3 Critical Elements to Generate “Sparks” and Hit the Nerve

by Jennifer Bridges, PMP (formerly, Jennifer Whitt)

I recently drew inspiration for change management from an Oprah Winfrey interview with Lady Gaga, who has been successful at initiating huge change around issues of bullying Hit the Nervethrough her Born This Way Foundation. I watched the interview several times, as I was interested in understanding her process. We as project managers love process, right? She talked about how she sparked and fueled change by first “hitting the nerve.” She also happens to be one of the leading Twitter personalities with over 20 million followers who watch daily to see what she is doing. What if you as a project manager had that type of influence and impact on your project? To create the change you need on your project, it all boils down to three critical elements:

  1. Step Up
  2. Be Courageous
  3. Take a Stand

At the end of the interview, Oprah said (paraphrased), “Lady Gaga, I’ve been watching you and the lady who you are becoming. I see that you have been stepping up, are being courageous and taking a stand.” Lady Gaga replied that her goal is to hit the nerve, and when she hits the nerve it generates sparks. It creates an eruption such that people have to start talking.

Hit the Nerve – How Do You Know?

According to Lady Gaga, you know you’ve hit the nerve when people love it, hate it, are confused by it, or just absolutely don’t get it. When you get that mix of responses it causes the eruption that gets people talking, which then generates the sparks to force the change. I’ve seen it myself many times, and some of those situations were painful. If I had known this process and that some of the steps I was taking were out of order, change would have been more successful. In order to accomplish change effectively, take a look at yourself and answer the following questions:

  1. Who are you becoming as a project manager? Are you willing to step up, be courageous and take a stand for tough issues on your project? After all, people look to us to lead, to be the change agents to get things done, to move things or get things unstuck.
  2. Do you get it? Oprah told Lady Gaga, “You get it. You get that big issues have to be addressed, and things have to be done to get people’s attention, to get them started talking to create this change.”
  3. What are you taking a stand on? What issues are keeping your projects stuck or team members behind in their progress? What is keeping you from doing what you need to do as a project manager? What is keeping your stakeholders from getting things that they need? More importantly, what issues prevent your company to be first to market with new products? For those who work with service projects such as disaster relief, what issues after a disaster are you willing to take a stand on?
  4. Are you hitting the nerve? Are you afraid to hit the nerve? Sometimes project managers try to prevent people from disagreeing or arguing because they think it reflects badly on their leadership. However, top executives report that they respect project managers who know how to harness those situations.
  5. What will you need to get the courage to step up? I’ve had some total disasters and know it can be quite scary to be in situations of enormous change. Sometimes I have not had the right skills, or tools and techniques in place to support a courageous stand. As a project manager I need information — I need to know what the issues are, where we are supposed to be, when are we supposed to be there, who is supposed to be working on what, how we need to get things done, and what is keeping my team locked.

If you found these tips from Jennifer Whitt, PMP of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in her self-paced, downloadable courses at PDUs2Go.com.


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