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PMO – Carrot or Stick?

Have you heard it been said about the PMO that they fall into two camps, carrot or stick?

On last week’s session about the Sponsors and the PMO (full video etc ready soon), it was mention in relation to how the PMO can work with sponsors, and in the picture to the right, that was pulled from a session we did about lessons learnt a while back.

Apart from being able to draw nice pictures of carrots and sticks, what does it really mean?

Ultimately it’s all about punishment-and-reward motivational techniques, just like with children, we reward when they do something they should do and remove privileges when they don’t.

Originally applying to animals, it describes whether to get it to move by enticing the animal with a nice juicy carrot in front of it as a reward, or beating it with a stick. Getting the animal to move is the objective or target, and the carrot and stick are a means of achieving it. BCF Group

Carrot or Stick?

Management is already full of anecdotes about using “carrot and stick” as a means to motivate people, and whilst many think it conjures up a terrible image, you can’t deny that it’s memorable and certainly sparks conversation, debate and ideas. So what does it mean in the PMO context?

The Stick

Is this the worse kind of PMO? Berating the project manager for not using the right template, strict deadlines with no excuses, zero flexibility in the process – in other words, the strictest of “command-and-control” which leads to the tag of “project police”.

A PMO who is too busy waving the stick around to really hear where people really need the help. Perhaps a bit like the donkey trundling on, taking no heed of the stick because of a stone in its hoof slowing it down.

But perhaps that is your organisation culture, necessary because projects are highly regulatory or steeped in health and safety. Sometimes things are strictly mandated because that’s what’s needed to get the job done, by everyone doing what they need to do and no exceptions.

The Carrot

Or is this the worse kind of PMO? With the head to the side, ready with tea and sympathises, shuffling bits of paper without being able to actively intervene in a supportive and productive way because the skills, ability and authority are just not there.

But being ready to offer education, coaching when needed, a challenge when appropriate, a sounding board and a whole host of prompts, checklists, guidelines and templates to help with the intervention needed to get things back on track and the right decisions being made by those who need to make them. That’s the right kind of carrot we need.

The carrot approach is much more consultative and requires an organisation focused more on collaboration and a culture of openness.

Yet every organisation still needs to know where their projects are at – decisions being made on information across portfolios, programmes and projects still demand a level of repeatable process and compliance with that.

The best type of PMO finds the balance with both carrot and stick.

The Carrot and Stick

It’s all about the motivation of people, and that’s the fun side of project management, understanding all the people involved. And that’s not just about understanding the individual, it’s also about everyone else around them – the whole network of people involved and the different levers that need pulling which keeps things moving.

It’s about using the right approach at the right time – the situation and context are everything.

It’s about upholding the governance arrangements whilst lending practical support where needed. It’s about being able to help that project manager get the information together for the senior exec report, cajoling the team into completing the timesheets (and why not a reward of the PMO biscuit box!). It’s about intervention when colleagues are not seeing eye-to-eye, or when the PM and the sponsor are perhaps not the best of friends.

The PMO knows what needs to happen for portfolios, programmes and projects to be successful. We’ve all read the reports, the books that make it clear where the sticky points are. Knowing that needs to happen and being able to do it is a gap that stops many of us getting stuck in and helping. Or for that help to be welcomed.

Often the most interesting side of the work we do is that people bit – as a side note, the latest study we’re working on – the personal and emotional intelligence side of the work we do aims to find out more about how PMO people deal with this kind of thing.

It takes a skilled approach, lots of practice and judgement. It comes when we’re able to understand the culture, where we’re able to step in and when. It comes when we can see the bigger picture and also the 1-2-1 time we spend with people. For some, it comes from a gut instinct (but most likely that’s experience talking), for others, we like to learn from how others get people to do the things they want them to do – both effectively and without losing face and friends.

Maybe this is when the PMO tag changes from “project police” to “trusted partner”.

Management Theories on Motivation

Thinking about motivation it reminded me about a more modern take on the carrot and stick – with this article – Cobras and Carrots: How to Get the Best Out of Project Teams about the book Primed for Performance. It looks at the “science of total motivation” specifically direct motivation, which includes Play, Purpose and Potential to help increase performance and indirect motivation of Emotional pressure, Economic pressure and Inertia which weakens motivation.

You’ve probably already heard about Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs, here are a few others that you can check out:

The PMO is there to support, we have perimeters to work within and some things are mandated. There will always be things that no-one likes doing or drags their heels just like there will always be parts of our work we love that gets all our attention. As a PMO professional it might just be worth exploring how you can find the right kind of motivational techniques to get the things you need from others – that way we make all of our lives easier. 

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