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In this episode of Great Practices, I'm talking with Colleen Romero, vice president of marketing and e Commerce at Healthway.
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Listen in as Colleen discusses what culture is and telltale signs to look for. If your project teams have a culture that is healthy or toxic, we'll discuss steps you can take to fix a bad environment and better yet, how you can prevent it from occurring in the first place. Hint, it's something you do before you even hire someone. Plus, you'll learn the rules to a not so fun game called defect, round robin and the difference between your wise.
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Mind and your emotional mind.
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It's hard to say when something is a best practice, but it's much easier to know when something is a great practice. And that's what this podcast is all about. Interviews with PMO and project management leaders who, through years of trial and error, have discovered their own great practices and are now sharing their insights with you. Now sit back and enjoy the conversation as Chris Kopp uncovers another great practice in this episode.
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We'd like to welcome you to another.
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Episode of Great Practices. And Peter Drucker said that Culture eats strategy for breakfast. But what does that mean? And what does that have to do with running a PMO or projects? Is culture just about having foosball tables.
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Comfy chairs, or ice cream socials at.
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The office, or does it go way beyond that? Spoiler alert. Culture goes well beyond foosball tables, comfy chairs, and ice cream socials. As PMO leaders, it's something that we can help shape. And if we don't, culture is going to happen with or without us. That's why we're so excited to have Colleen Romero, vice president of marketing and e commerce at Healthway, on today to.
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Discuss what culture is, how we can shape it for our teams, and how culture can make or break our projects and PMOs.
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Colleen, welcome to great practices.
[00:02:03.670] - Colleen
Thank you, Chris. Very happy to be here today.
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Well, we're glad that you're on, and we're looking forward to digging into the subject.
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Now, first, can you just tell us.
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A little bit about yourself and what you do?
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Absolutely. I have been in marketing and digital and ecommerce for over 20 years. I've worked for a number of really large companies, and I have found having strong, charismatic project managers to be key to my team success.
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Yeah, absolutely. I like the word that you use, charismatic. Right. So that's the key is having a charismatic project manager on the team there, for sure. So how would you define culture? And what do you say that's involved when it comes to culture.
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It's the way people feel. We are not machines just set up to do work. We have emotions, and we want people to feel good when they are part of a team, and they should. This comes from how they are treated, how much freedom they feel they have to express themselves and how effective they believe they can be when working on the team. It's also how things get done, how people communicate, their level of openness, and also how respectful people are. The biggest question I have for myself when I'm working on a team or leading a team is do I feel like people want to come to these meetings and want to participate in the project? Is it something that motivates them and they look forward to it? Or is it more kind of drudge work, which when there's drudge work, we definitely know that there's something wrong.
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Yeah. So it sounds like your definition of culture just really goes around, like, feelings and the emotions really that are surrounding that group of people. Does that sound accurate?
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So if we take those feelings and those emotions, why is that so important then?
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So you want everybody to work together effectively, and if they're not, the project is going to be delayed. It's going to have issues. A whole host of things can go wrong. So culture is very important because it's how things actually get done, how people come together, how they identify and resolve conflict, how they challenge each other, and just the workflow in general. And I find when I'm on projects that I enjoy the people. I think it's fun. Maybe there's some learning, entertainment, curiosity. I'm motivated to come in and do the work and give my best, as opposed to if I'm not loving the project, I might not be at my best, or it's a lower priority for me.
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And it's always interesting because at the beginning of a project, that's when emotions are the highest and everybody feels the best and excited, right. But it really comes into play when, like, maybe near the middle and the end. Right? That's when culture is really going to be tested, isn't it?
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And you've got to use the kind of the excitement that you have in the beginning of the project, because excitement also means you have their attention to build the processes and systems and ways of working that will bring you through the end of the project. So how are we going to work together? What meetings will we have? Touch points, reporting, and get everybody's agreement on how we want to work together. And also, it's a good idea to have a conversation about how you want to identify and resolve conflict before that conflict even comes up.
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Yeah, that's good. You define the rules of the game and then you play the game so you have that good foundation. So that's excellent point. So, Colleen, what are some of the ways so you look back on your 20 plus years of experience? How can you tell if things are going right on a project team when it comes to culture? Do you have any success stories of what that looks like?
