Author Archives: Kimi Ziemski, MBA, PMP, CSM

Organizational Culture That Supports Learning Curves

Have you seen the LinkedIn post that everyone is talking about? The one about the “crying CEO.”

If you need some context, take a quick look at this CNBC article: CEO posts crying selfie on LinkedIn after laying off employees – and it goes viral.

To start: No, this is not another comment on, critique of, or complaint about the original poster. Instead, I would like to address the impact of the publicized angst that has resulted from the original post.

So many of the team leaders I know and work with are trying to create an environment of psychological safety. This is not about whether I agree or disagree with the substance or style of the message delivered. I think it’s important to talk about the overwhelming number of comments and the overarching tone of responses to the message itself.

Each and every one of us is bombarded with so much information – some true, some valid, and some simply a waste of our intellectual energy. Many of us spend a great deal of time and energy just parsing this information down to “yes, I should pay attention to this” OR “no, this is not worth my attention.” But beyond that decision process, we still receive messages and perceived dispositions about topics that are not helpful.

When someone sends a message, whether you agree with it or not is not always the point.

Do you have to comment on it? Do you consider how your response will affect the whole? And do we have to reinforce an ethos that says one mistake or one bad delivery will be the defining factor of our reputations?

It is all too easy to take a lesson from this that will not help us encourage contribution, creativity, or foster psychological safety. The message coming from this is that the only real safety we have is to not say anything at all. If you say something, and you’re wrong, or you’re awkward in delivery, just remember there are thousands of people who will gladly point that out to you. That makes the learning curve even steeper, posing a problem for the leaders who are encouraging their teams to create an environment and culture that is both diverse and inclusive. A culture where we will make mistakes and learn rather than make mistakes and burn.

So, if we’re talking about the “crying CEO” – let’s talk about the environment behind the responses to the post. What kind of culture are you trying to create and how do you encourage learning curves in your teams?

#KSP #ProjectManagement #TechnicalProfessional #EthicalLeadership


Soft Skills That Are Actually Hard Currency

There are four specific aspects of leadership that make a great deal of a difference in your level of professionalism and the overall performance of your team. Good leadership is built on skills that go beyond scheduling, budgeting, and change management. Understanding how to utilize strategic stakeholder communications to uncloak hidden objections while navigating camouflaged negotiations will directly improve your leadership skills and the influence of your role.

A 2019 Global Talent Trends study conducted by LinkedIn showed that 92% of talent acquisition professionals stated that soft skills are equally or more important to hire for than hard skills, and 89% said that when a new hire doesn’t work out, it’s because they lack critical soft skills.

So, why are these key values not being taught in any technical leadership curriculum?

The skills you should be mastering

Stakeholder and Hidden Objections

Each project has a set of stakeholders that will directly influence the outcome, and as a project manager it is your responsibility to know who they are and what they want. Unfortunately, stakeholders and hidden objections are often missed at the opportune time resulting in unforeseen escalation of costs.

‘Uncover Concealed Partners & Concerns’ will refine your skills in identifying stakeholders that might not be obvious. Using a simple technique, we teach you how to amplify your stakeholder identification process, as well as how to implement these skills to properly uncover objections and expectations that might not be in plain sight.

A 2021 discovery report on the most sought after skills highlighted that nearly two thirds of respondents placed a higher priority on “soft” skills. “Leveraging data from 82 million employer job postings, America Succeeds announced findings that reveal the critical importance of Durable Skills training for long-term success in the workplace” Emsi, 2021.

Effective Presentations

Virtual presentation skills have rapidly become a crucial skill to master during the shift to working from home. It’s never been more challenging and yet simultaneously important to be able to captivate a room while both entertaining and influencing your audience.

‘You ARE a Public Speaker’ – it’s something that you do every day.  We focus on specific areas of public speaking, presentation power, and team briefing to increase the comprehensibility and impact of your communication skills.  Using our framework enables you to plan, deliver, and capitalize on your objectives.

These skills are often disregarded as soft or interpersonal, the influence that they have is oftentimes the difference between effective versus incompetent leadership. A 2020 Business Insider article mentions that the importance of fostering these skills should not be ignored. “In the age of automation these skills are becoming more important.  Although some tasks at work will be automated, soft skills like emotional intelligence and the ability to teach, won't be.”

