Construction Stakeholder Management

December 29, 2009

Wiley-Blackwell has published a new book on stakeholder management in the construction industry, edited by Ezekiel Chinyio from the University of Wolverhampton and Paul Olomolaiye from the University of the West of England. This book is designed to map the current state of stakeholder management in the construction industry with input from a range of well known academics and researchers.

Our chapter on Mapping Stakeholders can be previewed on our Interesting Book’s page with links through to the publisher’s web site.


The Cultural Dimension of Stakeholder Management

December 28, 2009

The importance of understanding culture in designing successful communications to influence and inform stakeholders cannot be understated. But as discussed in previous posts, culture is multi-dimensional. Some of the facets include:

  • corporate culture – how the organisation works
  • industry/professional culture – the way people in a profession work and relate
  • age – baby boomers, Gen X, Y and Z (at least in the western world)
  • national/ethnic cultures

The last of these facets tends to be over simplified in many texts. There is not just an east/west divide! Robert J House in Culture, Leadership and Organizations (2004 – Sage Publishing) reported on the Global Leadership and Organizational Behaviour Effectiveness (GLOBE) program that is undertaking a long term study of 62 societies.

The GLOBE study identifies ten national culture clusters that have distinctive leadership and management behaviours:

  1. Asian:
    a. South Asia – Philippines to Iran, including ASEAN countries and India
    b. Confucian Asia – China, Japan and Korea plus Singapore, Hong Kong and Tiwan
  2. European:
    a. Anglo – North America, UK, Australia /NZ and ‘white’ South Africa.
    b. Germanic – Germany, Austria and Netherlands
    c. Latin – Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Israel.
    d. Eastern – Poland and Greece to Russia.
    e. Nordic – Denmark to Finland, Iceland.
  3. Arab – Qatar and Iraq to Morocco
  4. Sub-Sahara Africa including ‘black’ South Africa.
  5. Latin America – Mexico to Argentina.

The GLOBE study focused on the interrelationship between societal culture, organisational culture and organisational leadership. Attributes such as uncertainty avoidance, power distance and performance -v- human orientation were considered.

Yoshitaka Yamazaki in Learning Styles and Typologies of Cultural Differences (2005 – Science Direct) identifies six dimensions:
–  Cultural typologies in anthropology
      1. High-context vs. low-context cultures
      2. Shame vs. guilt cultures
–  Cross-cultural management literature
      3. Strong vs. weak uncertainty avoidance
      4. M-type organizations vs. O-type organizations
–  Cross-cultural psychology
      5. Interdependent-self vs. independent-self
      6. Field-dependent and field-independent

High context societies place great importance on ambience, decorum, the relative status of the participants in a communication and the manner of the message’s delivery. Effective communication depend on developing a relationship first, because most of the information is either in the physical context or in the context of the relationship, therefore relatively little needs to be in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message. Communication in low context societies tends to have the majority of the information vested in the explicit code transferred by the message. People from high context societies (eg, France or China) may think people from a low context society (eg, Germany or USA) think they are stupid because the low context people include all of the information in a message. Similarly, people from high context societies are unlikely to express their disagreement or reservations in an open meeting, circumstances and relationships are as important as work so they would comment in a more private or appropriate occasion but only if the opportunity is provided.

Shame or guilt considers whether a person has an outwards orientation based on the judgement of others or an inward orientation focused on their core ethical values to encourage high performance and moderate poor performance.

O-Type organisations are where the employees see themselves as a permanent part of the group; they are part of a social collective. M-Type organisations are more focused on individual achievement.

Field-dependent societies adhere to structures and perceive or experience communication in a global fashion. Field-independent societies and people are analytical; they can self-structure situations and have self-defined goals and reinforcements.

These differences in approach were one of the reasons I posed the question ‘do we need cultural extensions to the PMBOK?’ (see: PMI’s Voices on Project Management). But while understanding cultural stereotypes may be a helpful starting point, no grouping or stereotyping will provide the necessary subtleties needed for important communication.

Firstly, everyone’s experience is unique and the person you wish to communicate with will have been moulded by a range of influences including the corporate and professional cultures they have worked within. Second, no study I am aware of has focused on the effect of the global communication network on national cultural behaviours. The concept of baby boomers, X, Y and Z Gen, is very much a western phenomena, there are certainly likely to be age groupings in other cultures but where the divides lie and how technology interacts with the national characteristics is largely unknown (at least to me). Thirdly, people travel widely for both education and work, even after returning home they will have absorbed some of the influences of the other cultures they have lived in.

So how should you approach the planning of an important communication? As a start, try to define the normal communication mode of the person you are seeking to influence or inform. Understanding national characteristics helps, but is not enough; you need to seek information from a wide range of sources. Err on the side of caution if there is any doubt about the optimum mode for communication. Then carefully observe the effect of your initial communication on the receiver and adjust the mode until you achieve a satisfactory result.

