I will be speaking at the Sydney Project Managers Meet up on the “Commodifacation of Skills”.

APRIL 17, 2013

See me talk about The Commodification of Skills – Is the “War on Talent” just an inability to see the wood for the trees? at the Sydney Project Managers Meetup April 17, 2013 at 6pm. http://lnkd.in/beii6S


The Commodifacation of Skills – Is the “War on Talent” just an inability to see the wood for the trees?

The epidemic of recruiting and sourcing firms filtering out experienced and capable people through the commodification of skills is leading to poorer outcomes and a loss of productivity.


Many of us in the project management and ICT industry continue to be dismayed and occasionally a little incredulous when we hear the continual mantra repeated about the so called ‘skills shortage’, the so called “war on talent”, when so many  extremely experienced project and program managers with many successful projects behind them struggle to get work.  Why is this and why are so many people continually overlooked by recruiters while at the same time high profile projects continue to fail on their objectives?

Increasingly, what recruiters and employers mean by skills shortage in the ICT & business project management area is really an inability to locate individuals with common cookie cutter skills, or what I call ‘skills as commodities’.  These are the type of skills that you could read off a project management training brochure, the ones that urge you to ‘sign up’, take the course to become a project manager and equip yourself with skills that are ‘in demand’ by employers and are career enhancing.

The marketing blurb for these courses support a shopping list of project management skills but this doesn’t always translate to project management capability.

 “Become MSP®, PRINCE2® and P3M3®,FPMS Accredited and get results through our value adding application of internationally recognised management principles”

 “Get Agile qualified”, “learn ITIL”, “obtain your PMP”, or get a “Masters in Project Management

Many of the courses give you separate certifications, in separate accreditations so that you know what the different processes and methodologies entail, so you have the theory of project management.  However, do you learn how to apply the right ones, in the right order at the right time?  Experience tells you when to use ‘Service Management’ instead of ‘ITIL’ and when to use a combination of Prince2 and [i]PmBok or when to just simplify everything down to complete basics and not use project management terms at all.

They all look good on your CV but the problem is that many of the CV’s that can be sourced  demonstrating these ‘skills’ don’t actually make for a good project manager.  That is; we have spent so much time over ‘processizing’ everything, ‘methodologizing’ things within an inch of their lives and putting so much focus on buzz-word accreditations plus very narrow technology domain ‘specialisations’ it has lead, in my opinion, to skills being seen as commodity sets.  Now all the recruiter has to do is do a quick perusal of a candidate’s CV as if checking off features and inclusions when buying a new car –if they don’t match 100% then they are out of the running.  In effect, many times the recruiter is not only narrowing the field using this method but they are also narrowing the available skills actually required because they fail to think outside the square and instead blindly focus on matching the job specification to get the ‘placement fee’.

It’s not just the recruiters fault.  We just can’t help categorising, defining and cataloguing things, and our cataloguing includes people.  When we see someone new for the first time, we automatically put him or her into a category.  It may be that we think, “Smartly dressed, business person, successful, confident” and if the person actually doesn’t fit the category that you have put them into, its takes them some time to prove to you that you need to change your cataloguing system.

Project and program management has increasingly become a mere a set of processes and, what is in reality a management skill, is increasingly undervalued by large corporate and government senior executives who are under enormous pressure to cut costs by offshoring almost everything.  An oversupply in the market of people calling themselves Project Managers forces a reduction in salaries to genuinely skilled people who don’t need to rely on buzzwords and fancy process terms to deliver.  So in effect, the commodification of project and program management leads to a reduction in our ability to understand the capability of the individual, which in turn leads to poorer business initiative outcomes, highly stressful workplaces and the inevitable collapse of the time, cost and quality triangle.