[00:05:48.510] - Colleen
Sure. I mean, the number one thing is the work getting done and are people happy? And I think it's typically pretty easy to assess whether or not the work is getting done and whether or not people are happy. I was recently part of a voice of the customer study for a large global manufacturer. And what happened there was that every meeting that I attended, people were excited to be there. They were passionate. We talked to internal folks, we talked to customers, and everyone was passionate about making the customer experience better. The customers were glad to hear from us. The internal Folks were glad to work on the project. And overall, what kind of came up to me on why the project is so successful is because of the purpose we all have this greater purpose of becoming easier as a manufacturer to work with and what customer would not want to work with a manufacturer that really values them and puts customers first. So having that purpose as well and rallying people around that I think will get you very far in terms of how you get it. How you get it right.
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I love it. So you make it sound so easy to really just identify if it is good. It's like, is work getting done? Number one, that's obviously important. Are people happy? Now, how can you tell if people are happy? Are you just looking for smiles? What are you looking for as far as happiness goes?
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Well, not everybody turns on their camera in this day and age. So sometimes you may not have a visual there. So are people engaged? Are they asking questions? Are they curious? When they disagree, are they challenging? Are they asking, like, why are we doing this? This doesn't make sense. Explain it to me. Those things are important. But when you see people back off, you see people become argumentative, or maybe a better word is grumpy. Or you just see people not attend the meetings or not engage. That's when you need to become concerned and talk to them and pull them out and see how you can help.
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Okay, that's a good point. So happiness equals engagement, basically, right? So if they're going to be involved, they can argue, they can have their opinion. It means that they are engaged and bring that but if they're just withdrawn, that's kind of a bad sign for sure there. So it's excellent.
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So things getting done, people are happy.
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And then does the project have a purpose? Is there a bigger purpose? So if you got those three things in place, it sounds like that is the beginnings of a good culture. Now let's flip the other side. Let's say, what are some of the symptoms that you're going to see if the culture is not right or you've got some issues when it comes to culture.
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So number one is if the project goes off track. I think that's obvious. But by the time the project has gone off track, you're probably in a lot of trouble. So you want to start to look for the signs early, and a lot of it can be behavioral again, do people seem indifferent? Are people not candid with their comments? Are they not transparent? Are people starting to finger point and blame when things go wrong? And of course, there's the ever so popular defect round robin. When you have a defect and it's, oh, it's the QA team. No, let's send it to the vendor. No, let's send it to it. And it just basically becomes a hot potato. So those are some of the things that I usually look for.
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I love it. A defect round robin. That is exactly right. Just keeps going around the room. Right. And it turns into like a blamestorming session. Not brainstorming, but blamestorming for sure about how can we blame this on somebody else? Do you have any horror stories, any real life horror stories that you've seen of how that's kind of unfortunately played out?
[00:09:43.560] - Colleen
I do. There was a project that I was on a couple of years ago, and I was moved on to the project as one of the key stakeholders when it was about 70% done. And I was like, great, all the development is done. We're going to go into system integration testing, and I can just bring this across the finish line. We got into system integration testing, and we had a number of round robin defects, and we had so many that I pulled the team together and I said, guys, we're having way too many defects here. And I'm looking at this, and I'm more technical than your average person, but I'm not an engineer by trade. And I said, I'm not seeing why we're having all of these defects. And we keep opening new tickets and they keep going around. And I opened it up to the team. I said, we need to figure out how to stop this. Meaning we need to get to the root of the problem. And ultimately what the team decided was that we would actually stop our system integration testing and go Back and look at each defect, all the way back to the architecture and the requirements.
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And at that point, we figured out that a number of the items had been poorly architected. And so the project had been started in the beginning of the pandemic when it was very difficult to get enough architectural resources and the project had gone ahead without the right resources. And so we pinpointed it, and then we were able to go back and rebuild some of the pieces of functionality. But that was hard. Yeah, it was very hard. But I pretty much looked at it from, this is going to be 80% emotion, because this is everyone's work, and I think everyone's disappointed that this happened. And I wanted to take care of the people so that they knew the environment was safe and that we just needed to retool and then get back on the bandwagon and complete the project. And that worked very well. Just kind of taking care of everyone and keeping everything very fair and balanced as we went.
