AXELOS ProPath, the world's most powerful project, programme and portfolio best practice certifications

The risks in project rewards

PM Oracles
June 17, 2015

Reward and recognition for project managers that deliver successful projects is generally accepted as good practice in the workplace, as is rewarding any staff for successful performance against agreed criteria in today’s organisations.

Regardless of an organisation’s general structure—be it projectised, functional, matrix-based and so on—successful project completions are rightly celebrated. At project closing, the project team should take the opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments, with the project manager and/or upper level of stakeholders using this event as an opportunity to recognise particularly strong performances from individuals on the team. Celebrating project success, when it is merited, is a worthy process, however the manner or magnitude in which you celebrate project success has the potential to cause problems elsewhere within your organisation if it is not handled in a measured way.

Let’s consider a couple of scenarios: the dynamics of the ‘functional organisation’, and those of the ‘projectised organisation’.

The functional organisation

In a functional organisation, when resources are assigned to a project team, the people made available for selection will depend on which qualified resources can be pulled away from their functional role for the prescribed duration estimated for them to complete their part in the project.

If the project is of a high priority, ‘A Performers’ may be allocated from functional work (or perhaps other projects). Do these people get replaced in their functional role? If not, those who have to fill-in and undertake their functional tasks may cause discontent in the functional group, which may lower morale and cause performance issues.

The potential for disquiet outside the project will be magnified if the project team celebrates their project on closing and no thanks were given to the coverage of the functional work others shouldered in their absence. You will suffer more of the same risks should the same small group of resources continually be selected for projects, which is akin to placing all your eggs in the one proverbial basket.

In the extreme, people who are not given opportunities may seek other internal or external opportunities, and your organisation may fail to build a strong bench of resources who have the ability to work on a variety of projects, which leads to succession planning problems. Be sensitive to such risks through appropriate communications and an understanding of how the tasks of projects and ongoing functional teams are equally important in your organisation.

The projectised organisation

Now let’s look at the projectised organisation, where project work is the primary priority. Does such an organisation consistently staff its high profile projects with the same star performers or does it mix reward and opportunity appropriately?

Do your high-profile projects consistently get far more recognition and larger rewards than so-called lesser priority projects? If the answer to this question is yes, then many of the risks discussed in the functional organisation are present here also. People who are not given opportunities to work on high profile projects may feel passed over, and may begin to look for external opportunities.

At the same time, maybe your star performers feel overworked, stressed, and in need of recharging their batteries. In the projectised structure, you need to be careful to provide the right opportunities to your teams and manage succession planning appropriately, giving opportunities to up-and-coming people and ‘stretch targets’ for your team members all round.

Balancing risk and reward

So, how do you balance project reward and recognition on project completion regardless of the organisation structure? There is no standard method for reward and recognition that spans all projects in all organisations. The process you use for project resource selection will have a direct correlation on the perceived fairness of your project and the reward and recognition system used. There are a few actions you can take as a project manager, with your senior management, to ensure a project reward and recognition system is just and appropriate.

1. Give appropriate rewards

Make sure the reward given for project staff is appropriate for the contribution made, and make sure reward measures are clearly laid out at the start of the project, and communicated to all involved.

2. Diversify your bench

Ensure lesser experienced staff that need coaching before they are fully productive are given appropriate opportunities to work on all projects while not leaving them, or the organisation, exposed. These resources can serve as ‘shadow’ or back-up resources to those accountable for the project deliverables.

The ‘shadow’ resources serve two purposes: by allowing some tasks to be delegated to the shadow they broaden your bench; and you begin to make an equitable reward process. The shadow resources should be considered in the project’s reward and recognition structure based not only on their contributions, but also on their knowledge, growth and performance during the project.

3. Reward the right thing

Ensure only desired behaviours are rewarded. Individuals that may get the assigned tasks completed, but do so through overtime, non-conforming manners or other behaviours not consistent with your organisation should not receive individual recognition.

4. Recognise people at the right time

Always ensure that any recognition is given in a timely manner and communicated properly to the appropriate management levels.

5. Celebrate in context

Consider the project celebration in the context of the overall organisation and the overall contribution of people who may not be directly on the project but indirectly have played their part.

In conclusion, reward and recognition systems for projects are difficult to get right. First make the project selection equitable, consider the overall impact of people on the project and on its periphery, and ensure the reward and recognition process is set appropriately.

PM Oracles
PM Oracles is Gareth Byatt, Gary Hamilton, Jeff Hodgkinson and Duke Okes, all experienced PMO, program, and project managers who share a common passion to help others and share knowledge about PMO, portfolio, program and project management.
Read more