Many recruiters and their client organisations bunch the skill-sets of ‘project management’ together like they are taking a shopping list to the supermarket; for example wanting a “[ii]PMP qualified, [iii]Six Sigma black-belt, top-gun BI Project Manager who specialises in version 4.7 of (name a mainstream vendor’s product)” when that is not what is required at all.  What is generally required for a large and complex program is an experienced program manager with a diverse skill set who demonstrates they have a range of successful projects under their belt.  More importantly, it needs a manager with program skills who understands how business works, how to speak to senior executives, how to identify stakeholders, how to successfully plan a program and how to inspire and motivate a program team to achieve a programs outcomes.  None of these things are commodities, but too often these vital skills are undervalued in favour of commodity terms like, ‘be [iv]Prince2 certified’, ‘have SAP experience’, ‘ERP preferred’, ‘Senior Project Manager with minimum 5 years experience’, and my favourite, ‘degree qualified’.  Alternatively, something like this bunch of shopping item certifications that I recently saw advertised for one role;

“PMI,  MoP® ? Management of Portfolios, MSP® ? Managing Successful Programs, P3O®,  Portfolio, Program, Project Office or PRINCE2® ? Projects IN a Controlled Environment

The push to ‘standardise’ project management by creating repeatable processes through named methodologies and frameworks in a bid to increase successful outcomes has just facilitated a tick and flick mentality of resume assessment.  It has created a perception that project management is indeed a commodity play, a process, and I would argue, this hasn’t been helped by all those Project Management organisations out there who have jumped on the bandwagon to ‘standardise’, ‘methodise’ and ‘certify’ anyone who can read and do an exam.  In reality, it is a process.  It is a bunch of processes, templates, tools and techniques all put together in a way that achieves an outcome – not just any outcome, but the outcomes that are the stated deliverables.  It is up to the project manager to understand the desired outcomes, work out if the deliverables are the right ones, and determine if they are achievable.  They then need to work out HOW to achieve them and this is where the skill comes in.  No tools, processes and gantt charts you can muster will give you this ability by themselves.  No certifications, MBA’s and degrees also will give you this ability on their own.  You need someone who can visualise the pathway, who can plan the approach, understand which methodology they need to use to achieve the plan and then that someone needs to put together a team with stakeholders and sponsors that can make it happen.

Recently I was astounded when one of my program team members obtained an extremely high mark in the Prince2 certification, completing the Practitioner course in record time.  All well and good, except that this person had never managed a project before and here she was a ‘certified’ Prince2 practitioner.  Not only had she never managed a project, she  was on the first program of her life as my Program Coordinator charged with overseeing the budget, where everything project like had to be explained to her in detail before she would commence work on it.  Even after doing her certification, she didn’t see the point of a Traceability Requirements Matrix for this large Business Transformation Program with an enormous amount of business processes and software applications to be tested!  Yet to look at her CV, she would be a great choice for Project Manager.  Financial experience – on a large program, a previous job title as Program Co-ordinator and, Prince2 certified “project manager”.  No wonder so many projects fail!

Another example was a first year Computer Science graduate working in a Tier 1 consulting company with a newly completed PMP certification.  Were they a Project Manager?  I think not.  They were good at study and doing exams and like the previous example, they passed the exams with flying colours because they can learn, process information and regurgitate it at will to pass an exam.

Or this example of an experienced accountant who went on to do a Masters of Project Management, become [v]AIPM certified, and MBA qualified but who couldn’t actually manage his way out of a paper bag because he had failed to understand the management component of project management.  He knew all the buzzwords, could regurgitate any project methodology with ease, but could not plan a project and manage it to a conclusion.  He was merely an academic project manager, good at theorising how to and what not to do, identifying what went wrong and when, but didn’t understand the basics of people management.  He didn’t understand the drivers of stakeholders, the politics of some decisions by senior stakeholders that put projects into perilous circumstances and worst of all, could not write a document to save himself!  He had the theory and the certifications but he didn’t have the technique to apply project management in a way that motivated and inspired people to make the journey through a project environment.

It takes much more than this to be a successful project manager.  It takes guts, tenacity, excellent communication skills, the ability to stay calm in a crisis, the ability to lead a team and keep them motivated through thick and thin to get to the end game, it takes a leader with finely honed management skills, it takes someone who knows how to plan, how to scope and how to cost a body of work and lastly, it takes someone who knows which project management technique needs to be applied when, how, and how much.

