Five Questions About Project Management Development

There’s a new book called “Demystifying Talent Management” from Kimberley Janson which talks about “unleashing people’s potential to deliver superior results”. It’s written primarily for HR Managers, a call to action to get better at managing employee’s performance. It’s approach is about sharing what effective manager’s do in their conversations with employees when it comes to things like performance appraisals, development plans and objective settings.

Whilst I was reading it, it got me thinking about the reality. I often hear from project practitioners that things like performance appraisals are just box ticking exercises. ‘It’s something we have to do annually and not much thought goes into it.’ Perhaps these practitioners don’t have effective managers?

Here are five different areas of conversations that effective managers do have and a set of questions back to you:

1. What do you need to do?

The whole philosophy of the book is that the career planning process is owned by the employee. The manager’s role is about having conversations with the employee about what goals they have in relation to work responsibilities and performance objectives. It is the manager’s job to ultimately make sure these goals are inline with and relate to the organisation’s own goals when it comes to capability building.

The outcome in these kind of conversations is some kind of objective setting, usually SMART gets used.

I’d love to know how many project practitioners have such open discussions and conversations about their career goals and leave those conversations with a firm set of objectives and plans? Is this a luxury you dream of or is it a reality for you?

2.  How are you doing?

This question is all about the “performance check in”, your manager finding out how you’re getting on with your objectives and plan. This might be monthly, every 3 or 6 months. Or are you only having this conversation when it comes to your annual appraisal? If you’re lucky enough to have the conversations more frequently, how do you feel about that? Is it a good thing to have someone interested in how you’re getting on or does it feel like you’re being checked up on?

How do you manage to make your objectives and plan come to life? Is it something you actively manage, say once a month, you take a look at the plan and think about what needs to happen in the coming months? Or is it a case of sticking the plan in the back of the drawer and vaguely having an idea about what needs to happen?

3. How you did?

This is the part where you’re looking back over the months or year. Those conversations that happen at the annual performance appraisal or other ‘career chat’ you might have. How does this process work for you? Is it a box ticking exercise to say you’ve completed your goals or is it more meaningful than that. Do you have the opportunity to talk about what has worked well and what didn’t? Are you truthful about how much you’ve dedicated to your career plan? A good manager will probe a little to find out more about what you’ve got out of the steps you’ve taken.

4. Money

Bound up in the whole performance, appraisal and development conversations is the need to talk about remuneration and compensation, in other words money, and how much raise you’re going to make this year.

A good manager is prepared to have those conversations – openly and honestly – but often based on a whole range of factors coming down from directives from the HR team. Often this conversation takes place away from the performance appraisal, for some reason it feels better if the conversation about great performance is not sullied by expectations not being met on the compensation level side.

How do you feel about the money conversations with your own manager? Is it genuinely an open and honest conversation or does it feel like a heavy game of chess? Did you accept compensation at face value or are you someone who is up for the negotiation? Do you think about other compensation options if monetary raises are off the table? Are you fully aware of how your organisation’s compensation and pay scales work? Are you often left disappointed after conversations with your manager about money or do you feel like you are treated fairly?

5. How you need to grow?

Janson talks about development of employees being a “strategic business imperative” and organisations need to ensure development going forward is in line with the strategy. Here are the three questions she expects managers to ask each employee:

  • Evaluate strengths – Where are your greatest strengths?
  • Development tactics – How should your manager help you develop and progress?
  • Office opinion – What do people say behind your back that he or she should know?

The last question is particularly interesting don’t you think? I suppose we are so used to the 360 degree feedback process that we never really think about the direct alternative such as this question. Nevertheless all three questions should be considered when thinking about your development.

What other help do you think you need to answer the question – how do you need to grow? Are you happy that you know what the business needs and you’re happy that your career just happens to be going in that direction too? Do you give much thought to your future career at all or are you someone who is quite comfortable with their lot and you feel you don’t need to improve?

For me it’s interesting to see what the current HR perspectives are on areas such as careers and I can’t help but relate them directly back to the conversations I have with project practitioners about their current jobs and future aspirations when they are looking for new opportunities.

As you can see, some of these perspectives often throw up more questions, which if they make us stop and think in a positive way, can only be a good thing.






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  1. I agree with much of what is said here but number four is the interesting one for me – on remuneration. My big gripe (mainly from a public sector perspective which is my background when I used to have appraisals) is the tendency to view my performance through a lens of affordability. What I mean by this is playing down how good I am because the organisation is restricted by a quota or can’t afford to pay me the raise I deserve.

    In my view, money should be a separate conversation, because resources are a factor whether it is public or private sector. Employees are not stupid, they can read the writing on the wall and they know – in broad terms – what affordability looks like. Expectations around remuneration that are sensibly managed with honesty and integrity are more likely to lead to positive outcomes rather than artificially deflating performance appraisal ratings to fit quotas for affordability of performance-related pay schemes.

    Such ‘moderation processes’ where managers gather together in a locked room to virtually parade their staff in some kind of hybrid beauty contest/ bake off is one of the most demeaning and dishonest HR processes ever invented.

    Time to change the model.

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