The Project Stakeholders: The Role vs the Person
By Ammar W. Mango
Some prefer to look “objectively” at projects that they focus on the roles people play rather than the persons behind the role. The rationale is that by focusing on the role, they stay objective and do not let personal matters play a role in their judgment or interactions. While on the surface this looks great, based on what we were taught about not to take business personally. In reality, there are aspects of business that require a “look” at the personal aspect of the people we are dealing with, and for others to also see us personally. While objectivity is needed and role accountability is key, it is naive and harmful to blind ourselves from the persons we are working with, as persons.
There is confusion out there between how “not to take things personally,” versus understanding and employing the personal elements to improve chances of project success. In reality, both are needed and both can be applied on a project, and neither is in conflict with the other.
Being objective means that I have to hold people accountable for their roles, regardless of personal preferences or prejudice. If a friend on my project team messes up, he is as accountable and a non friend or someone I might personally not like. This is always true and holds as a rule, and as an example of how not to take things personally. Another example is when dealing with project problems and taking responsibility for our “role” in the conflict or in the problems or mistakes occurring in the project.
Addressing personal aspects come into play still, without having to compromise on the objectivity factor. For example, for the under performer in the above example, his personal preferences and our personal understandings might be a motivation for him or her to get over the challenges. For example, his communication preference, his attitude, his likes and dislikes, his background, his culture, all these factors create the person, and I can use all or any of these to get what is needed from this person, whether better performance or just better understanding or empathy. I remember once I worked with a perfectionist architect who used to accept or reject project work on the most minuscule ( and some might say ridiculous) things. I remember during walkthroughs on construction projects, he used to look at the natural wood grain in closet doors, to ensure that both sides of closet doors have patterns that, when the doors are closed, the seem in between does not show. I mean talk about anal. However, Respecting, instead of fighting this difficult personal attitude resulted in a mutual respect relationship between the architect and the project manager, that helped the architect see how the project manager is trying hard to accommodate the sometimes difficult requests of the architect, and be tolerant when the requests cannot be met, or when the project manager objects to the tough requirements. this is personal relationships working for mutual benefit and project success. this did not negate objectivity, it supplemented it with the reality of, let’s face it, we are after all humans.