Have you ever had one of those projects that starts off difficult and just gets harder from there? I was coaching a client who is managing a difficult project a week or two ago. Other players, who worked at a strategic partner, were slowing things down and it seemed like they were working against my client. To make matters worse, the strategic partners had more power and influence over this project so my client was feeling stuck. We identified 4 key areas for my client to work on: focus on the goal, develop and focus on short term objectives, not making unforced errors and address the interference through relationships.
Focus on the Goal
If the goal of the project is worthwhile (and this one was) then keeping the goal in mind can carry you past a large number of obstacles. Create a list of short term objectives and tasks which are in line with the end goal. Set deadlines for the objectives and then schedule the tasks to meet the deadline. Allow a little extra time to give yourself the opportunity to overcome the bogged down side.
When you are bogged down and losing momentum on a project, staying motivated is key. This can be particularly difficult if you are working internationally. Focusing on the goal may be enough to keep you motivated, but if not, then use other tactics. Set up rewards for yourself when you reach milestones in the project. Visualize yourself finishing the project successfully.
Quick Short Objectives
Break the project goals down into very short milestone objectives inline with your project strategy. Be sure that you can accomplish initial objectives quickly. You can then focus on putting bursts of energy into the objectives. These victories can serve as motivation on the overall project.
Don’t Blow It
When you are stressed and tired, being mindful of the project’s politics is even more difficult. Make sure you are getting enough rest. Working all day, drinking BaiJiu at night and adding stress is a perfect recipe for a meltdown. If you need to take a break, do so. Don’t make mistakes like losing your temper and thus losing face or causing a team member to lose face. You can easily end productive relationships and even place projects at risk.
Address the Interference
In the United States or west, we might address the interference directly by calling a meeting. In Chinese culture, this typically turns into denials that any concerns exist. We might then turn to a supervisor to apply pressure on the person in question. This tactic may win the battle but then place the war at risk.
Use Your Guanxi
Guanxi is often talked about in grand terms. Your relationships with key stakeholders and powerful partners does play a role in your success. On a more personal level, you need allies to support your goals. You already know that relationships are extremely important when doing business in China and that you should be spending at least 10% of your time building relationships. When you are working on a project, make sure that you are building appropriate relationships with potential partners. Use these relationships to reach out to the other party indirectly. You are far more likely to get useful information working through another colleague. You may even resolve a dispute without ever talking directly with the other party. You can both continue working together without ever actually admitting or discussing the project.