adam galinsky, speak up, ted talk, communication, assertiveness
Mar 17

Help your Words Find Your Voice

By ahsigmon | Blog

Do you ever get that “words stuck in your throat” feeling? If you do then Adam Galinsky has some tips to help those words find voice. What can help? Focus on expanding your personal power while focusing on “the other.”

man, spy glass, change, change management
Mar 10

Playing the Change Game: Project Managers As Change Agents

By ahsigmon | Blog

What does a film production studio, a financial investment firm, a power and natural resources company, a food and beverage startup, and a game company have in common?

At first glance it seems that NONE of these companies have anything to do with each other, but when you peel back the content of their respective businesses, the common denominator becomes obvious. They all have a TON of projects, extremely LIMITED resources, global competition and financial PRESSURE, and rapid, chronically shifting CHANGE.

Getting on the same page

Getting stakeholders aligned with and excited about the project vision can be challenging, and creating the stakeholder ownership needed to make the project happen takes time and consideration.  It’s rare that stakeholders embrace the project vision with the same enthusiasm as the people who created the original concept but it’s not impossible.  With tools, techniques, and some patience and understanding, a project manager can create a compelling story or picture of why the project is important to the business and what it will produce.

What change means

The completion of a project usually guarantees that someone somewhere is going to have to do something different from what they’ve done previously, which means a change is going to occur.  Historically, stakeholders are slow to warm to change, and it’s crucial to understand that when leading a project, project managers are leading change. This obviously puts you, project manager, into a catch-22 situation.

When the problem or opportunity to be addressed by the project, sense of purpose for the effort, and indicators of success are not clearly understood among stakeholders, considerable time and energy can be wasted.  This can result in personality conflicts that are actually unresolved conflicts over what is supposed to be accomplished. Using the following tips can help stakeholders feel less resistant to the change and create understanding and purpose quickly.

Change with context

When meeting with stakeholders, start with the problem or opportunity that created the need for the project: create context for the current state.  Help stakeholders see the advantage to the business to leverage the opportunity or to address the problem through exploring the conditions that generated it. Use a simple process to promote quick understanding and purpose. The story about the business situation and ensuing change should light up the hearts of the people who will work on and pay for the project.

Use tools to facilitate involvement and ownership to the outcome 

  • Involve stakeholders throughout the project so they can participate in shaping and defining the change the project will create. They will be more likely to “own” it.
  • Use group facilitation tools like Affinity Process, Scope Facilitation Technique, and Force Field Analysis to help align their assumptions.
  • Create the project story through storyboarding. Doing this well throughout the project will build  clarity and commitment among stakeholders and create an agreement that can serve as a “stake in the ground” or common reference point when disagreements crop up.
  • Effect change by generating awareness so get them involved early and often.
  • Get the the right people involved at the right time.
  • Understand and manage stakeholder expectations by determining if the project objectives are in conflict with stakeholder objectives.
  • Get on the same page with nomenclature and acronyms — inconsistencies with these are a time killer and generate frustration for all involved.

Being a change agent involves helping stakeholders see the strategic value of the project.  It’s getting them involved early and often and using tools to get them engaged, ensuring expectations are aligned and reaffirming commitment and ownership throughout the project.

What’s your biggest challenge with leading change in projects?

adam grant, originals, ted talk, procrastination
Mar 03

Advantage of the “Moderate” Procrastinator

By ahsigmon | Blog

Got big ideas? Start great but slow to finish? Then you might be a “moderate” procrastinator.

While being a procrastinator may create doubt in yourself, Adam Grant’s research will challenge that thought. Turns out being a moderate procrastinator might be helpful when it comes to being an original thinker.

In his TED Talk titled The surprising habits of original thinkers, he shares research about what contributes to creativity, and it’s not what you’d think.

Watch for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

close-up, woman, glasses, alison sigmon
Feb 06

3 Steps to Creating Project Culture in a Revolving Resource World

By ahsigmon | Blog

We’re living in a global world. Anyone keeping up with the latest political and financial situations that have plagued the US, Europe, and other regions can see the impact a shift in one country can have on several others.

Doing more with less. Working smarter and faster…not harder.

Soaring demands, faster technology, and tighter competition for consumer cash means business must be nimble and agile. It’s time to work smarter, not harder, and that starts with people.

Gone are the days where we work on just a few things or concentrate our effort on just one area of expertise. We are now expected to wear multiple hats and manage a wide range of activities in our work. Project managers are no strangers to juggling schedules, cost, and resources.

People will come and go on projects all the time, but when they do it can be highly disruptive and create drag and confusion on the team. How can this be avoided? Creating culture within your project.

Culture keeps the crazy chaos of resource change in check
A project culture is a set of beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes that live outside the project team members. It provides a set of consistent standards and norms the team can refer to throughout the project. When project culture is strong and positive, it remains intact even as project stakeholders come and go. When project culture is absent, the team experiences can be inconsistent, confusing, and divisive.