Unfortunately, many project management accreditations and buzzwords are bandied about by recruiters like the very ability of the planet to continue turning depends on the number of times these terms are used within a single conversation!  Most really, have little understanding of what it actually takes to deliver a complex project or program.  What it takes in reality is the ability to use a combination of process, methodology, communication skill and management technique all imparted and delivered by a unique individual with a diverse range of experience behind them.  It is this experience that gives them the very qualities that enable them to effectively apply the right processes at the right time, in the right order with the right senior management buy-in to get the right outcome every time.

Much modern management thinking around function and execution is “If it can be made into a set of processes it can be outsourced”, and this is seen as the epitome of management success, yet large projects continue to fail and Australia suffers from one of the worst productivity rates in the OECD. The enormous talent pool of experienced ‘war horse’ project managers who don’t fit the shopping list are disregarded and the true potential to achieve far greater returns on the investment is left untapped and our vision to execute on a higher efficiency future potentially wasted.

Over the last 15 years or so, the profile of project management within ICT has increased substantially.  It is now regarded as a core skill set for many leaders as a way of managing complex environments and achieving outcomes that in the past would have been put down to good luck or good management.  As a fellow Program Management colleague of mine recently said, “Everything is a bloody program!”, and it seems true that everywhere you look program’s are underway and program managers are the hottest property in the war on talent.  Yet there is still a problem sourcing the right people and my thinking is that project management has fallen foul of marketers and promoters, training organisations and certifiers and the actual ‘art’ of management has been pushed aside in favour of the glamour of a certification.

The work done by many of us in the project management industry to standardise and professionalise project management to ensure repeatable success has in fact lead to a standardised view of project management.  Once you can standardise something and make it into a repeatable process that anyone can do, you turn it into a product, a process methodology, or a commodity.  Once you have a commodity, the market can dictate terms, drive down market rates and outsource the skill sets to cheaper markets.


What are the real qualities and attributes we need to help our senior executives articulate their needs and how do we get recruiters and sourcing experts to respond by tapping into the enormous resource right here, right now effectively at their finger-tips?  My talk will help to reframe the notions around the skills shortage and identify some key strategies you could use to ‘see all the wood on offer right there amongst the trees!”

DOWNLOAD THIS ARTICLE  MOORE, Susanne 2012 The Commodifacation of Skills – Is the War on Talent just an inability to see the wood for the trees


MOORE, Susanne (2012), The Commodifacation of Skills – Is the “War on Talent” just an inability to see the wood for the trees?, White paper, susannemoore.com via wordpress https://susannemoore.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/the-commodifacation-of-skills-is-the-war-on-talent-just-an-inability-to-see-the-wood-for-the-trees/ [downloaded]


[i] PmBok is the Project Management Book of Knowledge developed by the Project Management Institute (PMI)

[ii] Project Management Institute (PMI) Project Management Professional Certification http://www.pmi.org/

[iii] Six Sigma originated as a set of practices designed to improve manufacturing processes and eliminate defects, but its application was subsequently extended to other types of business processes as well.[5] In Six Sigma, a defect is defined as any process output that does not meet customer specifications, or that could lead to creating an output that does not meet customer specifications.[4]

[iv] Prince2 PRINCE2 is derived from an earlier method called PROMPTII and from PRINCE project management method, which was initially developed in 1989 by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) as a UK Government standard for information systems (IT) project management; however, it soon became regularly applied outside the purely IT environment.[1] PRINCE2 was released in 1996 as a generic project management method.[2] PRINCE2 has become increasingly popular and is now a de facto standard for project management in the UK.[3]

[v] Australian Institute of Project Managers (AIPM) https://www.aipm.com.au/html/default.cfm

Sample Talks

Here are some of my Sample Talks;

Title:  Gender Economics and Diversity for Organisations
Description: Building frameworks and metrics for gender diversity programs to measure their impact on bottom line profitability. Expanding these metrics to measure the economic input of gender diversity programs.

