It was the first project I had ever worked on. New to Sydney and the company, I was seconded to work on the ERP project as a Subject Matter Expert. Maybe they thought to have someone new would be good for the project?
This project was hard work, and I loved every minute. Every day brought new challenges and things I had not done before. One of those was to develop training plans and materials to train the entire business on how to use the new system.
Thinking that the job was done once I finished the documents and plans, it was another ‘rise to the challenge’ moment when the project manager told me I would be delivering the training. Not only was I to deliver the training, but the CEO and MD of the business had both insisted that they were coming to the very first session.
Yes, yes it was…
I was a junior member of the team, and here were the CEO and MD sitting in the front row of the first training session, asking questions. But the months of immersion in the system held me steady, and I came through the training session in a good place.
Reflecting on it now, I know that they were sending a clear message to the rest of the staff by showing up, being interested, and engaged and being in the first session.
They were leading by example.
They didn’t understand the system, nor would they likely ever use it. But they did know the power of leading by example. They were demonstrating the behaviour of being willing to learn that we needed at that point in the project.
Leading by example means leading yourself first.
1. Showing up (physically and mentally)
I have consistently advocated, over the years, for being ‘on-site’ and co-located when we are working on projects. The little things that as outsiders we glean from being in the client space and seeing how they communicate – what gets priority, who gets heard, how the kitchens and bathrooms are kept – help us to navigate the organisation and steer the project successfully.
At the moment, it’s really hard to re-create the physical part of this. Building that rapport and understanding of the nuances of the business are much harder. Not impossible, but harder.
What are we doing? How are we making this work?
Well, to start with I’m actively managing MYSELF.
Taking a moment, I remind myself before every conversation that I have no idea what each person’s working environment or day is like. Some don’t have the work from home set up that I have. They maybe have small children, sick parents, foster pets or other challenges that have made their way into work life.
Parts of our lives that used to be compartmentalised are now all on top of one another, and that can seem overwhelming. This practice reminds me to bring empathy.
Taking myself for a walk (even a short one) when I find myself getting emotionally plugged in.
If I can’t go for a walk, I’m doing a five-minute burst of push-ups, crunches or something else that gets the blood moving and the energy focus back in the physical rather than the emotional. If you have online calls or meetings back to back, taking a walk and finding a way to shift the energy stops you taking baggage from one conversation into the next.
2. Being interested/ engaged.
We don’t have the incidental interactions that we used to so we’re focusing on shorter conversations and meetings. I’m trying to make them more focused and frequent. I’m reminding myself to call on each person who is in the call/group (if that’s possible); it’s not possible if you’ve got 20+ people on a call but entirely feasible if you’re in a smaller group.
Making time for the informal catch-ups with little/to no agenda.
Connecting with people via phone as well as via screen (where relationships are already established sometimes, the phone just takes the constant feeling of ‘on show’ load off). Extending that connection to not just the project team but the broader context of what’s going on in the business and more often, what’s going on in people’s lives.
In many ways, this working experience has brought more of our ‘whole selves’ into the light in our work lives.
Often it’s the casual conversations, that yield valuable information. Insight about someone’s workload, or personal circumstances that potentially impact their capacity or focus on what the project needs from them.
Keeping informal connections helps us connect the dots on what else could be going on.
3. Being first
A lot of project work is new work.
At 6R, we have often worked on ‘the first’ Australian implementation of software, so being first is more familiar territory to us than most.
Typically, in software, no one wants to be ‘first’ – being first means you’re learning all the lessons that those who come second will benefit from. Just about everyone wants to be that ‘close second’, gaining the benefits of early adoption without the painful lessons of first, where it’s everyone’s first time.
This is everyone’s first pandemic. I hope that there is no ‘close second’.
Just like the start of the pandemic, learning new ways of doing things is hard, but some looked for the silver lining, it is the same with projects, be the first to find the silver lining.
You can also be the first to take your team through what you have learnt. The first to test the system. You can be first to encourage a colleague, to acknowledge the work someone has put in or to notice an improvement.
This all builds your own positive mindset and exercises the self-leadership that we all need to bring to the table right now.
What you want to ignite in others must first burn inside yourself
~ Charlotte Bronte