Creating and maintaining processes that support consistent behaviors serve as a foundation for the natural ebb and flow of stakeholder activity on projects. Project culture addresses burning questions such as expectations for contribution, documentation, meetings, communication, and transition. Creating culture boils down to doing three things:

  • Leading with charisma
  • Standing on the shoulders of others with process
  • Communicating early, often

Step 1: Leading with charisma…not just for celebrity anymore

Success of a project is not based solely on timelines, budgets, and scope. It’s also tied to how stakeholders feel about the project, the team, and the leadership. Group perception of your skill, your knowledge, and your ability to be “like us” are very important to establishing the norms and standards of culture in your project. It’s this culture that becomes a touchstone for changes and transitions of the many stakeholders and the work done for the project.

The more connected stakeholders feel to the work and what it will accomplish for the “bigger picture” the greater chance for success. The more trust and respect felt in the project experience the greater chance for success. The more fairness and familiarity there is (that is, consistency and smooth transitions) the greater chance for success. The more confident and inclusive the project environment it the greater chance for success.

When people feel you are invested in their success and believe you support their interests, they tend to feel more motivated to support you. Although this is a tall order for anyone to assume, project managers with CHARISMA do it all the time!

man stretching, alison sigmonman stretching, alison sigmonThe charismatic in you
When people think of a charismatic person, they tend to describe them as being visible, strong, energetic, outgoing, self-confident, powerful, and influential. The charismatic almost seems larger than life. People revel in being part of their orbit. What’s interesting about charisma is anyone can have it with a little effort.

According to an article in Scientific American Mind, recent research on charisma, originally thought to be an attribute of a leader, was actually found to be an attribution given by followers. When followers see a leader as one who advances group interests, that leader is considered to have more charisma.

Proof of this was observed directly. Perception of charisma of a leader had a direct correlation to how well a company was doing. If the company was doing poorly, employees tended to not see the leader as having much charisma. If the company was doing well, employees believed the leader had more charisma.

What’s this got to do with project managers?
For culture to be established and embraced in a project stakeholders need to feel their interests and the group’s interests are being served. With the understanding that charisma is made and not born, project managers can use the “three Rs” of leadership to create project culture: reflecting, representing, and realizing.

Reflect – understanding and sharing why
In traditional leadership, reflecting requires that one learn about the culture and history of a group. In project leadership this requires the project manager to have a deep understanding of why the project is important to the business, how it will be integrated and used, and when it is needed.

To do this project managers must do a lot of listening and asking questions. They should be curious and stretch beyond what’s currently known by researching what others have done inside and outside the company on similar projects and by helping stakeholders connect the value of the project to the company’s future.

Alone on Stage, © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Alone on Stage — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Represent – it just feels right
In traditional leadership, representing requires that the person lead others to draw the conclusions they need them to draw instead of telling them or spelling it out. It just “makes sense” or “feels right” to others because the person representing is a member and proponent of the group.

In project leadership this is having appreciation for the power of asking questions and facilitating dialogue among stakeholders. You don’t have the answers. They do and it’s your job to create a culture that promotes open discussion early and often.

It also requires that you know what you don’t know and partner with someone who does. Representing doesn’t mean you’re the expert. It just means you know how to connect with others who are and can integrate what they know into a compelling story for the project that become part of the lore of your project’s culture.

Realize – making others matter
In traditional leadership, realizing requires that the person pursue the top interests of the group. They get the group organized and focused. In project leadership it basically comes down to making stakeholders feel like they matter whether they are on the project for a short time or for the long haul.

When project managers are present, organized, and pursue project priorities appropriately, they are reinforcing a culture of consistency and purposeful execution of the project.

business, maze, alison sigmonStep 2: Process pays off
Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulder of giants.” Basically, we don’t lead, create, manage, etc in a vacuum. Others came before us so we should take advantage of what they learned.

Your behavior establishes your reputation as a project manager, and your reputation determines what people say about your project culture.

Charisma helps with shaping a positive project culture environment and process facilitates it. Whether stakeholders are involved with your project for a short period of time or the duration, process can ease transitions that invariably occur.

Bottom line? Use your process tools to keep the project environment stable as people come and go.

Step 3: Communicate early and often

Communication works but only if you work at it. This requires you do the following:

  • Determine how you’re going to communicate
  • Understand what the team needs to share
  • Identify how often the team will communicate
  • Get clear on feedback and review requirements
  • Let them know the primary communication methods

Putting the steps in play
Change almost always generates anxiety and temporary confusion. We’re creatures of habit, and it can feel disconcerting when the dynamic changes. Projects aren’t any different particularly when if comes to people.

Leading with the charisma process, using process, and being clear about communication needs and expectations provide a foundation for project culture. It takes the guesswork out of why the stakeholders are there, what they need to do, how they need to do it, and when they need to the work to meet project needs.

inspiration, katherine luna, pinterest, alison sigmon
Oct 11

Here’s how Pinterest is the most perfect content hack platform

By ahsigmon | Blog

Pinterest offers a powerful, visual way to create, organize, access, and collaborate. Whether you use it for business or pleasure, it is an efficient and inspiring modern day form of information architecture. Think library science with a twist. This article looks at how to use Pinterest to increase productivity and organization while delivering expertise on subjects that would likely get buried in page 10 or 20 of a browser search.