Title: Integrity Management Methodology
Description: A specific niche consulting, which looks at imbedding integrity and improving business performance by linking environmental responsibility, cultural sensitivity (and gender) and the development of new paradigms for business management. An example of this is developing new criteria for woman in leadership roles such as Board postings so that they don’t need to fit within the old male patriarchal structures that now exist. This will allow organisations that are Integrity Ready (trademark Susanne Moore 2000-2011) to tap into so far un-recognised “female” thinking attributes for business  management.
Title: Dealing with the Boys Club
Description: Project management can be affected by the quality of the project manager’s organisation and their management. The integrity of the organisation and its competency affect both project outcomes and the team members involved. Traditional methods of management can incorporate a number of negative influences and one of these is the ‘Boys Club’ mentality and it will have an impact on management decisions.

Title: Gender Economics
Description: In the gender economy, we have reduced portions of the population to passive consumers, making indirect economic input rather than direct input. Stabilising the balance between indirect and direct impact has a role developing our
economic future.

Title: Changing Women
Description: Harness and embrace gender diversity in your organization. Discover ways to shift the traditional paradigms of business and explore positive strategies to attract the best resources. If your organization wants to employ and retain talented women and promote female leadership then Changing Women is for you.

My Expertise

  • Industries: Corporate Leadership, Information Technology and Services, Philanthropy, Management Consulting, Women, IT Services/Consulting, Program Development, Think Tanks, Human Resources
  • Topics: Integrity in Management – bringing peak performance to business by understanding the issues of social change such as social responsibility, Gender Economics – understanding the value proposition of utlising women as business drivers not business users, Corporate leadership – exploring the prospect of new business paradigms for the changing world, Project Management, Business Transformation, Women in Business, Leadership, Changing Women, Project and Portfolio Management

Dealing with the ‘Boys Club’

I wrote and presented this paper in 2000 at a Project Management Conference in Cairns Queensland Australia.  I have published it again here unedited and as presented in 2000.  It was one of the most read whitepapers on my previous company website and still resonates today.

Dealing with the ‘Boys Club’

Susanne Moore, Principal Consultant Synergy Management Solutions Pty Ltd


Project management can be affected by the quality of the project manager’s organisation and the organisation’s management.  The integrity of the organisation and its competency affect both the project outcomes and the team members involved.  Traditional methods of management can incorporate a number of negative influences and one of these is the ‘Boys Club’ mentality.  When this mentality is present it may be actively promoted or passively allowed to exist, but in either case will still have an impact on management decisions.  This paper identifies the practice and the impact of this practice on the project culture and project team, and also discusses ways to identify and manage this impact.

 WHAT IS THE BOYS CLUB – What are the Symptoms?

Managers with strength, commitment and integrity are ones who can direct, inspire and change the future.  Why be a manager who does something because he or she ‘feels’ that they should, or who wants to project an image that makes them ‘look’ as if they are keeping pace with the rest?  How much more productive can you be if you are inspired and empowered with the tools to help you create and lead?

An effective manager is someone who is not only focused on helping to achieve the mission statement of the organisation, but someone who will do this with enough understanding of the human needs of their staff as to allow individual growth.  In other words, they “effect” the achievement of their mandate whilst achieving a balance and sense of community with the people they are tasked to manage.  Don’t think that the ‘Boys Club’ affects you?  You may be a part of it without even knowing!  And you probably are, or least you will have felt, the effects of the ‘Boys Club’.

This white paper explores the impact that the ‘Boys Club’ has on the individual, the project and the organisation.  You may well realise how you too have been manipulated, you may recognise that you have done things you’ve felt bad about in retrospect – or you may have felt comfortable in certain environments, which promoted your ‘specialness’.  This is particularly evident in some industries such as the medical and legal professions where a certain level of stature as well as professional qualifications must be attained before you ‘belong’.

