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Maintaining Energy and Motivation in Your PMO

By: Stephanie Freihofer

They can work anywhere, top view of three young people working together while sitting outdoors

No matter the size or complexity of your organization, keeping energy and motivation high among your teams is crucial to the success of your projects.  Let’s face it, this important task can seem downright daunting.  Many times our clients have taken note of the leadership we provide to their projects, and utilized some of the methods we employ to tackle this problem. So, we thought we’d share some of our own ‘motivational practices’ to assist you with your efforts.

Recruiting and Hiring

Ultimately – ensuring a high level of engagement is about hiring the right people from the start.  Take stock of your recruiting & hiring practices and remember that motivation involves personality.  Are you asking the right questions to help assess motivation and uncover personality?  Is your candidate using the right language when she speaks?  While you want a strong person to demonstrate how ‘I’ led the program on time and within budget, or how ‘I’ ensured pay accuracy of 99.99% for a payroll project – carefully listen for a lingo that is consistent with fostering a sense of teamwork, creating shared vision, and achieving joint goals.

Ensure the people doing the actual recruiting know what you value and what you look for in an employee; take time to train them and have them shadow people doing interviews.  At SEI we have an interview process we affectionately refer to as ‘the gauntlet.’  It’s a series of progressive interviews which allows each interviewer to uncover various traits we value (self-starters who have a natural penchant for collaboration, years of ‘road rash’ in , experience that demonstrates the ability to influence a team to work toward shared vision, etc.). In turn, it allows the candidate to share his background, values, goals, and vision for personal and professional growth.  Instead of just dropping people into an interviewer role, newer consultants shadow various interviews in the gauntlet to listen and observe so they ultimately understand the skills and leadership/self-starter traits we value.

One other hiring tip – be sure to recruit from passive as well as active sources. You may have a pile of resumes from people responding to your job ads, but only a very few who might qualify.  How about looking at your top performers and asking ‘Who do you know that might like to do what we do?’  Top-notch people tend to surround themselves with other top-notch people.

Fostering Motivation

While hiring the right people is critical to any organization’s ongoing success, you also have existing teams that you need to keep energized, motivated and aligned with your company’s goals.

Take time to understand how your employees perceive their value-add to the organization.  On this very day, month and year, do they perceive benefits and contributions directly feeding the company’s mission?  As a practical example, some PMs are assigned post business case or post ‘problem solving/opportunity definition.’ Being assigned this late in the game can lead to the PM getting myopic about delivering to time and scope items, rather than understanding and internalizing the expected business value.  Instead, the PM can play a vital role in anticipating problems, asking the right questions, and driving the right activities across team members to achieve the expected results.  Even if she’s joined the party late!

Remember, motivation often goes hand-in-hand with personality (which can be hard to change).  However, it can often be nudged through establishing connections and relationships at a personal level, giving real-time positive feedback, creating a shared vision, and achieving joint (stretch) goals, incentives, career feedback, coaching and so on.

Also, don’t forget about demotivation. Oftentimes management does not realize that there is rich, fertile ground to cover through helping people find the right role, removing roadblocks and waste, eliminating politics, and creating healthy team environments.  Essentially, give your employees the best chance to do a great job (something almost everyone wants to do).

This is where well thought-out reward systems can help.  Are employee bonus potentials properly aligned with the work that is being asked of them?  Have you sat down with your employee to understand his career goals and laid out a promotion path aligned with corporate strategy while meeting his or her needs/goals?

A good reward system doesn’t have to focus solely on compensation and career pathing. Smaller incentives attached to something ‘very real’ can make a difference too.  For example, do people grumble about parking in a back lot?  Give a prime parking spot for a ‘leadership moment’ – or a $50.00 gift certificate, or tickets for two to a major league game.

You could also inspire good old fashioned competitive spirit/social recognition right within the PMO.  It’s the ‘Law of the Scoreboard’ mentality – “When the team knows the score, they can adjust how they play the game…” (John C. Maxwell – 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork).  Establish, or use existing, PMO metrics like hitting project schedule plan dates, successful deployments without roll-backs, QA issue targets, and so on. Use an online Employee recognition tool (e.g.;, etc.) that can be configured to integrate a live scoreboard approach to project metrics while providing a social media-type vibe by enabling public team recognition of individuals for good performance.

Building Bonds Within the Team

Finally, consider participating in community activities that build teamwork and camaraderie.  Going out into the community and helping those in need is a wonderful way to contribute to those less fortunate and get to know other team members outside the workplace.  Here at SEI, we regularly volunteer as a team at community service organizations like Matthew 25 ministries, Josh Cares, and Oyler School to name a few.  Consider the organizations that line up with your company values and will provide the opportunity for your employees to build stronger team bonds while building and giving back to the community.

Each one of these practices above have been key to our success as a company.  We are hopeful that these insights into some of our practices at SEI might help you find practical ways to motivate and energize your teams!


Stephanie Freihofer


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