I do a lot of research for my work so the places I stash my digital jewels are always overflowing AND they aren’t simple to navigate. Of course, I have a system on my computer and in Sharepoint, Basecamp, and Google Docs, but frankly all that text is a bit uninspired.

For a while I used Twitter to keep up with and share all my treasured finds, but then I discovered that after a certain amount of postings, I wouldn’t be able to see the old posts anymore. I tried using lists and hashtags, but that still didn’t feel very intuitive.

So I turned to Facebook to fill the void, but the timeline set up doesn’t allow me to arrange my posts the way I like. It’s ultimately a time and event outline for a person’s life, which doesn’t really lend itself to content management.

Then along came Pinterest, and I saw the seas part and heard the angels sing their collective “Ahhhh!” I was excited to finally have a content management system of my very own AND to have the option to peek into the CMS of others!

With cleverly labeled (or not) boards, I now have an easy way to take my most important digital life assets and organize them in a way that makes sense to me. Using public boards, I can easily find, share, collaborate, and get feedback from others. I can also have secret or by invitation only boards for projects I want to keep under the radar.

And the bonus…it’s VISUAL! I can make it beautiful and compelling with the images that represent my favorite facts, figures, and stories. If I’m not careful, I can lose all kinds of time with my boards and the boards of others.

What creative ways are people using Pinterest?

  • Planning a trip
  • Curating tips, how-to, and lessons learned
  • Gathering education and scientific research references
  • Collecting ideas for writing or for a project
  • Building food specific recipe boards
  • Sharing ideas on decorating of all sorts
  • Event planning
  • Creating customer engagement stories
  • A microsite as an extension of a primary website
  • Discovering and organizing art, music, and film
  • Information sharing with work/project teams
  • Promoting products
  • House hunting
  • Collecting customer insights and feedback
  • City-resident engagement like my own town does with a Downtown Greenway board

Perhaps the most unusual board I’ve seen is using Pinterest as a “Most Wanted” tool.

In addition to using it like a kind of library of information, I think an interesting way to use it is for storytelling in conjunction with other social media platforms. This is called transmedia marketing where different parts of a story are experienced in different digital and traditional platforms.

What would be even MORE interesting is to use Pinterest as a collaboration space for volunteer projects, a scavenger hunt, live event, or some other gamification activity.

Lately, I’ve been using it to curate resources for books I’ve written or in the process of writing. Many people and brands are interested in gaining followers, and there are plenty of articles out there that can help you if that’s your objective.

And really, that’s an important point.

What is your objective? What is your goal? Answering these questions will help you decide what kind of boards to create and how to promote them (or not). My goal is truly resource collection. If other people find the content I find interesting, then I’m happy to share and hope they will make recommendations.

Bringing the past forward

A number of years ago I had an idea that an individual would become a destination in the digital space. Each person would have pods that contained information about subjects they find interesting. That cultivated and curated interest would make the person’s collection trusted and followed by others.

So instead of going to someone’s blog or wall or Twitter page, they’d go to you, your name or, as I called it, your digital house to get what they need from your themed rooms.

If you are known as an expert or an enthusiast of wine and cheese, graphic design, or basket weaving, anyone could go to your digital house and check out the information associated with that room of interest.

This would potentially be a time saver because now you wouldn’t have to wade through all those Google search results to find what you want. You just hit up person’s digital house who is known to keep a collection of info on specific subjects. Bam. Just like that your research is already done for you.

Well, while Pinterest is not exactly what I’m describing, it’s a close second. So the next time you need info on design, project management, content strategy, big ideas, or beautiful things to eat just to name a few, stop on by my Pinterest page at and browse my stash or add a few things to it.

If you’ve got some gems on your page, let me know. I’d enjoy dropping by sometime. If you haven’t checked out Pinterest, here’s an article to help you get started.

What’s your favorite way to use Pinterest?

child cover eyes
Mar 24

Why giving bad news on projects can literally hurt

By ahsigmon | Blog

Excerpt from my book Delivering Bad News in Good Ways

My book titled Delivering Bad News in Good Ways is coming out in April so naturally I’ve been doing a lot thinking and writing about communication – style, medium, content, process, and expectations. One chapter of the book reaches into our childhood to understand why we struggle as adults with giving bad news so I’ve decided to explore that a bit here before writing that chapter.

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Mar 13

Social Train Wrecks And Why We Feel Compelled to Watch

By ahsigmon | Blog

Okay, I have to admit it. I like to watch. Yes, it’ll probably come as a great surprise to many of you that a therapist watches others.

Well, NEWSFLASH… Apparently being a watcher of others doesn’t require you to be a therapist. It only requires that you be human. The experience of watching is one of the most fundamental processes we have for learning how to be in the world with others.

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lights, bulbs
Jan 19

Sucking the Soul Out of Experience

By ahsigmon | Blog

I recently read an article in the NY Times titled, How Measurement Fails Doctors and Teachers, which got me thinking about the introduction of tools and process in any industry.

You can take a new tool or process (measurement in this case) and see the pendulum of use swing hard in the opposite direction in the hopes of maximizing the assumed benefits. We overuse it until we understand its limitations at which point use typically stabilizes.

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