Does your organisation demonstrate follow through and commitment?  You will know of examples where incompetent people are promoted over and above others who seem better suited to the position.  What about the manager who demands that things be done on time, yet will not take responsibility for addressing issues, which you may have previously raised, and which you knew would impact on productivity.  There are managers who use a technique where they’ll “put it back onto you” or tell you that you are not a ‘team player’, this is a blame culture and doesn’t resolve issues.  The ‘team’ that these managers could very well be referring to is the ‘Boys Club’.  Have you ever experienced the following?

  1. Example: After bringing numerous issues that will inevitably delay your project to the attention of your manager without successfully achieving any resolution, you are eventually responded to in a hostile manner with “You mean you didn’t get this project finished on time!  Why?”  These managers prefer not to take responsibility for their own lack of planning,  direction and inadequate mentoring, preferring to ‘push it back’ to the team member involved.
  1. Example: Picture the situation in a sales driven organisation where the sales person has repeatedly spoken to his or her superior about the difficulties in getting particular client accounts.  The sales person has asked the superior a number of times to assist them by coming out to the client’s site for a further visit to help “clinch the deal”. But at the weekly sales  meeting the superior says in front of all the staff: “Steve, how come we haven’t got these sales figure up? Do you need help or something?. The public inquiry in front of the staff member’s colleagues says it all in that one sentence.  This manager has failed to take responsibility for their own inaction and is modelling this behaviour to others. This shows a lack of strength in this managerial style and may even be supported by senior managers in the organisation.

Ever feel like you don’t belong?  Like everyone is against you or you can’t seem to get anyone to understand you.  Women often experience men talking over the top of them in meetings or being patronised by a bunch of men who have banded together to provoke or embarrass them.  They are intimidating and bullying the person by enlisting the support of other ‘Boys Club’ members. If this happens to you on your project, it will affect your project outcomes.  You will need to pull your team back into line, as this can be as subtle as an odd remark said in haste or aggressive, such as when people are forced to leave the workplace.


Let’s look at the origins of the ‘Boys Club’.  Over many centuries our business foundation has been built on power and is controlled by hierarchical organisational structures.  The church is a classic example of this; it set the scene and was followed by the medical and legal practices and then corporate business practice.  Another ‘Boys Club’ tactic is to exclude certain groups, such as women, ethnic groups or people who just don’t belong.  The excluded are those who don’t play the game and who question the behaviour and ethics of others.  You don’t even need to be vocal in your questioning and in some cases; the mere fact that you as a person demonstrate integrity can make you the target of a leading figure within the ‘Boys Club’ whose job it is to uphold and fortify the other members positions and rank.  Alternatively, if you are different in any way, you may be seen as a threat to the comfort of those in the club.  It is uncomfortable to be questioned.

Women, (provided they are not actively taking part too), are particularly good at showing up the inadequacy of the ‘Boys Club’ and it is not so much because of their gender but the way that they do business, what drives them and how they communicate.  ‘Boys Club’ behaviour in managers has been in existence for centuries, so many people do not know any other way of managing. They see this as a safe environment, but it also an environment that isolates and insulates people.

Some characteristics of ‘Boys Club’ members are that;

  • They have poor self esteem;
  • They display poor communication skills by not looking others in the face or by yelling and barking orders;
  • They display arrogance and are proud of it;
  • They demonstrate personal insecurity;
  • They are unable to effectively delegate tasks and demonstrate trust in others;
  • They exhibit controlling behaviour;
  • They engage in secretive behaviour;
  • They are expert at deflecting blame onto others, and;
  • They are expert at manipulation and ‘Setting Up’ others for failure.

The impact of ‘Boys Club’ practices on projects

Understanding the impact of ‘Boys Club’ practices is very important if you are to be a professional Project Manager.  You don’t have to partake in any of the practices, but you must be aware of them.  If you choose to not play along with this game and then start showing up Boys Club members and their practices, you can experience terrible consequences especially if you are a contractor or consultant not protected by your parent organisation’s procedures and policies.  At a recent voluntary performance appraisal my Project Director concluded that he would not recommend me as a project manager in his organisation because; “I wasn’t a good travelling companion” yet he was unable to describe what he meant by this.

