Adapting to Environmental Change: Learn a Thing or Two From Rod Stewart
written by: Jean Scheid
• edited by: Michele McDonough
• updated: 7/20/2011
As a project manager, you need to adapt to new things each time you start a new project or work with a new team and different stakeholders. A look at singer Rod Stewart’s career may be just the ticket to understanding environmental change—he did it with ease.
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The London-bluesy music group The Faces is where Rod first showed us his raspy voice during the 1960s and from there, he has established himself in many musical genres. Today, even the old folks love him.
Stewart was able to turn from blues to pop to disco to singing classics tunes including “The Very Thought of You" made famous by Nat King Cole and written by Ray Noble.
His career survives today because of his ability to adapt to the environment around him—what do his fans want (or don’t want) or what will entice new fans? Rod did this easily but as a project manager, how well do you adapt?
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Resistance Is Futile
Your last project may have been to market a food product line from Louisiana—full of soul and goodness—which you found easy enough to do. Your team was on the same page, stakeholder communication was without flaw and you even stayed within your budget by shooting on location in New Orleans. You next project, however, is the production design of a 1970s style furniture line and not only will you be working with an entirely new team, you’ve never managed a production line before and the client has been known to be hard to please.
Instead of passing on the project and possibly damaging your career, do what King Stewart, master of change, did. In the 1970s his hits like “Maggie Mae" and “Tonight’s the Night" turned him from a blues band singer to a slicker sounding pop singer. Don’t see the similarities here?
Project managers must be the conductor of every project they take on, no matter the size or experience of the band so to speak. In order to adapt to this new furniture line production venture, you first must learn about your team, what their skill sets include, their backgrounds and experience on similar projects.
Because your team will be taking the furniture build from start to finish, you’ll need to develop new processes than that of a marketing project. This will require embracing those on your team as leaders or facilitators to help you initiate the project plan. While a budget is a budget is a budget, you don’t want the client angry, so this may require you choosing a different budgeting style to stay within the allowed cash budget. It may even mean working with the client’s staff budgeter—an external resource you’ve never worked with before.
And, while you’re orchestrating all of this, the project must still flow with the ease of your last project. The old saying, “you’re only remembered for your last successful project" is certainly true and even if Rod Stewart had bumps along the way, he was able to overcome the old environment and embrace the ever-changing world of music—pop was on the scene now and he had to be a part of it.
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The 1980s were the days of disco attire and dancing, and Rod had to change yet again. With his hits “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy" and “Infatuation," he again showed adapting to a new environment was possible. Pop music fans may have pouted but disco lovers and Rod knew in order to be successful, if you don’t adapt, you are left behind. And Rod never wanted to be remembered as “Rod who?"
This is so true for project managers! Say your last project included teams of the baby boomer generation and now upper management has assigned you a team full of Gen Y and Gen X. Instead of getting lost in the translation, here you will need to develop a different communication plan and style.
Forget those interoffice memos and telephone calls; you need to text and email now to communicate. Your team needs to know where to access collaborative data within a network, and they want and scream for technology so you better make sure it’s in place prior to project start.
Again, transition is possible, if you take the time to understand what sort of adapting you must pursue and create for a particular project or team.
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You Go to My Head
By the 2000s, Rod indeed adapted once again. His elegant renditions of classics like “You Go to My Head" and “I’m in the Mood for Love" from his Great American Songbook collection wooed new audiences and enticed old fans into believing it was still the same old Rod, only with a unique twist. And, it paid off—so much so, he’s still singing these classics today.
Let’s say we take the opposite of the last project example. Instead of teams you’re used to full of the energetic Gen Y and Gen X’s, you’ve been told your next team will be full of traditionalists and baby boomers.
They do work differently and often at a slower pace. The project at hand is the creation of a slogan for an old food standard and that’s why the team was chosen.
In this example, you’ll need to fool your team much like Rod by embracing the old but making it seem new. How do you do this? Training, collaboration, and role playing are all good areas to help your team not only develop a new slogan for an old standard but also embrace the ever-changing world of technology—and enjoy new processes and procedures, ones you set as the leader even if that means switching to a new project management methodology.
Tricky yes, but any conductor can lead the orchestra in any rhythm or melody from Beethoven to the Super Mario Orchestra. So, as the leader, you can see what you can learn from the ever-adapting Rod Stewart.
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Stewart once said, “Half the battle is selling music, not singing it. It’s the image, not what you sing." This is also true if one considers the skills, talents and the ability to change as a project manager. Through his three marriages and now eight children, Stewart has shown the image is indeed what makes him popular.
As a project leader, you also need to find that image but it must be an ever-changing image in order to work in a diverse style, with changing teams and finding ways to please stakeholders both internal and external. It’s not a tightrope walk; it’s easy, with a little preparation and a deeper look inside the project and teams at hand.
What project environmental changes have you survived? I’d love to hear your stories of success! Heck, even the failures would be fun to hear.