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Straight Talk on Project Management

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Eeyores and see-saws – how to deal with IT Project mood hoovers

He is SO entitled!! She is such a mood hoover!! It’s like they have a cloud that follows them everywhere, like a cartoon character!!

These are three complaints I’ve heard levelled by a project manager at a colleague in just the last month. Whether you’re dealing with an Eeyore type who is on a constant downer, a see-saw type who is up and down, or a mood hoover who sucks the positive life out of the team – it needs addressing. And now!

Here’s the thing, I once wrote that having a negative project team member is like being in a boat with a crewmate who forgot their oar and brought a drill instead – the boat is only going one way – DOWN! It’s even worse than that now though, in these times of increased pressures on project teams, having a negative person on your team is like having a crewmate who forgot his oar and brought a drill, timber eating termites and a woodpecker, and a can of petrol and a box of matches – they’ll take your project down faster than ever.

So, what do you do about a negative IT Project team member?

In this blog, we’ll address this in three parts: The traditional method; some “out of the box thinking”; and we’ll finish with an uncomfortable question – Are you the problem?

1 – The Traditional Method – Something Like a PIP

The theory is sound, a performance improvement plan (PIP) is pretty self-explanatory – it’s a plan to help colleagues improve their performance. In other words, a strategy to bring them in line with expectations and back on track – be better at their job!!

Have you ever been put on a PIP, the thought of a performance improvement plan is likely to induce gut wrenching and visceral feelings of stress in a tech worker, faster than “scope creep” or “we’re out of coffee”.

In reality, and figures fluctuate, but 90-95% of workers put on a PIP … leave.

Of course, for many ‘employers’, this was the intention. The PIP is almost a back covering exercise ahead of dismissal, a box to be ticked to avoid legal comeback, the paperwork to show that you gave them the chance to improve, in 90 days saw no improvement and so had no choice but to send them on their way with their sandwiches wrapped in a road map.

If you are sincere, and you genuinely want the talent to improve, a PIP can be an utter disaster in the hands of the wrong manager! Without SMART objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-related) a PIP can be a 90-day, excruciating and drawn-out coup de grâce.

Even with clearly defined objectives, a PIP is often ineffective in addressing instances of negative behaviour – what we’re talking about here. Think about it, you can be specific and measurable with KPIs but not really behaviours. “Hit deadlines” is SMART objective, “Don’t a mood hoover” is not. “Be less of a Debbie Downer” is subjective and not measurable and yet many IT Project workers get put on a PIP for negative behavioural traits.

Finally, remember what I said about having a negative team member being like being on boat with a crewmate with a drill, timber eating termites and a woodpecker, and a can of petrol and a box of matches – can you really afford to wait 90 days? OK, some PIPs are shorter, but 30 days is enough time for negativity to spread, infect other colleagues and bring down a team and its project.

2 – Call It Out and A Little Out Of The Box Thinking

Call It Out!!!

Honestly, life is too short, and you spend so much of it at work!

Think about it! Let’s say you spend Monday to Friday at work (at least), are you OK with 5/7ths of your life being miserable – that’s 71.429%. If you were at the cinema and someone’s incessant chatter meant you missed 71.429% of the movie dialogue, would you be cool with that? Er no! You’d be shushing them before you even missed 1%!!!

If you’re the project leader – you have to deal with negativity (termites, boat – remember!)

If you’re a project professional and you believe that someone else’s negativity is impacting your work you too have to call this out, either with the individual or with your management (you’re on a boat, you remembered your oar, you’re rowing like mad – why should you sink because of the fool with the woodpecker?). 

So, call it out. But in the meantime, while it gets sorted, I’m going to point you to a podcast.

Mel Robbins is a change specialist and New York Times best-selling author on motivation and in her podcast episode called “How To Deal With Negative People” she shares some great strategies. My favourite – the snow globe!

Mel encourages you to envisage the person and their negative behaviours as being inside a snow globe. If you imagine shaking up a snow globe, the ‘snow’ disperses but stays confined in the globe, without the glass it would be everywhere – and all over you. The negativity of a colleague can be the same … you can end up dowsed in it. If you visualise that the colleague’s tantrum or moaning is enclosed within a snow globe it can help you ‘survive the moment’ until a more permanent solution is implemented.  

3 – It’s Not You … It’s Me

This can an uncomfortable truth to consider – but are you to blame for team members’ negativity? To be clear, by ‘you’ I mean the project leadership, the culture, the workload, the available resources – the work environment.

In my experience, most people don’t come to work to bring everyone else down. So, what’s up?

There could be medical issues (workplaces are getting so much better at spotting and helping with mental health challenges).

There could be problems at home (giving colleagues access to counselling services for things like bereavement, divorce and coping with the menopause, etc, is not just a good and human thing to do – it can boost productivity).

And …

It could be that what YOU are expecting of your team and the resources they have are not aligned. If you create a stressful enough environment, your team will display the signs of stress – including negativity.

As an enlightened manager, you might look at all the above and realise that they are “YOU” problems. If you have a colleague with mental health challenges or dealing with life changes, these aren’t your problems per se, but sharing the solution can be rewarding, not just for the relationship with your colleague but for the team goal too, so to an enlightened manager these are shared problems.

Then, there’s the workload, the resource issues and the stress … and this is 100% a “YOU” problem.

Do you have the self-awareness, do you possess the self-confidence, is the culture you have created evolved enough … to look at the negativity of a team colleague and ask … did we cause this? And are you brave enough to do something about it?

Save for the occasional ‘bad hire’, most human resource negativity issues in IT Projects (that aren’t because of personal issues) can be traced back to the job itself. Unrealistic expectations and workloads, insufficient resources, ineffective leadership – these are all YOU problems that can be fixed. Stoneseed’s Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) gives you access to IT project professionals, tools, and resources to

In a sentence, much workplace negativity is due to stress of the job – treating the real issue (not the individual), like resourcing projects properly, can be game changing for IT Project morale.

If you are reading this in an IT Project leadership capacity you can find out more about Stoneseed’s Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) here.

If you are reading this as an IT Project manager, Business Analyst, or IT Project specialist of any kind, and this all rings a bell – find out how you could join the Stoneseed team here. If an unrealistic workload has ever caused you so much stress that it manifested in negative behaviour (be honest) then you should definitely check out the feedback from the Stoneseed team*. Our culture is at the heart of everything we do, and our people are at the heart of our culture.

As one Business Analyst told us “Stoneseed is a great place to work if you are looking for a company that values a positive work environment. The leadership really values each employee making you feel like a part of the Stoneseed family. This inspires a great sense of loyalty and a fun, innovative work ethic. The work itself is diverse and engaging, you’re given the freedom to forge your own path and contribute to the success of the company.”  (*We regularly ask for anonymous feedback from colleagues)

We employ a team of Project Management and PMO experts, Business Analysts and Technical Professionals, delivering services through a flexible, on-demand resourcing model. Stoneseed is a specialist Project Management Service Provider, with a focus on Project Management and PMO Consultancy services, providing resources from our own permanent team. Our experts work across multiple technology solutions, sectors, and industries, with programmes such as Business Change, Transformation, Infrastructure, Digital or IT Project Delivery.

Conclusion

So … How to deal with IT Project mood hoovers? Bias to action. But the right action. Before trying to fix the individual … check it’s not you that needs fixing! And if it is YOU, PMaaS it!

Find out more about Project Management as a Service from Stoneseed