I could have taken this to mean all sorts of things and if I was younger might have thought that this could constitute sexual harassment.  However, I smiled to myself and realised that I had demonstrated competency, integrity and this had ruffled the feathers of this Project Director.  This was in spite of the fact that my clients were happy, the team was happy and the project had completed successfully.

The nature of the Information Technology industry means that many projects are doomed to failure.  Many information technology companies have been successful in the past because they have leveraged off the inadequate knowledge of their clients.  This often leads to a whole mechanism for cost cutting in the proposal stage and recovery in the project stage.  This means that for a project manager to succeed they must make up the ground already lost in the proposal stage by getting the client to approve additional contract variations throughout the course of the project.  This practice is slowly declining and will continue to decline as clients become more aware of technology and the impact of the technology on their business.  In fact, it is usually the project managers that are competent and can complete projects successfully who are the ones who are not promoted or the ones whose contracts are not extended.  These are often the project managers who have everything ticking along happily and are not making any waves.  The project goes along almost unnoticed – except by the client.  The ‘Boys Club’ rewards incompetence because it means that ‘Boys Club’ members can be safe in the knowledge that no one is competing with them and more importantly no one is showing up their own failings. Of course, this is not true in reality and many people will mumble behind backs complaining that this is not right or that needs to be fixed.  Instead of addressing the problems head on and assisting those people to become more secure and perhaps retraining and supporting them – bravado runs rampant.  Managers ‘talk it up’, put others down, or become glamorous charismatic individuals that can manipulate others with their ‘smoke and mirrors’ techniques, and because everyone else is playing the game – this behaviour continues.  This can have serious repercussions for your project if you need assistance, support or quick decisions from these managers.

It is not just women who come up against this practice; anyone can experience the effect of being kept out of something or be amongst managers and co-workers that are behaving secretively.  Conversely, it is not just men who are members of ‘Boys Club’, but men, unlike women, have had access to them for longer. Many of the corporate management practices we see today are a direct result of bullying in the school system.  Female members may be overachievers, try-hards who don’t know how to use their own ‘womanpower’ and do not recognise the great strengths of female management.  We are all impressed by Boys Club status and power, we love people with power, are impressed by slick cars and glitzy presentation.  Women swoon and promote this even further as it has been an achievement to marry a man with power and when they do, they tell everyone ‘how wonderful’ their partner is, so they continue to support and promote ‘Boys Club’ behaviour. Being an ‘arrogant bastard’ is good and is admired by ‘Boys Club’ members and others, but when this is applied as a management style in the workplace it can be challenging. This very arrogance can be detrimental to ‘Boys Club’ organisations, an early example from the Information Technology industry being the founders of Microsoft, who were so shunned by the large corporates of the day.  These corporates missed opportunities by being blinded by ‘Boys Club’ ethics and not being open to outsiders and change.

There are many examples of ‘Boys Club’ behaviour and where the ‘Boys Club’ has turned on one of their own. People strive to belong to special groups and in some cases will compromise themselves just to belong.  ‘Boys Club’ organisational culture doesn’t promote a consultative method of management, more like a ‘do as I say’ mentality.  You will find this occurs a lot on projects where we are told, “I don’t care how you do it, just get it done! ‘.  These are often the managers who are late for meetings and don’t return calls.  On the surface this sounds okay, except that the actions that some will take to get the job done can be extreme.  Project managers may overwork their team members and be tempted to cut costs and deliver an inferior product or service to the client.

The main problem with the ‘Boys Club’ culture for project managers is that if you chose to play the game, there is no way back when you identify a problem.  Many people in particular, ‘talk it up’ and spend a lot of time speaking in public to others about their problems, their managers problems and the organisations problems and how they would solve them. It is difficult in this situation to then ask for help from the very areas you have been complaining about.


