Guiding Principles: How Great Project Teams Behave


If there’s one thing we all seem to share, it’s that at some point each of us has had a role on a project team that is assembled to create or implement something new. Indeed, project work is how things get done in business—how we innovate and transform.

Clear project plans with roles and responsibilities, accessible leaders, and achievable and measureable goals are a few of the essentials. But, achieving standards of quality and completing the work on time and within budget—the classic triple constraint of project management—is not enough. Projects must be executed in context. Sometimes that context can be very broad, and things may get tricky.

When people who come from different organizations and geographies with different skill sets, levels of commitment, and ways of doing business are banded together, projects can benefit enormously from a set of guiding principles.

The first steps (and maybe the hardest ones) are to: 1) accept that complications may arise, and 2) recognize that they can be difficult to resolve without a previously defined code of behavior.

In the next step, the core project team and its sponsors describe what success looks like. The conversation should address the consequences of the work to other related projects and initiatives. From there, the key is to identify the kinds of behaviors that are needed to assure success of that project in its context. Ultimately, the only objective truth about what makes a good set of guiding principles is that everyone involved must share a sense of ownership about the principles, and each individual is committed to aligning with them.

Recently, I was part of a large and complex project team comprised of business leaders, marketers, technologists, attorneys, accountants, and management consultants. The project was integral to the future of the enterprise we served (in our roles as both consultants and employees). While the multi-functional nature of the team made it potent, we recognized that the cultural diversity in the team could also present challenges. And, we knew that our project was just one of several equally critical work streams. To help assure we would achieve the kind of grand success to which we all aspired, we established a set of guiding principles. Here is a version of those.

  1. Maintain a line of sight to the big picture, and focus on what’s just ahead
    • Be opportunistic: what’s possible, what’s right, what’s practical
  2. Integrate work into the project management structure
    • Track and report activity to facilitate integration
  3. Be value add, not just additive
    • Harmonize with other teams and tools
  4. Help everyone maintain perspective about project impact across the organization
    • Provide perspective: what we know, what we know we don’t know, what we don’t know we don’t know
  5. Be consultative
    • Manage expectations of executional teams, senior teams and others
  6. Align with and build upon the work of other teams
    • Direct all work of this team through the project sponsor, as the interconnection with other parts of the organization
  7. Escalate often, according to plan

It’s a short list. That’s what makes it powerful. And, it characterizes the strategic posture of the team to its members and others.

Once you get the process going, your new guiding principles will become a source of strength, effectiveness and project efficiency because it’s in everyone’s interest to perform well. But, if you have a project and need some help getting a handle on planning, developing guiding principles, or just need a sounding board, let me know. I’m happy to be your guide.

By the way, if you look carefully at the picture above you’ll see my daughter in red at the center of the group!

Brand Alignment: Part 2 — Cultivate a “Stewardship Mindset”

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Ever wonder who owns your organization’s brand? Surprise! It’s you, and the person sitting next to you, and the folks down the hall, and your colleagues across the country and around the world. Yes, a brand is owned by all of the people in the organization for which it stands and that ownership comes with a set of responsibilities that everyone shares, regardless of function or level of seniority.

At the core of that set of responsibilities is a “stewardship mindset” – a shared sense of personal commitment to corporate purpose and the strategies designed to help the business succeed. When everything is working, it looks like this:

Leadership is viewed not just as a role, but also as a behavior. People feel prepared to make on-the-spot decisions and they talk with each other about brand values, the work they do, and why it matters. It’s great when senior leaders set an example, but when frontline employees know they’re trusted to take initiative and be an agent of an organization’s success, the benefits are exponentially larger.

Collaboration is key to “how we do things around here.” Collaboration thrives when teams (not heroes) are celebrated and individuals are empowered to work across their organization.

  • Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon Endo Surgery unit stokes innovation by forming interdisciplinary teams to develop promising commercial ideas. In doing so, these teams are liberated to tap capabilities and connections that would otherwise be trapped within individual siloes. Voila!
  • At the practical level of a nonprofit’s office environment, even using simple and ubiquitous silo-spanning tools like Google Docs can go a long way towards bringing people together through their work.

Learning is essential to managing change. We live in a fast-paced world where job-hopping is customary for millennials, and new technologies are continuously emerging. So, it’s critical to always be acquiring new knowledge, interpreting that knowledge, and applying it in valuable ways.

  • Not long ago Y-USA, the national organization of all 10,000 YMCAs in the U.S., and one of the biggest and oldest nonprofits, went through a major rebranding program. Nearly half a million people, including volunteers, needed to understand what was happening, why it was happening, and what it meant to them. New learning tools and communications processes were developed and implemented to effect change. The rebrand was wildly successful and, because change is constant, many of the tools and processes developed then have been maintained and are still in use today.

Insights come from anywhere, and people are ready to recognize and act upon them. It doesn’t matter how big or small a problem is for the tension of that problem to yield the kind of knowledge that can make a huge difference on a business. The key is to be aware and ready to act in a timely way.

Governance of brand strikes a harmonious balance between global coherence and protection, and local relevance. The people, processes, and tools (guidelines, spot checks, digital asset management tools, etc.) that support brand governance provide a framework for brand consistency. But it’s the freedom of brand expression that creates authenticity and brand power.

Planning, resource management, and organizational design go a long way toward increasing brand and marketing effectiveness. But the stewardship mindset transcends the workaday nature of these classic management disciplines.

