Forging Resilience as Project Professionals
“A man may have wisdom and discernment, but that is not like embracing a favorable opportunity. A man may have instruments of husbandry, but that is not like waiting for the farming seasons.” — Mengzi.
I do not know a project management professional who has not faced challenging situations during their career. The range of challenges can include unforeseen risks that quickly became issues, such as geopolitical events, acts of God or, most recently, a pandemic.
Those kinds of stressful situations help to forge the resilience skills and traits characteristic of the modern project management professional. Resilience is not about toughness; it is about equanimity. It’s about how you manage your temperament in challenging situations and move forward.
During these times, stakeholders expect you, the project management professional, to act and act fast. There is a desire for instant gratification and often a misinterpretation of the concept of “being agile” by both stakeholders and project management professionals.
I remember one time in which I was leading the negotiation process with a prospect in South America. On that Friday morning, I recommended that my manager hold off on sharing the final proposal until I met with the prospect in person on Monday. On Saturday morning, I received a text from my manager telling me that he was about to leave for South America for the Monday meeting, which was not in the original plan. Due to personal commitments, I was flying in on Sunday night. As soon as I landed, I already had two missed calls from the customer and a couple of texts asking for an explanation about the drastic changes in the proposal and why the purchasing department was copied in the email.
My approach, based on Fabian strategy—a military strategy in which pitched battles and frontal assaults are avoided in favor of wearing down an opponent through a war of attrition and indirection—was not successful. Much like when Fabius fought Hannibal, a third party involved took action without my knowledge.
When we met with the customer, I tried to regain control of the situation, but it was too late. Now the purchasing director was at the negotiation table, something that was not part of the original negotiation strategy. After several hours of renegotiation, the contract was signed, but the two parties left money on the table. The customer saw a reduction in their IT budget, as the planned spend was reduced by 15 percent.
History Repeats Itself
Similar to what happened to Fabius during the Second Punic War, my manager was hailed as the key negotiator who closed the deal, and my perceived lack of action was recorded in my annual performance review.
The desire for instant gratification was satiated, but it made the company lose sight of the future. When the contract was about to end, the customer called to notify us that they would not renew the contract for the second phase of the project.
My strategy not to share the proposal ahead of time was focused on the long term, and on building a strong relationship with the customer—which would later translate into more business for the company. After the contract ended, my manager and his boss realized the reason for my “lack” of action and changed their views.
This event was one of the best learning experiences in my professional career. It gave me the knowledge of how to bounce back and the strength to learn the lessons I needed in order to move to the next stage in my career.
Cultural awareness cannot and should not be ignored. Contract negotiations have strong ties to culture, and local and national business etiquette should be followed to be successful.
Recognition for your efforts may not happen at first. It may take some time, but it will help confirm that your decisions were for the best.
It was one of the many setbacks in my career, but I am grateful for the experience.
As a project management professional, what events or situations have forged your resilience?
Writer: Conrado Morlan