To effectively deal with this practice, we need to operate on at least two levels.  This is often difficult where there is little management support and indeed, in some cases this behaviour is modelled from higher-level management, so complaints to that area will be fruitless.  You need to recognise the game that is being played and decide whether you will play it and how you will participate.  It is much harder to achieve success if you don’t recognise what is going on and continue to blame yourself or worse still promote the game without knowing it.  You may think you are avoiding this by working harder or asking project staff for more and more difficult tasks to be completed in shorter and shorter time frames.  Why?  You will start to look good in the eyes of the ‘Boys Club’ and feel that you belong. But this won’t work as you won’t feel good, and the fact is that this won’t satisfy the ‘Boys Club’ as it is much more complicated than that. We need to understand the causes and characteristics of this practice. These can be many and varied but will stem from early parenting, social pressures or learned behaviours throughout the career of the individual.

Many organisations actually promote this behaviour and those that continue to say ‘yes’ when required, don’t make waves and model the behaviour of senior management, are the people who get promoted.  This is common in organisations that have a competitive and controlling culture – in their marketing material they may describe themselves as ‘dynamic’ and at the ‘leading edge’ of current technology.  In many of these types of organisations, projects can suffer as little real decision-making is carried out and even less support is given to project managers. Great promises and statements are made to clients without really supporting the project managers who are implementing those promises. It is in these organisations that projects can fail because there is no avenue for failure, that is: there is no way for project managers to say that there is a problem.  This can lead to compounded problems where the end result is a project that is completely off the rails.  To cover this – manager’s .talk it up and create a high profile for themselves.  It is the projects that are managed badly, which are in lot of trouble who get all the attention.  It may seem like this is not good attention, but in a Boys Club, success at the job at hand is not the only reward.  Senior managers come running to assist or to berate; this is great as it gives them a sense of authority, control and importance. If you follow the Boys Club game, you as the Project Manager can lap this up, be humbled but also be charismatic in order to give outsiders the impression that all is well and that you and your senior manager have it under control.

In reality, projects should not get to this stage, but the point that I am offering here is that in some cases it is in the best interests of the person or persons to manage projects doomed for failure.  This culture leads to project managers and team members who are ‘really busy’  – they are the ones who don’t return email messages, always use their voice mail and have an assistant who can  never find them. Many people see this person as a high achiever – but really, they are undisciplined, overstressed, unorganised and seeking the approval of senior ‘Boys Club’ members, and yes, often these are the people who are promoted.  They are the ones whose project team resources are stretched to the limit.  Other project managers, with dependencies on the first project, will often do whatever is needed themselves, in order to get their own work done, and in fact continue the cover up.

It is imperative that they keep up this façade at all costs. If you are the project manager for another project and have to deal with this person, you will find it very difficult to get resolution and closure on issues.  The danger for you is that if this person sees that you are on to them, they will enlist the help of other Boys Club members and become frantic in their activity.  You may do this without saying anything; the mere fact that your own project is successful will unsettle the insecure Boys Club member.

It is the people who speak out and expose incorrect practice that are usually targeted, so by understanding the cause of Boys Club behaviour, you can address the insecurities of these managers without becoming a victim yourself.  Some of the ways you can do this are by;

  • Helping senior managers feel comfortable when communicating with staff by removing posturing, pretension and false communication;
  • Demonstrating and feeling empathy for Boys Club members and their actions, removing insensitivity;
  • Showing how to relate to each other on a personal basis – not boss/employee, by being able to make eye contact with subordinates;
  • Encouraging Boys Club managers to be more approachable;
  • Encouraging subordinates to speak up and put forward ideas without fear of rejection or retaliation, and;
  • Encouraging subordinates and peers to have a more rounded approach to the working environment. Encourage think time, and make space for employees to express family and community needs.

Avoid being judgmental, provide support and encouragement and most importantly point out the hazards of this type of behaviour to the person and to the organisation.  Unless the people who are continuing this practice are included in the solution – a solution will not be successful.  For the person who is being targeted by the Boys Club, the best solution is to build inner strength and integrity. Define the way that you want to work, i.e. what are your principles, what is your preferred business practice, how do you like people to treat you, is there any

behaviour that you will not tolerate and support.  Once you have this mapped in your life, study the game, but don’t support it.  That does not mean that you should set yourself up as a victim – it means that you will not continue to partake in unacceptable behaviour and practice, i.e. you will not support it.  This may mean staying silent when words and behaviour are against your beliefs, or it may mean speaking out when you have assessed the risks.