Tactful Negotiations

Not everything is on the table during a negotiation. Discussions can start before the meeting is even scheduled. Learning how to see the concealed aspects of a negotiation will afford you the peace of mind necessary to make more cognizant decisions in your favor.

‘Don’t Leave it ON The Table’ is a valuable approach to negotiating based on making well-informed decisions. This framework for negotiating is straightforward and geared toward understanding the impact and potential of your options. Mastering your competency skills in this area is vital toward managing and maintaining healthy professional relationships with your team and additional stakeholders.

Even though there has been more focus placed toward “soft” skills in the past few years, studies show that mastering these competencies has been crucial for leadership roles well before this time. A 2016 article from Hult International School of Business states that “Building cooperative relationships, responding effectively to multiple priorities and working well with people from diverse cultural backgrounds are just three of the many soft skills required by today’s global leaders. So much so, in fact, that 92% of the respondents in Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report rated soft skills as a critical priority.”

Strategic Communications

Early communications affect your project just as much as planned meetings later on. Understanding the role that communications plays in your project, team, and organization will help you identify the appropriate guidelines necessary to lead you to success.

‘Persuade Through Deliberate Conversation ’ the critical role of the relationship between an organization’s strategy and a particular project, and how this correlation affects team commitment levels. Understanding these systems, which are already taking place, and managing their connectivity is the groundwork toward successfully achieving higher expectations and deliverables.

This means that the time and energy you spend expanding your competencies in the ‘soft skills’ give you the power to be able to enter, leave, or shift career paths, industries and organizations.

These courses are designed to go beyond the basics while being easily digestible, immediately applicable, and time management friendly for intermediate and experienced managers. Purchase the entire bundle or select an individual course to focus on and study the material on your time.


The Teacher Named ‘Failure’

I’ve always thought that any failure is a waste unless one learns something from it.

But when K-Mart sank under the weight of a $1.8B IT infrastructure project in 2017, it seemed that the lessons learned from it would be bitter ones.

K-Mart began a $1.8 billion dollar IT infrastructure modernization project that ultimately bankrupted the company. When Sears Holdings bailed them out, they closed over 600 stores and laid off 67,000 employees.

In 2018 Sears Holdings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

In 2019 CNN Business made the point that they believed a major key was the 12 months the organization went without a CEO.

The failure that taught me a huge lesson about absent leaders came when I worked on a team where the ‘project manager’ was present in a physical sense only. Tall, with the stance and stride of an athlete, he was charming, almost always smiling slightly. He had made a science – a lifestyle! – of putting off making decisions. In several cases, indefinitely. Frustration was a constant companion to the three smaller teams responsible for more than 75% of the work. The other two team leads and I did our best.  The project manager had been decisive about and micromanaged only 1 area – the communications channels with the senior leadership team. The three of us strategized about solutions. In the end, having inadvertently given him just enough rope, he hung himself.

Leadership from anywhere at the table (or on the Zoom screen) does not negate the need for the final voice.  Together with my colleagues and having built a team culture of open and safe communications, we knew we would get the best information from our teams. We had also learned the bitter lesson about the impact of avoiding the responsibilities of leadership. Getting that lesson this way was powerful.  Not one of us has ever forgotten the cost of being unwilling to make a decision, communicate it and execute on it.

What are the leadership lessons you are teaching?

https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/15/business/sears-outlook-bankruptcy-anniversary/index.html

http://fortune.com/2017/01/26/sears-fitch-downgrade-burn-rate/


What Do We Do With PowerPoint Now?

KSP Partnership is proud to participate in the Black Diamond Charity work teaching returning veterans project management tools.  As part of their education we help prepare them for the inevitable day when they will have to speak to leadership teams or change control boards.  In other words – presenting, public speaking. You know -  that which often causes nerves to act up.  You may not realize how many parts of you are bothered by the prospect of putting your professional self on the line in front of people who can determine your quality of life at work after the presentation.

Appropriate use of PowerPoint as a tool is always one of the sticking points. Now, in the age of heavily virtual teams and shared screens, how you use the tool becomes even more important.

So – a couple of hints:

  • Keep the graphics and text simple and spare. Focus on a few strong colors.
  • Keep the animations to a minimum. This will simplify things if you have to provide PDF versions of the slide show. Animations mean you have to create a slide with each development of that animation if you need to provide a PDF for the rest of the folks attending the meeting.
  • As you use photos or graphics in your slide show remember to ‘Compress Pictures’ for on-line quality.

The need to transmit information well continues to be one of your heaviest responsibilities as a project leader.

