Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How to Succeed when Your Project is in Jeopardy - Part 2 of 2

Last article I wrote about how being on a project that is ending, a company that might be getting acquired or going out of business, etc.  It was more about the project itself - how you can see if its going down, what strategies you can use to avert or at least slow its death.  Ultimately I left off about things you should be doing, training and the such, to start your new life.   That's where I'm going to pick it up. 

I recently discovered the “four A’s” of stress relief from the Mayo Clinic
  • Avoid the source of stress
  • Alter your reaction to it
  • Accept things as they are or 
  • Adapt by changing your expectations
  • Acknowledge your team, the work, and the moment (this one is mine)
This seems like a good structure to Survive a Project in Jeopardy and something as a project leader you can model and share with the team. 

Avoid the stress - Sometimes, especially in workaholic America, getting away for a while doesn't dawn on us as a viable strategy for survival.   I used to think vacation a lie, like a mirage of fun before you have to return to work, but now I cherish the time and would like to have more of it, especially with my kids.  Who knows, a good week spent hiking might put that project struggle into some perspective. 

Alter  your reaction -  A dying project can be very stressful, and like most things that are alive, a project will die.  Most people on the team know its dying or at least a zombie.   An example of altering your reaction: 


Disconnected Executive Who Drives a REALLY Nice Car and won't be affected by a downturn:  "We're going to cut your budget to 1/3 of its current size...good luck keeping those customers happy. Oh, and you're getting Phil's projects too because he's been laid off."

YOU: " The hell you are! I'll raise a stink all over the company to stop you." 

ANGRY YOU: (10 minutes later)  to the team:  "Well guys, the folks upstairs just chopped our budget. Get your boxes packed.."

TEAM:  *cries*


YOU: "Team we're going to have to prioritize, and delight our customer so much they'll freak out with happiness and recommend us to everyone !"

TEAM: "Yeah!"

Accept What Is -  This is one of those things that is straight forward in words but difficult in practice. The Yoda of the NBA, Phil Jackson’s latest tome,the very Tolkien sounding "Eleven Rings" ends with this: “The soul of success is surrendering to what is"   This is really close to Altering your reaction, the difference being that acceptance is really internal work.    What you, while you're packing your boxes, feel about the situation.    Its also an authenticity thing - don't lie to the team.  If there are budget issues, be honest.  Don't over disclose, but by all means don't hide and lie.  These are people...they are Immortal Souls and we need to treat them with due respect.

One more quote, this one from one of my all time favorite books, Flow.

People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.
Mihaly CsikszentmihalyiFlow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, 1990

Yet acceptance only gets you so far..one must adapt, change expectations, and seek renaissance.

Adapt and Change expectations - I am carrying a belief that much of the unhappiness people's lives is due to cognitive dissonance caused by the gap between expectations and reality.  We have maps in our heads about where we were supposed to live, what we were supposed to be in charge of, and what we were supposed to be driving ( have you seen the new Jaguars?  Oh my) , etc.

Adapt to finding the joy you can attain. Create events on your calendar that you might want to go to.  That writers conference...the art colony...the dance club.... You were something before this gig, and you'll likely be something after it. Take this experience and start moving forward.

If you're lucky to be leading a project, people will come to you with concerns.  Help them with this effort. Help them reduce the dissonance between what they wanted their life to be and what it is.

Acknowledge -  I had to add this.  Some if the best experiences I've had was where the closure was aided by a conscious acknowledgment of the hard work, the inherent goodness of collective creation, and the finality of that moment.  Whether its you leaving or a teammate,  it changes  the project.  Being mindful and saying goodbye are powerful tonic in memory creation.  

Lastly there's some resources to help.    I'll give you three that I use:

1. The fear.less  newsletter.  Just drives directly to the issue of fear and how hundreds of super-successful people overcame it.

2.  Crush It, Unstoppable and Wired Magazine - Love all three. Crush It is a book that makes me want to walk through walls. Unstoppable is great if you're trying to start a biz, and Wired. Man I love that magazine.  Somehow it slakes my geek-thirst and I feel aligned again.  

3.  Escapism:  Read that fantasy novel, go to the movies, binge watch your favorite show.  Life is hard, and if you have some non-destructive habits by all means partake.  Recharge those batteries.  See the greatness of other people's labor and creativity . Feel their dreams through their art.

You've done all that, and now you're ready.  You've recharged those batteries, the new project is on the horizon, and you have that great fishing trip scheduled.  Be mindful, now that you're back in the game , of how you recovered yourself.  Remember it, because this won't be the last time, and rather than see that as a negative, leverage appreciative inquiry and reframe  - letting go and moving on is really life itself. Being good with that is up to you.