Monday, March 14, 2011

All the worlds a stage, and we are merely gorillas

Or- Welcome to the 21st century, you are always "in public"

Bob sat down in the chair across from me, a conspiratorial smile on his face. Unseen by Bob, Hogarth silently lumbered past to perch on the desk section behind me.

Bob was part of my program team, Hogarth was just a 'bit of undigested beef', so I focused my attention on Bob. "What can I do for you Bob?"

"Man can you believe they promoted Mary? I mean come on, Jake can code circles around her with one arm chewed off by a bear." Bob's voice was hushed in the way a five year old "whispers" across the school yard. I was momentarily taken aback by Bob's statement, which he seemed to take a tacit approval to continue. "And we all know she got the job because she practically knifed poor Steve in the back on project Pacheco. Seriously, is there a single ounce of good in that woman?"  Bob went on to express his personal feelings on Mary with great amounts of vitriol, his rant eventually petering out like an out of gas car. 

"Well what do you think?"

I leaned back in my chair, contemplating what Bob had just said. Mary was most certainly not on my most favorite people list. More than once she had caused one of my projects to fly off the rails, with near impossible "customer" demands. Personality wise she was about as warm and fuzzy as a petrified, flash frozen hedge hog. And still…

"You know," drawled Hogarth. "Interesting thing about Bob. Overheard him in the break room not twenty minutes ago. He was ranting on and on to a guy from legal. Couldn't stop moaning about how his project manager was an over bearing control freak who didn't even know the difference between a half bit flange rod and a radiated tie off bar."

Bob only worked on one project, the one I was the project manager for. I gave Bob my best smile and simply said, "Bob, when you question a corporate decision and then proceed to demean someone, no matter who they are  it makes me wonder how you'll represent our project and team. If you'll excuse me, I need to get this report done."

Behind me, Hogarth smiled proudly.

So before the tragedy of Japan's Tsunami blotted it from the headlines, the news was abuzz with the latest scandals to rock NPR. It seems VP Ron Schiller let loose with how he really felt about the Tea Party, in what was supposedly a private conversation with potential donors to NPR.  The fall out from that was the grist for many a news story mill, but what I found most interesting was something that had nothing to do with the actual words said or the resulting fall out. Though it is of important note that Schiller went on to say "I made statements during the course of the meeting that are counter to NPR's values and also not reflective of my own."

Remember those last five words- "Not reflective of my own."

I was listening to my local news radio and they interviewed some talking head (are they still called talking heads on radio?). After what I thought was a well thought out set of answers, the talking head answered the final question, which had to do with how he felt about how the reporters had obtained the secret video (If you skipped the link to the story, they were fake donors meeting Schiller for lunch and had a secret camera). The talking heads said something like "If I'm in public, I'm going to speak differently than I am in private."

Hello, Houston? We have a problem.

There are so many things wrong with this, I don't know where to start…

First off, if you're willing to bad mouth the Bad hair party so you can get donation money from the Parted Hair Brotherhood. Whose to say you won't trash the Parted Hairs next month to get money from the Mohawk's are sexy society? It's a question of integrity. When I hear people gossip, trash talk or tear into their company, I immediately wonder what they say about me when I'm not around or how they talk about decisions made on my projects. This kind of talk is destructive, tearing down other people is destructive. You don't have to be flower-power, hippie-love to everyone, but there is a fine line between not liking someone's beliefs and tearing them down.

This is by far the most important part of this blog. It doesn't matter if you are in private or public, if you treat people poorly, it will reflect back on you three fold. But at least if you are going to take a controversial stance, be prepared to defend it in public. Just look at Ron Schiller, I think he only compounded his mistake when he spoke publically.  Not only was what  he did monumentally stupid, but then he tried to say that what he said wasn't what he really felt.

So let me get this straight, you were lying to get donor money? Oh, and that makes it all better.

Which brings me to my second/last point (okay lousy segway, but stay with me here). Going back to the talking head and his comments about being in private.

Welcome to the 21st century. Welcome to 24 hour Facebook, to a world where anything and everything can be posted to the internet in a heartbeat.  From secret diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, to that ten year old picture of you puking into a bathtub that your old college room mate just posted on Facebook, anything and everything can and does become public. Like it or not, we are on stage and broadcasting live 24 hours a day.

As project managers, we need to be especially sensitive to this. We may not have the line item budget, or the direct reports, but as PMs we represent the project and the company.  If your Facebook page is a drunken tribute to the Rocky Horror Picture show, mixed with rants about how Uncle Sam is impinging your rights to own surface to air missiles, do you really think Mr. Fortune 500 is going to hire you? You'd better be the next Bill Gates, with the patents to back you up to stand a chance in heck.

In the end, it all comes down to personal integrity. It shouldn't matter if you're in public or private or if someone might post your words or show off a picture. Integrity is a value that goes back to the dawn of time.  All that's changed is now it is so much harder to fake it. As Manager Tools guru, Mark Horstman says "You're not that smart; They're not that dumb."

Stay true, stay honest, stay real.

Joel BC
Veteran, the Project Manager wars
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
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