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Just like any parent, I think our educational system could use a healthy amount of updating. When we talk about the work and skills that will be necessary for the future of our workforces, we have to come to terms with the fact that, by and large, the days when you learn a discipline, trade, technology, procedure, or process that spend the next fifty years repeating are no longer viable.
I see fear of change in my role every day. I’ve seen it in my own organization and with the countless clients I’ve worked with during my career. I’ve seen people trained on processes or procedures in a near-chokehold as a reaction to fear, the fear of irrelevance, and the worry of no longer being needed. I think we have the capacity to exorcise these demons long before they infiltrate our workplaces.
A Culture of Project Management
If I could flip a switch and make a change in our educational system, my curriculum would be centered on creating individuals who know the work they’re going to be doing someday is going to change, and that change is good. If we could teach every high school student, college student, intern, and entry-level worker to be their own project manager, I think that fear of change would disappear, and we would all feel that difference.
I’ve thought about this a lot because I have my own thirteen- and fifteen-year-olds whom I’m trying to help prepare for this world. My husband and I are big proponents of the phrase, “Don’t complain. Solve.” Our kids have learned to come to us with both problem and solution. They’ve been taught that they will spend a lot of their lives working to find common ground with people who may not think like them, but they’re capable of learning from those people just the same.
Most importantly, we’ve tried to teach our kids to understand all the reasons why they’re being asked to do something. That “why” is something I’ve written about previously, but here we’re applying it to a whole new generation of project managers, no matter the individual role or title.
The Glue at All Levels
A culture of project management is not about being the boss. It’s about the discipline of thinking and continuously improving. That culture creates a shared nomenclature of understanding across an organization that feels like everyone is in the same boat and you rowing in the same direction. It breaks down hierarchies where everyone is operating with the nimbleness and agility that hopefully stem from upper management.
Instead of seeing operations, strategy, and culture as separate, sometimes nebulous, parts of an organization, a culture of project management acts as a glue that unifies all three for everyone at all levels.
My hope for a fundamental shift in this kind of thinking is, perhaps, a bit self-serving. I have seen my own organization act as the educators and advocates externally for a client who should have been creating this kind of culture from the outset. Driving organizational transformation is very difficult without the setup and boots on the ground to empower their own team members. When that fear of change is in place, breaking through that stagnation can be absolutely brutal.
A culture of project management should be present on your first day. And it’s not too late to start building yours. Average turnover in our industry is between 14 and 18 percent annually. It doesn’t take long to install new onboarding tactics and ways of teaching people before you start to see that culture reflected back at you.
It’s Never Too Late
I have seen this mindset spread like wildfire. It’s about building a culture of curiosity, treating everything like a project, and failing forward. It’s about creating the kind of workforce that doesn’t need to fear for their jobs, because they’re ready for anything. It’s about creating the kind of organization where people are already ready to grow in a new direction.
A culture of project management may seem a little too pie in the sky for our high schoolers, but there is no doubt that I have seen what it can do for organizations that want to flourish in the future. Change is inevitable, and if that can be the foundation—not the fear—of our people, then we all win together.
Ann Blakely is the managing partner of the Baker Tilly Digital practice, a management consulting group focused on modernizing legacy business models with intelligent digital solutions. Her superpower is demystifying the digital journey for her clients and empowering them to deliver game-changing efficiencies and better customer experiences that produce positive results for years to come.