When I was a Project Manager with UNOCAL 76 Products Company in southern California in the mid-1990s, one of my roles was to manage the build-out and opening of Convenience Stores (C-stores) according to our UNOCAL Fastbreak Program. Convenience stores were added to some existing 76 Products fueling sites and C-stores were also introduced at new sites.  Typical sizes for these C-stores was 1500, 2000 or 2500 square feet interior space.

The C-store employees who operated and maintained the facilities attended a training program at the Marketing Training Facility in Pasadena, California prior to the opening of a new C-store. I had the opportunity to attend one of the training programs for new employees.

One of the presenters at the training program was a Category Management Manager who was in charge of working with suppliers to acquire sales products for the C-stores and manage the initial layout of products and floor space. Following the opening of the C-stores, the Category Manager would assist the store manager in evaluating the best-selling products for the store and makimg changes in layout as necessary.

I expected the Category Manager to explain the initial store stocking rationale and to discuss how his team would work with the store manager and his employees to optimize the ongoing stocking for the store.

But as the presentation unfolded, the Category Manager first emphasized how hard his staff had been working to determining initial store stocking and layouts. He then turned to the suppliers and told how much his staff had negotiated with the suppliers to make sure the “best” products were identified and stocked. He then turned to some stories about mistakes in initial stocking that had been made and how his staff had coped with those mistakes. He concluded with a “challenge” to the store employees and managers that they were the “front line” and would be evaluated as such.

As I left this presentation, I thought that, perhaps I could have been mistaken, but it seemed to me that the Category Manager had missed his “opportunity” to “train.” The feedback I received from some of the store managers was that employees were left in the dark about stocking, layout, and subsequent “change” process for products.

Of course, there was enough feedback that the Category Management Staff reoriented the presentation to provide the “training” it had intended to deliver.

But this story raised the question in my mind–How often do we intend to deliver a message to our project teams and it is really the wrong message?

The key here is to understand the “motivation” in the communication. If we focus on our own efforts, and not what the team needs, we often miss the point. “Learning” and “training” are very general terms, but they must be tailored to the exact message you want to deliver.

So, project managers, be certain of your communications to your project teams before you deliver the message. Understand your motivations. Understand what outcomes and results you want.   Make sure of your “audience.” Put yourself in the place of the recipient. As such, do you know what to do with the message delivered?

Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, and a noted leadership mentor, introduced “Situational Leadership” many years ago to assist managers to adjust their leadership styles to the situation at hand. The communication that goes along with situational leadership is so important to managers. Evaluating the situation is crucial, but delivering the communication which adds value and makes it “actionable” is the key.

It’s part of the project manager role. Embrace it. Your words to your project team will live on long after you have moved on.

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