My paper for the PMI Asia Pacific Congress, Beyond Reporting – The Communication Strategy, is also focused on the topic of effective communication, as is my next book, Advising upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders due for publication in 2011. So expect more on this subject in the New Year.


Issue Management & Stakeholders

December 19, 2009

Our business manager was a passenger on Qantas flight QF10 Singapore – Melbourne on 17th Dec. that experienced an engine failure after take off and had to return to Singapore.

From and risk and issues management perspective, overall the Qantas response was very good. In flight the information provided to passengers was timely, accurate and relevant.

By the time the aircraft landed some 40 minutes after the incident, busses and hotel rooms were organised, the hotel had found additional staff, check-in was quick and an evening meal provided (not bad for a problem that occurred close to midnight Singapore time.

The pre-organised emergency response plans even included bright orange stickers to ware so people directing the 350 passengers to the busses, etc could identify the people from the flight. Overall, from the flight crews response to the initial problem through to the ground crews management of 350 disoriented passengers the initial response was great an clearly demonstrated a well thought out response plan.

However, once the initial issues were managed, the following 12 to 18 hours were not so good – perhaps the accountants started to worry about costs?? There was no local contact point provided, no ability to deal with individual issues such as his need to access our business systems (we had to pay for the connection) and only limited communication.

What we find really strange is the time one would have expected communication problems immediately after the engine failure the Qantas service was exemplary, later when one would have expected the situation to be under control the Qantas service collapsed to a fairly low level of customer care.

The lessons to be learned from this experience are twofold. Firstly, good risk response plans really do make a difference, and there may be a place for generic plans at the organisational/PMO level for issues likely to occur across a range of project rather than the individual project each inventing their own. These generic response plans could also identify corporate resources that can be called in to help resolve an issue.

The second, more important lesson is the effectiveness of the initial response can be seriously damaged if the stakeholder communication diminishes before the people inconvenienced by the issue are fully over the problem. The Qantas response was technically efficient, right through to flying a replacement aircraft into Singapore for the journey to continue some 23 hours later; there are only a limited number of aircraft sitting around with nothing to do…..

Where Qantas failed was in personalising the follow through to help stakeholders deal effectively with their individual issues. Just a little extra care and we would have been praising Qantas 100%, as it is we feel rather disappointed in the final outcome: a C+ response rather than an A+ and all of the grades were lost at a time when the organisation had had time to think about its reaction, rather than when the problem first occurred.

Risk response plans need to deal with more than just the technical issues. Managing people’s expectations and disappointments is at least as important if the overall damage caused by a risk event or issue is to be minimised.


How to Suffer Successfully

December 7, 2009

How to Suffer Successfully, is the title of chapter four in Alain de Botton’s first book of philosophy, How Proust Can Change Your Life. The same idea is the theme of The Adversity Paradox by J. Barry Griswell and Bob Jennings.

The Adversity Paradox is full of inspiring examples of people who have suffered major adversity and have used the experience to improve their capabilities and gone on to outstanding success. The knowledge they gained from overcoming obstacles has played such a crucial role in their success trajectories that they now consider adversity to be an invaluable friend.

De Botton takes a more philosophical view and recognises there are ‘bad sufferers’ and ‘good sufferers’. Bad sufferers learn nothing from their adversities and react to them by engaging defence mechanisms that compound the problem such as rage, delusion and arrogance. Successful sufferers, including those identified in The Adversity Paradox, use their adversity to gain a better understanding of reality and by rising to the challenge, create a better future for themselves and others.

Whilst no sane project manager would chose to suffer sufficiently to produce their version of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, only the most naive would expect their project to run without a problem. Projects and their attendant stakeholders are a potential source of much grief and suffering, all be it at a lower level of intensity; schedule slippage test failures, cost overruns and accidents to name a few.

As identified by de Botton, bad sufferers try to hide the problems, blame others and learn nothing. Ethical and effective project managers accept their suffering and use the experience to grow their knowledge and capabilities. Quoting Proust, “Griefs, at the moment when they change into ideas, lose some of their power to injure.”

No one likes a project that fails! However, it is only when you are experiencing the pain of failure, the opportunity to learn from the failure opens up. By using the opportunity to maximise the lessons learned, you minimise the potential for similar problems in the future. The cost of the failure is the coin by which future gains are purchased. The difficulty is developing the level of understanding needed to really achieve valuable lessons learned; finding the ‘cause of the cause’. The second more complex challenge is ensuring the lessons learned are transferred to the organisations store of knowledge and available for others to use and thereby avoid unnecessary pain and suffering.

De Botton suggests being a ‘good sufferer’ does not entail subscribing to the Romantic cult of suffering for its own sake, rather making practical use of the occasions when suffering is unavoidable to create new insights and grow in capability or knowledge. Our addition to this basic idea for the practicing project manager is to then make sure the lessons learned are effectively distilled, recorded and made available to others for the future benefit of the organisation and the profession.