Stewardship is no less a matter of the heart than the mind. Ultimately the big payoff of a “stewardship mindset” is the agility and responsiveness of a harmonized organization around a common business goal. To learn more about developing a stewardship mindset in your organization, contact me at


Brand Alignment: Part 1 — Start With Strategy

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 4.31.11 PMThe impact of brand alignment is the greatest where the financial resources of an organization are in shortest supply. Nonprofits live that every day (but the lessons learned apply to all organizations). Earning the trust of a local community is tough. Getting people to give of themselves is even harder. Asking donors for money? It’s the ultimate challenge for nonprofit organizations. But, regardless of how hard you work to achieve these things, there is one factor that can either pave your path to success or throw up endless roadblocks: the degree to which your organization is aligned to its brand.

Strategy Closes The Gap

While communications and marketing professionals are generally responsible for making promises on behalf of their organizations, it is the public-facing folks that are responsible for keeping those promises. Brand alignment closes that gap. As the strongest brands can attest, brands must be built from the inside out. But, it is more than developing or executing an internal communications plan. Instead, it is about engaging leaders, employees, volunteers, participants, and donors –everyone that lives with, is impacted by, or directly communicates the brand – on an intellectual and emotional level.

 Key Elements of Brand Strategy

So much more than just a visual identity, your organization’s brand should be founded on a strategy that contains certain key elements that guide everything your organization says and does. These include:

  • Purpose: the definitive statement of the difference you seek to make in the world
  • Values: a succinct set of principles that guide how people within your organization behave and make decisions
  • Positioning: the way you define your unique place in the competitive landscape
  • Value proposition: a statement of who you are, what you do, and why people should care
  • Personality traits: the human characteristics that capture the spirit of your brand, evident in personal behavior and both visual and verbal identities

But, like any strategy, brand strategy is only effective when there is sustained organizational commitment to realizing its potential over the long term. When everything is working, the outcome is sure to be a unified organization that is well known, well understood, and effectively delivering on its mission.

Maintaining A Vital, Brand-aligned Organization

While purpose usually remains the same, an organization’s needs and capabilities may change so it is critical to keep up with the times and maintain a high degree of internal alignment through periods of change. With that in mind, here are a few things you can do to gauge the internal health of the brand and gather insight that leads to the actions necessary to maintain a vital and relevant brand in the market.

  • Conduct periodic all-employee sentiment surveys
  • Compliment qualitative surveys by integrating values into the daily lives of the people in and around your organization through brand-centered learning and collaboration
  • Conduct a bi-annual review of the brand strategy to confirm that your internal alignment efforts are in sync with the demands of the market

In order to optimize your organization’s ability to realize its purpose and achieve its mission, the brand needs to give people something to believe in that is larger than the work they do or the specific part of the organizational they serve. Tuning up your brand strategy and aligning your organization to it will go a very long way towards meeting these goals. 

If you’re thinking about what to do next, or you want to know more about brand strategy or conducting employee surveys, then shoot me an email. Let’s talk.

Branding Primer: my interview on WVOX “Westchester Means Business”

This afternoon, I chatted with John Ravitz, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Business Council of Westchester.

  • Segment 1 is a quick primer in branding and business, resources and budgeting.
  • Segment 2 starts with a discussion on how branding is not a choice, and then delves into doing business in Westchester.


On Purpose

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What’s the difference you seek to make in the world?

When you think of today’s strongest brands, it’s no longer just the image of the logo. Rather, it is the mental image of a story or an experience that presents a much richer narrative of that brand: BMW’s joyful drivers, Patagonia’s fearless climbers, or Apple’s simple, flawless and ubiquitous geometry might come to mind.

These are brands with idenities that use powerful imagery to tell stories that reverberate through complex media strategies and ripple across the globe. Of course, these are some of the biggest, savviest, and best-known companies today. Without a doubt, the brand status these companies each enjoy requires hefty and on-going investments. But, for smaller businesses, while the investment doesn’t have be great, getting the essential elements of the brand right can make a substantial difference on marketing effectiveness and competitiveness.

Too often, I’ve observed a sort of WYSIWYG mentality to brand management that limits organizational performance on a variety of fronts. SEO, word of mouth, talent attraction and retention, buyer preference, and customer experience – these are the factors that build great businesses, and all rely on the clarity and communication of a strong brand geared to drive the business. 

Strong brands are created with purpose. Whether it was explicit or not, every organization started with a purpose – a founder’s sense of the difference it seeks to make in the world. If you haven’t taken the time to articulate yours, it’s a worthwhile exercise that will yield practical guidance (for years to come) to every person in your organization on decisions of every scale. The outcome will be a more cohesive organization that navigates to the same beacon on horizon.

Unlike many other organizational strategies, purpose is deceptively simple. And, because its effectiveness has only to do with its veracity as an internal guide, it is not for public consumption and is not subject to the sort of differentiating marketing poetics that often yield distinct and musical phrases that mean nothing (to anyone but the people who wrote them). In fact, two fiercely competitive companies can have the same purpose but very different value propositions, which underpin equally different customer experiences. Indeed, with a true-to-you organizational purpose in hand, the key strategic elements of your brand platform will be emerge more naturally, be more directly related to the business, be leaner and more aligned with each other and the organization, and be much more effective.

For more information, just to check in and say hello, or to share a thought, please contact me at