Sunday, September 30, 2007

Finding the Hidden Agenda

There are project managers and there are good project managers. But you will also come across, only ever so often, really outstanding project managers. This week I gave a key note speech to the Benelux PMI chapter at their annual event in Rotterdam on the subject of ‘Finding the hidden agenda’. Because it was so warmly accepted I thought I would share with my readers the basic outline of the speech.

My definition of a hidden agenda is:

• Something undisclosed that potentially conflicts with the required outcome
• A plan that you don’t know about…
• A plot that you are unaware of…

The principle is this: If you want to get the most out of a team, then you have to get the most out of all of the individuals who make up that team. You have to have them pull together and form a tight knit group that trust one another and compliment one another with their skills, energy and creativity.

There are thousands of books on motivation and most of us have our own techniques that we try to apply. But the question of the hidden agenda is so often over looked. If you know where each of your team members is going to, what their ideals, visions and dreams are, if you can anticipate what their hidden agendas might be, then (in the best case) you are well on the way to being able to motivate them to producing excellence and (in the worst case) you can see that their hidden agendas may well be on a collision course with your desired outcome and thus can begin to manoeuvre a way to avoid to catastrophe and even to enhance the outcome by finding a way to combine the agendas to compliment one with the other.

I find that hidden agendas are often detected by the following:

1. The simple avoidance of a question
2. When all logical arguments fail to impress
3. A proposal from a sponsor or team member sounds unusually crazy
4. Decisions appear illogical or ‘daft’
5. A lack of interest from those you expect to behave otherwise
6. Abnormal bouts of behavior

Of course there are those people who are generally known to be ‘poker faced’ who are almost impossible to read, but most people (luckily for the PM or IM) are not that good at keeping their hidden agendas hidden. There are times when you simply must though, and experienced interim and project/program managers simply have to, especially in times of:

• Mergers and Acquisitions
• Immanent Downsizing
• Handling cases of suspected corruption or other illegal activities

Mostly I find that hidden agendas are only covering a narrow range of possibilities, such as:

• A fear of rejection, incompetence, or being replaced
• Ambition or greed
• Guilt
• Insecurity

Hidden agendas on a one to one basis are something usually containable, but sometimes one comes across, multiple hidden agendas, even in a single project, a typical case could be:

• The project manager wants to close the project on time to hide some outstanding issues
• The operations director wants to keep the project open to book extra (non project) costs
• Finance director wants to put the project on hold until the next financial year to spread CAPEX without overspending this year’s budget
• Marketing wants to add new features (scope creep) to the project to cover up for departmental failure

In these situations it can be very difficult for an interim manager to resolve, even assuming that the hidden agendas somehow become ‘unhidden’.

In any case the outstanding project and interim managers are those who have very high emotional intelligence and can read people and situations very well, thus uncovering what is hidden and doing so in a subtle way that allows them to manipulate the situation into a direction that they choose.

Of course this subject deserves much more, but this is only my blog, not a thesis or essay, your comments and own experiences are very welcome!

More on my views on the hidden agenda can be found in my book, ‘Making a Difference’ published by Lannoo Campus and available for purchase on line here

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