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How to make project managers more productive

Existing staff get more productive

A recent Labour Market Outlook report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has highlighted that organisations will not necessarily increase their recruitment activity in the medium term, despite the recent increased confidence in the economy.

Instead, organisations will be looking to make “more intensive use of their existing staff” by increasing productivity and utilising existing employees, as demand increases.

Unusually, during the period of recession, many organisations took the decision to retain higher workforce levels than had previously been seen; even though for many this meant a burden of ‘over employment’ and ‘reduced productivity’ which has been balanced by cuts in real remuneration.

Now, with signs of recovery, organisations are looking to redress this situation by making sure they ‘sweat’ their assets and increase productivity before taking on additional labour costs.

In the project management world this increased productivity and utilisation can easily be depicted by increases in project manager-to-project ratios, additional workloads on bid work and increased actual delivery time against trade-offs on administrative and career development time.

But a project management workforce which has already worked through five years of pay freezes, bonus cuts and drastically reduced professional development opportunities, will not welcome this news.

Within the same report, the CIPD recommends that organisations focus on “alternative ways to motivate and engage existing staff, especially in development and upskilling” – recognition perhaps that placing higher demands of work output on staff cannot yet be matched with increased levels of remuneration.

If organisations are to meet increased demand for their products or services with their current staff levels, action needs to be taken to reverse the stagnation that has set in, with regards to development.

Organisations should certainly heed the warnings about motivating and engaging existing staff if they are to avoid the ‘revolving door’ syndrome, as staff considered to be highly skilled and vital to their businesses when recovery and growth kicks in, will often be highly attractive to competitors in a revitalised employment market.

Re-energised workforce

What is clear about the report is that organisations are most concerned about retaining their best members of staff.

Giving staff more professional development and training opportunities – work that engages and allows development of new skills – are all steps that could lead to a re-energised workforce and at the same time, make it harder for the competition to poach key people.

For practitioners in the project management field, this is an opportunity to re-focus on their careers and start understanding what they need after five years in the doldrums – and crucially how their development dovetails with the organisation’s future needs.

In the latest Project Management Benchmark Report from Arras People, on the UK project management community, there are signs that many PM practitioners have much work to do to re-focus their careers: 59 per cent of practitioners have no clear career development plan to help them achieve their goals of career progression.

The report also highlights the lack of self-assessment amongst practitioners – a signal that many are unclear about how their current levels of skill and competence compare against their peers and industry standards.

Self-assessment would almost certainly contribute to a clearer understanding of skills gaps and what development is needed to address these too, as discussed in a previous blog: Why project managers need assessment-led recruitment.

Project practitioners, however, cannot plan their careers in isolation. Organisations also have to be clear about what skills their project practitioners need now and in the future.

With only 18 per cent of UK practitioners having access to some form of employer competence framework which enables practitioners to align career development with organisational goals, the real danger is that many “development and upskilling” activities could fail to hit the target.

For organisations serious about increasing productivity, motivation, skill and capability of their project management employees – it is time to focus on what matters to both parties.

Benchmarking could offer the first effective step in this process, allowing both parties to understand exactly what does matter and how the goal can be achieved.

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About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay Scott
Lindsay Scott is Director of PMO Learning, the PMO training specialist and Arras People the programme and project management recruitment specialists. Lindsay is the project management careers columnist for PMI's Network magazine and co-editor of the Gower Handbook of People in Project Management. Lindsay created and hosts The PMO Conference and hosts the monthly PMO Flashmobs

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