On Message and On Time

Recently a Wall Street Journal article (The Short Answer) on presidential candidate Marco Rubio had an closing line that struck me as the sound-bite for project managers.

After focusing much of the video article on whether or not Rubio would rise to the bait and comment on Trump or any of Trump’s comments the commentator ended with

“He’s on message and on time.”

Here is the crux of my concern. The whole comment was:

“He may be behind in the polls but he’s on message and on time.”

All the while this candidate, who focused on substance, pork chop flipping at the Iowa fair notwithstanding, rather than show, is presented as somehow a less attractive candidate for the highest office in the land because of that very lack of show. His focus is acknowledged as an afterthought – what my drama teacher used to refer to as a throw-away. A throw-away was a last comment meant to ameliorate any unintended or unwanted emotional or social damage caused by everything that was said before.

It is the equivalent of that time-honoured phrase from the US south – ‘Bless your heart’.

It was also a prompt that caused me to ask:

Is there a perception that project management leaders are somehow less-than?

Does our focus on results and timely delivery of those results deliver the unintended consequence of being viewed as the less-than members of the organizational team? We certainly don’t tend to be seen as gregarious as the sales folks or as creative as the marketing team. As a profession we still work, in many organizations, in the shadows while the bright light of value shines on those members of the organization whose worth is without question and regularly acknowledged. While many of us are heartened to see that slowly moving towards enterprise and industry truly recognizing the importance of our impact as professionals, there is still a long way to go.

So how do you make on message and on time less of a ‘there-there’ type of organizational virtue and more of a show-stopping message of importance and impact?

Marco Rubio is not out of the race yet – and his dogged determination to stay on-point is a good lesson. Staying on point can also mean keeping the public and private focus for the team on the impact of what the project delivers so that your team can understand and hone in on the deliverables that will make that a reality.
Keep on top of your key stakeholders and be aware of potential strengths and challenges in that relationship. Senator Rubio’s daughters are pretty and a humanizing influence on his driving message driven campaign. That is a strength. A challenge is not being entirely in control of what can come out of even the brightest kid’s mouth. The minute that his daughters were separated from him by too much and reporters felt free to approach the girls directly, Senator Rubio intervened and re-established control over the situation.
Some other points we can take from these people who will spend the next year trying to influence and persuade millions of people:
Your message must be tailored to your audience. In the Iowa fair, as he flips pork on a grill, someone asks Senator Rubio how he gets the vegetarian vote. He chuckles and answers that he’s not working too hard on that one right now. Answered the question, connected it to his immediate audience.
Sacrificing warmth and the personal connection may not be the best way to keep on message and on-time. Remember what the value of the time-line and deadlines represent – there will be points in time when the investment of establishing a more approachable, human context may be an investment that will pay dividends in the trust accounts and timely delivery as it builds better communications foundations.

This is not an endorsement of any particular candidate. Presidential campaigns offer a great lab for examining message, the impact of the message and how well some approaches work – how some don’t.

What will you change because of what you learn as the presidential season unfolds?

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