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That had to be tough because that is a lot of peeling the onion and going backwards and having a lot of tough conversations. Right. Going all the way back to the beginning. So that's kind of nice as far as the approach that you use to get that done. And that brings me to my next question, then. Let's say that the culture is not right and you've got these symptoms of people being indifferent or not participating, not engaging, blaming everybody. What are some things that can be done to correct things? So let's say you've got that toxic environment. Is it too late or is there hope?
[00:12:21.700] - Colleen
Definitely hope. But the project leader or the key stakeholders really need to take a proactive approach. So if you've got someone that is maybe a Debbie Downer, that's always negative, I don't like that. I don't think that's going to work. You need to be curious and you need to say, how might that work? Or tell me what you think. What are we not seeing? Because a lot of the times, folks in that type of position would see your blind spot and things that you're missing. So kind of ask them questions and pull them in and bring them in would be my recommendation. And if that doesn't work, you can talk to them offline and see if there's maybe something else going on that doesn't pertain to the project.
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Yeah, no, that is good, because they generally will have some good ideas. Won't they? And sometimes it's more about the presentation more than anything. So if you can reframe that, it sounds like you could really just kind of pivot as far as kind of get them engaged and definitely part of the team. Even better. Speaking of the team, there's always going to be new people that are going to be brought onto the team. People are going to leave. It's always going to be fluid over time. How would you vet somebody out for a cultural fit early on in that process? What would that look like?
[00:13:37.300] - Colleen
So I would meet them in person if I could. I would share kind of how the project is going so far, how it's set up, and then I would also give them some behavioral questions. So this happened on the project. Can you tell me how you would have handled this? And I would keep everything in the context of the specific project, and then I'd also ask them questions about what do they like and what do they not like, and nobody's ever going to be a perfect fit, and there will always be allowable weaknesses, but I think you've got to look for a couple of things that are important. Like, what's most important to me is openness. So wanting to share and collaborate with others.
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Okay, got it. So there's a theme here that I'm hearing across. Everything you're saying is that you just have to have a strong foundation from the very beginning, whether it's early on in the project, whether it's hiring a new person or vetting somebody out. If you've got that strong foundation early on, that openness, you lay the ground rules. That's going to make the culture a lot better, isn't it?
[00:14:40.970] - Colleen
Definitely. So, yeah.
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Anything else that you'd like to share with us about getting the culture right on your project teams? Anything that we haven't Covered already?
[00:14:52.510] - Colleen
And I use the term wise mind. And I use the term emotional mind. I think, as I mentioned, we're not robots, we're not machines, so we're not always wise mind. And as humans, we bring everything in the door with us that's going on, be it a sick child at home, in the middle of travel, whatever it may be. So things may get emotional from time to time. As a project leader, I always watch out for that, and I always look to see does the reaction of the team or does an individual match the actual situation. If it doesn't, like, if it's too strong, I may follow up. I think that is super important. And then I always try to stay in wise mind. I know, when someone says, you're wrong about that, I'm a little taken aback, but then I say, they're seeing a blind spot and this person does not agree with me, and I need to know why because that's a learning experience for me and the team.
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How do you transition from emotional mind to wise mind? So someone says you're wrong about that and you're going to get that emotional reaction. What do you do to transition?
[00:16:04.790] - Colleen
Number one, it's hard because I'm generally a competitive person, so I don't like to be told that, but I literally will kind of join my hands together and sit and just take a second and regroup and say, wise mind, wise mind to myself. And then I'll go back with the question of, I'd like to know more about that because I'm worried that now you've identified a blind spot for the team. And I think if you go back and forth and you're defensive, it just creates a bad environment. And surely as a leader, you need to set the expectation for behavior so you can't do anything but invoke it on yourself.
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I love it. So basically, what I'm hearing you say is, I know you are, but what am I is not an appropriate response in that situation. Right. It's certainly not something you want to say there, for sure. All right. Well, Colleen, we really appreciate you being on today and giving us this insight. Know really what makes culture and why that's so important for these project teams. Now, if somebody wants to discuss this further with you or pick your brain further, what's the best way that people can contact you if they'd like to talk about this more?