Identify and acknowledge the games and game playing tactics of others.  Decide the course of action in this event.  Remain consistent in your actions.  Stick to your game plan.  Come down hard when people cross your lines in the sand; learn to identify ‘Set-Ups’ as a result of controlling behaviour.  Identify the behaviour in others, which is potentially damaging to you and take evasive action.  Build on your inner strength.  Participate in personnel development courses.  Encourage others to strengthen themselves, educate your team members and peers, and demonstrate strength and professional behaviour. Stay calm and don’t buy into disputes where you will compromise yourself.  Ask authentic questions, be interested and leave the yelling to ‘Boys Club’ members.

Team members will feel good about themselves and their decisions, and will act consistently.  This will create an environment of security around them which will, in turn, affect the behaviour of others.  Like naughty children who recognise when a parent or authority figure will not be easily swayed.  Encourage team members to ‘let go’ of issues by taking an active rather than a passive role in their decisions.  If you have worked to the best of your ability and still the ‘Boys Club’ mentality exhibits itself, actively decide whether to confront it or “let go’.  The object here is to reduce your stress.  Demonstrate integrity to those around you but be aware that this may have negative responses from those who lack integrity, as this will be seen as a threat to them, they may become withdrawn or aggressive.

Know that you are making a difference, ask yourself, “If I had to take responsibility for everything I feel and everything that comes out of my mouth, what would be the rest of the sentence?”  This will force you to think and reflect before making a decision when you are unsure.  You cannot change the whole organisation if it doesn’t want to change, remember implement your action plan in small chunks.  If you try to do too much you will become frustrated and a prime target for ‘Boys Club’ tactics. Focus on your project and the goals of your team.  Reacting with aggression to aggression rarely works and is more likely to end in a confrontation with no resolution.  It creates a hostile environment and will add to your frustration and feeling of isolation.  It may also jeopardise your ability to get the resources you need to complete your project successfully.

Avoid creating chaos – people who operate in ‘Boys Club’ are usually there because of the perceived safety.  They may react in a hysterical way traditionally attributed to woman in stressful situations,  e.g.: if you are not satisfied with a situation – think through the problem; go to the person with an idea of a solution.  If you just walk in and start shouting and reacting in a hysterical manner you will be dismissed quickly. Avoid trying to control the situation.  People who create an environment where they can be in control are often insecure and resort to manipulation.  When a crisis happens to these people, they are unable to cope effectively.  They are no longer in control and they have isolated themselves from others who can help.  This creates frustration, anger, aggression and leads to staff that are unproductive, de-motivated, isolated and propagates insecurities in teams.  ‘Boys Club’ can flourish in this environment.  In management, this can lead to a lack of accountability, deflection of blame and secret plotting and a lack of communication to others.

Ultimately, for ‘Boys Club’ behaviour to change, we all need to actively work to change it.  Not by career suicide, but by managing your team effectively and demonstrating ways to deal with the ‘Boys Club’ in a professional manner. Help others to learn how to deal with the ‘Boys Club’ behaviour and promote the project management practice as a practice, which does not have to be chaotic and unsuccessful – but can lead to the successful completion of projects with happy clients and team members.

Demonstrate to your children, spouse and friends that you value what you stand for and you do not promote behaviour that is detrimental to others.  Actively identify ‘Boys Club’ behaviour in politics and the news and talk about it to others.  Demonstrate visibility and transparency in your management, be open and honest and manage the best project you can.  The ultimate way to deal with the ‘Boys Club’ is to exist in the environment without taking part in it and to promote the alternatives.  Continue to demonstrate your values and assist others to identify and ‘Deal with the Boys Club’.

Copyright Susanne Moore 2000


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