Managing People and Projects During a Time of Separation

By CSDA ADMIN posted 06-10-2020 03:46 PM


By Michael Grabow, Master Trainer and Coach, CPS HR Consulting

Today, the rate of change can be mind-blowing. You may remember when strategic plans were built for 10 to 20 years. Now most planning efforts are developed for 1 to 3 years. Some believe we will get to the place of planning 90 to 180 days for setting our organizational course of actions. Those actions become projects. In the past, projects were things only “project management professionals (PMPs)” managed and completed. Today, we all must step into the place of managing “new stuff” aka projects. We all have worked on “new stuff” before. We did it then and we can do it now.

We have a unique opportunity now during the current global health situation to manage people and projects with the added challenge of doing so remotely. We are learning new skills to develop, grow, and complete our projects at a distance. We need project managers to show up as leaders more than ever before to keep projects on track and employees engaged in this environment. That means listening, learning, and leading with care.

Projects are amazing incubators to grow and develop your leadership talents and organizational bench strength. We must warm up to the idea that failure can be a good teacher. The question is, did you learn from the failure or do you keep repeating it? Project managers must establish and create a work culture for team members that encourages 100% open conversations. By exploring together in the art of conversation, we can find healthy new approaches to completing and prioritizing project activities we have never completed. When communicating, remember some people want more details and others only want an overarching goal. Do you know who on your team desires what level of communication and what motivates them to be productive? Now is the time for one-on-one conversations, with your camera turned on, to discuss agreed-upon expectations.

Our ability to listen is key. Project managers need to check in and ensure their team members are doing okay. I suggest committing to listening at a new level by becoming a focused listener. A focused listener is one that clears the mind and chooses to be fully present for the conversation. Being singularly focused provides benefit for both parties. The project manager benefits by hearing the heart of the conversation and picking up on cues about the project and teammates. Employees benefit by feeling valued, engaged, and empowered. It is not easy to stay completely focused but, it is valuable. You know when you have been in a conversation where others have been distracted. You can hear it in their response. You discover it when you ask a question and the answer is not in alignment with your questioning. It is disappointing and devaluing when you realize your supervisor or project manager is not present in the conversation. Great project managers practice valuing teammates by choosing to be a focused listener.

Project managers must be learners. Learning are curious, open to changes, flexible, and agile. Project managers must establish an agile mindset. Today’s project scope, budget and timeline can change at any moment. An agile mindset accepts that fact in line with the fact that change is the only constant in life. Too many people approach daily life and work with a “copy and paste” mentality. They copy yesterday and paste it onto today and tomorrow. We can no longer expect things to remain the same. If you approach life from copying and pasting each day, then you are missing out on life itself. You miss out on being in the present. Yes, today is different and so will be tomorrow. To be adaptable to what today and tomorrow can bring, you must choose an agile mindset grounded in curiosity and learning. Development opportunities are all around you. What will you create for your next moment? Make it powerful with a new open perspective.

Finally, project managers must lead with care. You must care about the tasks being accomplished. Care for your people and learn how they want to be led. Care about the environment or culture you create for your team. Since we have all been involved in physical distancing and quarantining, we must realize that most of our teammates have different working environments at home (kitchen table, separate office, bedroom, or the living room). That environment may be somewhat uncomfortable. How do you demonstrate care for your staff wherever they are working and from a distance? Some people are scared. Some people are struggling with bills, relationships, and separation. We must invest the time NOW to show we care. Reach out to each of your teammates. Ensure they have all the tools needed to accomplish their tasks. Do we need to set up food baskets, virtual get togethers, or even make store runs for them? Can we leverage the team’s talent for helping those in need? Do you care about your team members as human beings? Or do you see them as just cogs in a process of work? If you don’t demonstrate care now (during these times), when will you? Now is an opportunity to show up as a caring leader. You want people to care about the work they are performing – show your people how much you care for them.

These moments, we need project managers to be listeners, learners, and leaders that care deeply for others. Leaders influence. Leaders guide and support. You are being challenged to practice common leadership skills in completely new ways. Managing a project may be easier to complete if you are all by yourself, however, the rewards and results are greater as you learn to lead others to accomplish the project at hand even if we are working in different places.

Now more than ever, you get to create new stuff in a new way, in a new virtual work environment. Invest the time, connect in new and professional ways, and create deeper business relationships by showing you care. Life is good. Even now. Let us choose to show up and make a difference for our teammates and communities. Be safe and stay healthy.

Michael Grabow is a Master Trainer and Coach at CPS HR Consulting. CPS HR Consulting is a self-supporting public agency providing a full range of integrated HR solutions to government and nonprofit clients across the country. CPS HR offers deep expertise and unmatched perspective in organizational strategy, recruitment and selection, classification and compensation, and training and development. Learn more at