the soft skills side.

It starts with communications and expectations management. One of my super stars was helping me interview and the candidate asked him what I was like to work for. He said, “That’s easy. Just do what you say you are going to do. Manage her expectations! She’s savvy and will know if you aren’t being straight with her. Be realistic, ask for help when you need it, but set the bar where you think you can reach it. Setting the bar too low is just as bad as setting it too high.” This is what the right talent knows. Expectations management is, above all, the best way to manage up. They know they have to keep me engaged and informed so that I can come to the ready immediately when they need me. My job is to provide them air cover. The rest of the time, my job is to support them, be available to brainstorm ideas, and then get out of their way! Good talent needs the creative freedom to solve problems and manage the efforts the way they see fit.

The type of resources you want in your PMO are change agents by lifestyle, not just job title. These people are the ones that can and do handle change well on an ongoing basis. Not just project change, but these people are continually growing and evolving in their personal lives and know how to “live” change. They are the ones that have some kind of regular development and interests outside of work that give them that well rounded and looking to keep changing/growing kind of approach to life. Who better to sit with your customers and help them live through a change than those that do so continually?

A pattern that has emerged for me in the super star talent is related to the ability to show empathy. This talent needs to be able to meet the customer, client, project team member where they are, not where they’d like them to be. The right talent inherently knows this and constantly puts themselves in the shoes of their stakeholders, addressing their needs before those stakeholders even realize they have the need. The ability to get into someone’s head and understand what their motivators are and how you can leverage individual motivations toward common project goals is truly an art.

This talent becomes a chameleon of sorts, by remaining flexible to the different demands of stakeholders. They know who they need to be for each audience. The executive wants to know the bottom line. The project team wants to know that they have someone watching their back. The customer wants to know that they are going to get what was promised. All of this goes into how this kind of talent will interact with their stakeholders and who to be to whom and when. The PMO leader wants to know that the stakeholders are all getting what they need and that the projects are getting delivered. The good ones are going to have an inherent sense about what needs to get done and how to get it done in a way that keeps everyone happy and productive.

You have to find them and then you have to keep them…happy.

Leverage the super star talent you already have to help you interview these candidates. Good talent knows good talent when they see it. And speaking of good talent, make sure you are hiring for diverse strengths. You need a diverse set of skills in order to apply different types of people to different situations. Since they will be very diverse in their strengths, they will also likely need to be managed differently. Know how to give them what they need to be successful by having a flexible management style. The kind of resources you want are going to need to be constantly challenged and engaged.

I’ve been fortunate enough to find this talent in my career and when I do, I find ways to work with them again and again. Who wouldn’t want to have these people on their team? They meet with their stakeholders, rally them around a goal, keep everyone moving and feeling good about it because their own personal needs are being addressed, and get things done…on time and as expected.

With the kind of talent described above, you can safely let go of the reigns and trust them to get the job done. Isn’t that what we are all looking for?

Laura Barnard, is on the board of the Montgomery County, MD chapter of PMI (10 years) and has been building PMOs since 1999. You can read more from Laura on her blog.

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