Start a WOW! Project at Work

Before you start groaning, “No way, not another project!” (…“No way” is a “Yeah But”) understand that a WOW! project is a FUN project, and if you can get everyone you work with to approach ALL projects in the WOW! project way, life where you work will be all the sweeter.

Here is how Tom Peters described The Wow! Project in an article for Fast Company:

After decades of wholesale neglect, companies are finally facing the fact of pathetic white-collar productivity and realizing that they need to organize work in a fundamentally new way. The old ways of working are too slow, too convoluted, too hard to grab hold of — and the value is too hard to capture. At the same time, white-collar workers themselves are catching on: They need to rethink the very nature of work. If they’re going to have work in the future, they must be able to demonstrate clearly, precisely, and convincingly how they can add value. The answer — the only answer — is the project. And not just any project, no matter how droning, boring, and dull, but rather what my colleagues and I have come to call “Wow Projects”: projects that add value, projects that matter, projects that make a difference, projects that leave a legacy — and, yes, projects that make you a star.

You choose the project, (and I’ll continue to make suggestions such as Leadership Needs a Numbers Breakthrough and Leading encourages Making. Embrace the Mess). This is the first of two articles about how to approach it.

Update: This article was newly updated (most embedded links now go forward to newer articles) in conjunction with our October 2009 Ho‘ohana: Our annual Sweet Closure project. The Tom Peters quote above is a decade old, and it rings newly relevant in the frame of our recessionary economy, one within a generational shift in workplace demographics. Our motivations for it may change, however the workplace reinvention driven by great project work will never go away.

Start a WOW! Project at Work

  1. First, Learn to Love Projects for what they can be.
  2. And second, ratchet your talk story up a notch or two: Turn your projects into campaigns that get everyone on board with you and your team. Spread the aloha energy around with 10 Ways to Run a WOW! Campaign at Work. So first…

Learn to Love Projects

Project work is a fact of life for most of us. Within our Managing with Aloha coaching curriculum, we have a course with which we coach managers to look at project work in a way they may not have considered it before. We turn need-to-be-done-anyway projects into fun campaigns, assigning them to groups or teams, and pulling them out of the realm of strictly-individual work as much as possible.

To get an MWA preview of our approach, review The Lōkahi Challenge for Managers on page 107 of Managing with Aloha.

Project work is how you get others to collaborate with you on the BIG stuff.

We use projects to create workplace synergy, and synergy doesn’t happen when people work alone. Ignore the buzz-wordiness of synergy for a moment, embrace the abundance mentality it can generate, and imagine the possibilities when 1+1=3.

And you certainly don’t want to work alone on the BIG stuff if you want it to end up as the BEST stuff, do you?

Project work is the vehicle by which the powerless gain power. Forget about “empowerment programs” — Project work is the future of the company waiting to be discovered. Somewhere, in the belly of every company, someone is working away in obscurity on the project that 10 years from now everyone will acknowledge as the company’s proudest moment. Someone is creating Java, designing the iMac, reviving the VW Beetle, engineering the Mach3. Why isn’t that someone you?

~ Tom Peters

Like so much else in life, it’s all in your attitude.

In business, we need to consider projects the action-packed catalytic converters which make things happen for us. As the adage goes, if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’re gonna get what you’ve always got— and nothing more. Nothing extraordinary.

Anything less than extraordinary doesn’t get you work that lights your fire, or work which leads you to believe you can take on the whole world.

Outstanding project work does. This is your Time to Seize Control. Be Commanding!

You start by choosing the right projects to begin with, and as a first step you create a vision worth drooling over, an “ooh, we want that bad” kind of picture of the results the project can deliver for you.

Great managers don’t open themselves up to getting assigned a boring project by someone else; they’re already busy super-charging the workplace with the ones they decided on because they were way more exciting and attractive to them, and they were way more fun to engage with and devote their attentions to. They were worth all the time and effort because they were so enjoyable.

When we are proactive about choosing great projects and initiating worthwhile work through them, we spice up activity in our workplaces so that they are vibrant, dynamic places to be. We kill routine, boredom, complacency and mediocrity by changing things up, and introducing newness in a way that is exciting and energizing.

You can do the same thing.

For starters, be willing to change your point of view. Think about the wins you could be experiencing if all those pending projects were reshaped and reconfigured like colorful canisters of Play Doh or Silly Putty in the hands of staff you have mentored to be creatively enthusiastic about them. Imagine that you never procrastinate about starting a project again, because with your new attitude and no-holds-barred approach, project work means you get;

  • Work that is fun, while it achieves something grand and significant. Wins feel good, and people love to be on triumphant teams.
  • Camaraderie and better rapport among an entire team, because they have achieved those wins together, and while cheering each other on in admiration of great work done.
  • Better retention, for no one who is experiencing how work can be exceptionally enjoyable can imagine leaving your company and finding the same thing elsewhere.
  • No sacred cows, no automatic pilot, no settling for mediocrity. Instead, you get learning and creativity, innovation and reinvention, because a “project” means something new, and “new” is always chosen on purpose.
  • Pervasive optimism and enthusiasm in the workplace, because you have created an atmosphere where no one ever need settle for the way things are, and positive energy begets more energy and excitement. People smile and laugh all the time, and everyone notices, even your customers and suppliers.

All of this from project work?

Why not?

Great managers elevate the ways in which we work together. They know a sure-fire way to do that, is to champion power-packed projects which achieve meaningful results while introducing elements of enjoyment and fun.

Don’t accept another routinely-chosen assignment again: If you must accept it from your higher ups, don’t allow it to be boring and common. Even Following is NOT a Passive Activity. Pick your project attitude, intend to deliver a result that wins big-time, and reinvent your team’s passion for worthwhile work in the process.

Action step:

Before you launch into a new one, reconsider the projects you are working on right now. [An example of this reconsideration is our annual October’s Ho‘ohana: Sweet Closure.]

If they bore you, why? How can you switch them from something you have to do, to something you want to do? Are you struggling alone more than you should be? Have a conversation with someone you choose to help you. Ask them to help you see the positive possibilities you might be missing.

Coming Up Next: 10 Ways to Run a WOW! Campaign at Work


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