Lonely Biryani and the Siren Song of the Pandemic

The year is off to a dynamic start. The weather is chilly, but I am back on my bike cycling through an awakening world full of the scents and promise of spring. As a data lover I frequently check my Garmin to see how I am doing and how my performance is improving, or not, as the case may be. Currently 80% of other users run further than me and 60% cycle faster. My area of triumph is not exercise related, but I am undisputedly good at it: I currently log more sleep hours than 80% of other users!

Today’s topics:

– Lonely biryani and the siren song of the pandemic
– Strengths and weaknesses versus strengths and a growth mindset
– The sacrificial lamb and a blaming culture
– 10 tips to help you ensure your projects never fail again

Lonely Biryani and the Siren Song of the Pandemic

Last week an Indian friend suggested we make Biryani together. He provided the recipe. I shopped, bought flowers and invited another friend. I was surprised at how excited I was to have guests beyond my regular pandemic bubble. The next morning I received a call: “I have a sore throat, a runny nose and a cough but I tested myself for COVID and I’m negative. I’m still happy to come. Shall I?” I replied: “Yes”. Then I thought about those COVID19 self-tests and how they lack sensitivity, of the likelihood of Omicron versus Delta, my aged parents and the fact that I’d avoided infection so far, so why risk it now? I cancelled. That evening my friend called to say his wife had tested positive. It is amazing how resource-intense engaging with COVID is. I realise it’s probably why I need more sleep. I have decided to celebrate what I do, not focus on what I don’t do. To practice self-compassion. And, every day, to do something that makes me happy. Why not join me?

Strengths and Weaknesses versus Strengths and a Growth Mindset

I once interviewed a candidate for a job with whom I had worked in the past. I don’t recall what she said her strengths were. But regarding her weaknesses, she said candidly “You know, overall, I think I’m just a great person”. I was impressed by her confidence. I also started thinking about the value of this question. Every candidate prepares for strengths and weaknesses. The internet is full of lists. No candidate is perfect, no manager, nor team nor company is perfect. We are all growing – hopefully, every day. Each candidate brings a unique blend of personality, ability, culture and knowledge to a company. Each company provides a different microcosm. When we accept that and are honest with one another, that’s when the magic happens. So, I suggest the question needs an overhaul.

For strengths, I’d propose: “What are your strengths, how did they help you get where you are today? How are they relevant for this position? Do they sometimes trip you up?” The second question could be: “Where do you want to grow; are there areas in this job that you think would help you grow? Are there any specific things you want to try/learn?” We might even ask: “Are there areas you once identified you want to develop in, and do you feel you have worked through them successfully? If so, can you tell me more?” Even an outside work example could be illuminating.

What is interesting is not a list of someone’s weaknesses, but whether they are open to evolving and have the desire and ability to grow. The company has to offer a growth-focused environment. After all, if a candidate cannot grow in a job, they are more likely to move on.

The Sacrificial Lamb and a Blaming Culture

A man lived at Chicago’s airport for three months because he was afraid to go home due to fear of COVID, according to a Guardian article. The judge presiding over the case said, “You’re telling me that an unauthorised, non-employee individual was allegedly living within a secure part of the O’Hare Airport terminal from 10 October 2020, to 16 January 2021, and was not detected?” “The court finds these facts and circumstances quite shocking for the alleged period of time that this occurred,” said Ortiz. “Being in a secured part of the airport under a fake ID badge allegedly, based upon the need for airports to be absolutely secure so that people feel safe to travel, I do find those alleged actions do make him a danger to the community.”

I am fascinated. The system failed, yet an individual is held responsible. Sacrificing one person is much easier than fixing a system. Even if, as in this case, it is blatantly obvious. Sadly, as it is the easy option, this often happens. The temptation is there in teams, when someone speaks an uncomfortable truth, or in companies, when someone reports a problematic leader and is sanctioned for it. When a problem is solved in this superficial way and the real problem is not addressed, the system continues to malfunction. Companies end up losing valuable resources and people learn and stop speaking up. Fixing the root cause is never easy, but then neither are most things that are worth doing.

10 Tips To Help you Ensure your Projects Never Fail Again

  1. Don’t start until you understand what the business imperative is for the project The following, though used often, are not business imperatives
    • other companies are doing it
    • we think our customers expect it
    • we would look more professional
  2. Define what success is before you start; agree how you will measure it by common consensus
  3. Ensure Roles and Responsibilities and goals are clear
  4. Engage the business, IT and any other key stakeholders in overall strategy and planning
  5. Identify any project risks and how you will address them
  6. Manage stakeholder expectations at all levels by frequently engaging with them
  7. Plan projects and timelines involving the leaders for each stakeholder group involved in delivering to the timelines
  8. Plan realistically, remember: holidays, weekends, people have lives, they get ill, they leave…
  9. Be flexible, don’t get stuck on timelines and deadlines. When things change, they change. Talk to your senior stakeholders and negotiate new, realistic deliverables and deadlines
  10. Know where your responsibilities start and end

Number 10 is the hardest for new project managers, yet it is key to maintaining health and sanity. Whenever you get frazzled and worried that you cannot deliver because milestones are not being met, ask yourself: is this my responsibility or not?

If you are facing a complex challenge and would like a sounding board or you’d like some help to implement a project globally, or you want to discuss executive coaching, or a career move, then please feel free to reach out for an informal and confidential chat.

I look forward to hearing from you, all the best.


Photo by Neil Mark Thomas on Unsplash