[00:17:14.490] - Colleen
LinkedIn is the best, and I'm the only Colleen Romero in Atlanta that I know of. So that would be the best.
[00:17:22.670] - Chris
Okay, perfect. So, Colleen Romero, look you up on LinkedIn and connect with you. That'd be great. All right, Colleen, we appreciate you being on today, and we look forward to connecting with you again soon.
[00:17:33.200] - Colleen
[00:17:37.250] - Chris
Well, that was another great episode of Great Practices, and we appreciate Colleen joining us today. What were some of the great practices that came from today's episode? Well, first of all, I liked her simple definition of what culture is. She says it's the way that people feel and it's the way that things get done. You want them to feel as if they're part of the project team, that they can express themselves openly and freely and that they feel that they have the freedom to do whatever it is that they need to get their job done. Now, you could tell if things are going right when it comes to Culture on a project team by these two.
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Points she brought out.
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Number one, is the work getting done. That's pretty self evident. You're going to know if that's happening or not. And then secondly, are people happy? Well, how do you look for happiness when it comes to culture?
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Now, I thought maybe it was smiles.
[00:18:31.240] - Chris
Or jokes, but she brought out the point that it's more about the engagement. Are people asking questions? Are they curious when they disagree? Do they bring up their opinions and do they push back, which is a good thing when it comes many times to really uncovering gaps and misses and what could be occurring on a project. So if people are doing that, you've got that mix right now, the symptoms of a toxic environment. I thought this was kind of an interesting thing. She brought up that popular game that is no fun to play, defect round Robin, when you've got a defect or there's a problem that came up and what you start doing is looking for the next person to blame or the next group to blame. Well, it was their fault, and then that group will say, no, it was their fault, and then the next group will say it was their fault, and it's just a matter of time before.
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It comes around to you anyway.
[00:19:22.180] - Chris
So really, if that's going on, that's a bad sign of having a toxic environment, but it's not too late. She said that really the project leader is the key person. That can make a big difference. So if you're the project leader on that team, take that proactive approach. You've got somebody that may be sitting there quietly and is not bringing up their opinion. You can see that. You can make sure that you draw them out, or maybe you've got somebody that is way too vocal, way too overbearing about their opinion. You could perhaps help them take that offline and discuss that one on one. And I like the point that she brought out is the fact that you can vet a lot of these cultural fit and these cultural issues out early on in the hiring process. So she would bring up the point that you could ask questions about how would you have handled this situation in a project? How would you have dealt with maybe some of the complexity or the challenge or the problems that can tell a lot about how a person will fit into your culture. And she really focused on things.
[00:20:31.310] - Chris
You've got to draw out and you've got to look for those things that are important to you. So identify those. To Colleen, it was openness and are they going to be part of that project and they're going to be able to express their feelings. You may have a very different quality or different attribute that's important to you, but do you know what they are? You got to make sure that you know what they are and then make sure that you draw those out or look for those when you have that interview. Finally, like that point between the emotional mind and the wise mind, that emotional mind is the one that is obviously driven by emotion, and so reason is not there, thoughtfulness is not there, but rather it's going to be very reactionary and it's going to be very charged when it comes to how much emotion will be involved in those decisions. Then there's the wise mind, which is much more reasonable, and it will have time to think through things. So when you feel that conflict coming between your emotional mind and your wise mind, go ahead and take that time and settle things down.
[00:21:34.880] - Chris
Basically, that's what she said. She'll just kind of put her hands together, maybe count to three or four and say, wise mind. Wise mind. Wise mind. Understand what's going on there in order to make the best decisions going forward to help promote the team's culture. So we'd like to thank Colleen again for being on today and joining us on great practices. That was certainly another great episode. And do you have great practice you'd like to share? Go to thepmoleader.com, click on Explore great Practices podcast and fill out the form at the bottom of the screen. Someone will get in touch with you shortly. And be sure not to miss a single episode by subscribing to great practices on your favorite podcast platform. If you'd like what you hear. We've had a lot of great guests. Be sure to share this with your manager, your colleagues, and anybody else you think would benefit. So thanks again for listening to this episode and keep putting great practices into practice.