Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success

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Project Managers: Are you Getting (and Giving) Gratitude?

"Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough." - Oprah Winfrey

My favourite project sponsors were the ones that took time out to build and nurture a relationship with me, hold me to account for the promises that I made, invest in my personal and professional development and who said thank you for the work that I did.

The work that I did wasn’t always to the highest quality and I made a fair few mistakes. However, despite this, they always took the time out to show their gratitude for the work I was doing and the energy that I was putting in.

I was talking to an executive in the US last week about helping them evolve their delivery culture. When I asked what the sponsors did to show their gratitude for the work that project managers did, he said ‘what do you mean?’. Which wasn't the answer I was looking for.

He went on to say that it’s hard to say thank you for a service they didn’t feel they were getting.

Gratitude isn’t as straightforward as we think. I empathised with this person, but by the same token, I didn’t feel the organisation had done enough to define what a quality service looked like, so the project managers were always unlikely to meet it (which, of course, was the reason for his call).

Project managers need to be better at getting clear on the expectations of sponsors. What does good look like? How will we know if I’ve achieved it? How do we use feedback to improve our performance?

If you’re doing all of this but not receiving thanks for the work that you do, then you’ll quickly become disengaged and the project will lose momentum.

According to research company Gallup, disengaged employees cost US businesses $450-$550bn per year (it's $25bn per year in Australia) and the turnover cost of replacing a member of staff is roughly one year's worth of their salary.

Given that project managers are at the forefront of organisational transformation, we can’t afford to let this happen.

So what to do when you don’t receive gratitude? You ask for it.

Of course, this isn’t something we’re conditioned to do in the office, although those with children know that it isn’t a problem at home! When we put food in front of them and we don’t hear any gratitude, we stop and say ‘what do you say?’

Now I’m not suggesting that you treat project sponsors like children (well, not all of you anyway), but given how important gratitude is to our mental strength and physical health it’s vital that we get better at asking for it.

As Laura Trice said in her TEDtalk, It’s not a sign of weakness or insecurity, it’s a basic human requirement for a job well done. If you’re not getting it, you need to ask for it and if you're not giving it to your team, you need to start. Their needs are the same as yours.

If you’re a project sponsor then you should already know that the success of a project is down to your level of engagement and how well you’re managing the project manager.

You can’t ‘set and forget’ when it comes to leadership. You have to stay on top of progress, be emotionally mature and continually check-in with the team to ensure that they feel appreciated for the work that they do.

American lecturer and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.’

All things.

Show that you care. Give a little gratitude.

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