Remember – the message they receive is the message you sent.  It may not be the message you intended to send.  It is, however, the message they received. It means your preparation can have even more impact on your clarity of message.

Disclaimer: these suggestions will not work in organizational climates where they demand they be able to use the slide deck to brief those who did not attend the meeting.

In those organizations, if they either cannot attend or are not invited, then do they need a comprehensive read-out of the subject at hand?

Some other resources are listed below.

The Long, Painful Death of PowerPoint
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/long-painful-death-powerpoint-mark-o-brien

https://medium.com/splendidstudio/an-anxious-designers-guide-to-presentation-and-facilitation-af34338dfaeb

Kimi Hirotsu Ziemski, founder of KSP Partnership, works with leaders and teams who want to take the productivity of their performance levels up – not just for now but as the start of incremental improvements on an ongoing basis. The impact of your team’s culture can be your strongest tool. We can help you craft and curate a culture that generates higher levels of productivity – and therefore profitability.


How You Lead is How You Behave

Sometime I get to witness a really interesting range of behavior.

A particular example is stuck in my mind.

At the rental car return in Los Angeles a group of us – growing from 7 to 12 in 20 minutes, waited for the shuttle to take us to back to the airport. One of the twelve was quite vocal about the annoyance.  Her tone, her complaints, did resonate with most of us. She kept demanding answers from a manager who didn’t have any answers.

Another car rental company’s shuttle driver approached the drop off area for a second time, and assessed the situation. He chose kindness.  He chose to extend himself.

“I’ll take you,” he offered.  “Come on – I have a couple of people that I need to pick up around the corner then I can take all of you.”

We swarmed down to his bus, many calling out ‘thank you!’.

Along the way, the same vocal traveler from the curb suggested he change his route. It would, she asserted, be faster. He politely declined; he had a route mandated by his boss. On the third time she tried to redirect him, he asked, looking up at the ceiling of the bus, ‘Do you want to drive too?’

I was one of the last people he dropped off. I gave him a tip as a thank you for going out of his way.  He was pleasantly surprised and, almost as an afterthought, mentioned that this was the only tip he had been offered.

I was embarrassed on behalf of my fellow travelers. I muttered something about how I appreciated what he did and walked into the terminal.

Many of the travelers that driver helped out were easily wearing more on their backs than he would make in a week. But that was not the heart of my distress.

What really bugged me was this:

Have we become so entitled that we believe saying ‘Thank you’ to people covers it? Even when people go out of their way to extend a helping hand?

Today, in this economic reality, more and more people struggle to get to the end of the month – often facing hard budget choices.  I mean hard decisions like “how much can I spend on groceries without having to arrange a payment schedule for my utilities?”

Not choices of  ‘I really wanted to buy those shoes, that suit, that backpack, but I’m also saving for a Caribbean cruise so maybe I should hold off’.

When you choose not to be kind or generous in return for treatment that has been kind and generous it is a sign. It suggests that you are pretty sure that you are more important than they are.

Are you just in too much of a hurry to turn your attention to a gesture of appreciation towards someone else?

What is it that keeps civility and good behavior going? Sometimes it’s the way we were raised. Sometimes it’s the surety of a ‘heaven or hell’ type of faith.  Sometimes it’s being aware that the focus on whatever we care about in that moment might be blinding us to our fellow human beings.  Sometimes it’s our mirror neurons kicking in when we are around civil and well-behaved people.

Unfortunately, those mirror neurons also pick up on patterns of behavior that we don’t want to adopt.

I won’t waste time and energy being frustrated by people who are self-centric, dismissive of the needs of others, or simply oblivious to the guidelines of ethical and humane treatment of others. I have decided to view those experiences as object lessons. Here’s why:

  1.   Your example reaches further than you may realize – you don’t get to choose how many people your behavior will affect but you do get to choose what effect you make. The behaviors you exhibit anywhere give me – and everyone else – important cues to how you will also likely lead.
  2.   It only takes a moment to show appreciation for service you’ve received -especially when it is ‘above and beyond’ service. Think about your answer to this question: Do you think your people – your team – feel overappreciated?
  3.   Reach for an ‘anti-goal’ approach. Take it as an example of what you do not want to become – not even accidentally.

I commit myself, as I will likely have to do a number of times, to this mindset: It is worth it to maintain a standard of kindness and generosity I can be proud of.

Will you join me?


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