Coaching more…

“…are your people empowered to spot quality issues, and the conditions that breed them, and speak up…?”

Dave Stitt (2022) “Coach for results”

A blog to briefly congratulate Dave Stitt on a book worth a place on the desk of any construction manager (and people managers everywhere).

Coach for Results : Empower your people to achieve the extraordinary. Dave Stitt (2022)

Dave and I connected instantly when we first spoke last year, completely unrelated to this or any other book. Our discussions have been varied since, always with shared enthusiasm, and unabashed confidence of where we have been, or going. His energy is infectious, his perspectives easy to align to, with pithy anecdote never far behind.

It was therefore no surprise at all to read his 2022 book in similarly attuned frame of mind. His passion comes through on every page; and the anecdotes help keep a steady pace, fixing each new point firmly into the construction paradigm.

Coaching Leadership

Here is Dave explaining what is different in engaging with your people in a coaching style

“…you stop seeing them as a problem to be fixed and you start seeing them as a treasure to be discovered…you say, ‘what do you think?’, and then you listen…you the coach and them the thinker…”

Stitt (2022) Coach for Results pp9-10

and Dave of the wider cultural transition possible

“…courtesy, respect, and esteem are universal…it is the antidote to exclusionary micro-cultures…”

Stitt (2022) Coach for Results pp25

The premise of the book is not new. The coaching leadership style is well documented and has probably not passed by any MBA or well-read manager or consultant. But Dave’s writing is to the point, backed up with pertinent example, and just enough academic reference to be assured the bridge between the two is secure. Crucially, everything is directed back to what counts most: the day to day of management and leadership, as it connects to the construction project world; and the care and growth of those coming through that are its future, and it’s today. Chapter 4 of this second edition offers confirmation of this appreciation, from at least a dozen cohorts from his accompanying training course.

Self-Determination Theory

As part of my psychology MSc this year, one module focused upon classical and contemporary social psychology. I have concluded that much of the management jargon I have been fed over the years, at least the decent concepts, have been influenced from here. Dave has a chapter outlining one of the most significant revelations (in my opinion). He does not name the series of connected theories per se, but he cites Dan Pink who is well respected in this psychological field, and Dave describes this and related theories perfectly.

It is called Self-Determination Theory, one I have written about before {here}. It helps explain why our obsession with motivation by cash incentive, as employer of internal teams or of external contracts and work packages, ultimately causes organisational or project harm. As Dave states “…external enticements…extrinsic motivations…are not very effective…” pp11, to which he then makes the comparison to command-and-control style management which is very much the abrasive construction norm most can relate (be that employee or supply chain relationship carrot and stick, comply or die culture we all know).

In Dave’s words:

“…command and control…sucks initiative, confidence and accountability out of a team…”

Stitt (2022) pp26

“…risky when…commercial agendas are indifferent to the success of the project as a whole…. Are your people empowered to spot quality issues, and the conditions that breed them, and speak up…?”

Stitt (2022) pp27

Understanding these implications of externalising motivations are lessons we should all have close to hand.

Managing the coaching conversation

Thereafter Dave offers some excellent practical advice in managing the coaching conversations. As an empathetic manager myself, with training from several multinational organisations seeking to enable this style of communication and learning leadership, these chapters resonate. Learning the right way to prepare and start such discussions, how to direct them, and how to conclude them in empowering rather than directing ways. These are important things to give your people their means to find their why. I am reminded of my own why in reading his words here, but also improved by these practical chapters and how they can be applied.

How far can coaching go?

I do disagree with Dave on one thing. His pragmatic stance is one in which the fundamentals of construction are considered beyond absolute change – it is just how it has evolved to be. My opinion, is that this confrontational industry norm is a reflection of how we set projects up. And if this more engaging coaching style of leadership were present in senior political spaces – where expectation was on leaders to bring teams with them, not just drive them hard to the next staging post – the projects serving these masters would be less caustic from the start. A world better informed and more real in its possibility in consideration of this project management style. But that is my research challenge – and therein my bias.

There is more I could offer in review. Dave has given plenty more insight and well reasoned connection to contemporary thought, similarly linking other behavioural thinking to construction project application. But I will let you read the rest for yourself. At 126 pages this is an afternoon’s single sitting read. But one to keep close by as that next chance to try “…a tool for challenging and supporting your people…”, pp14, to which both you and all your leaders-in-waiting should be demanding and apply.

Stitt, D (2022) “Coach for Results : empower your people to achieve the extraordinary” 21CPL Productions


Examining the wood from the trees

Odd to think that in a few hours my attention will change so profoundly. As regular as this change is, I doubt I’ve ever really considered the knowing of its impending impact upon my experience of the now. It is exam day again. My last for quite a while. It therefore represents a final push in one direction, before I am compelled to look another way.

This is a personal reflection upon those influences which I am coming to believe direct us all. Both individually, and in coordination or conflict; in cooperation or competition; and for better or for worse, compel us all.

As with anyone or any team, my focus is occasional drawn to other things. Other things that at the time become my focus. We may have many focus’, or a few. Beyond my study focus I have my research. My work. My wife. My engagements with the wider world. My imminent changes to where I live, my finances, my everything. But right now, beyond this reflection, my focus quickly funnels back into a space of learning. My gaze the leading edge of my thoughts. Drawing me toward the window of my laptop. And from there inside another world, where all the unknown knowledge waits for me. This siren lures me in. The answers to my questions shared here with me. The demands of an exam deadline keeps me from distractions. And in a few hours it will be gone.

What then will have my focus? My work. My wife. My engagement with the wider world. My imminent changes to where I live, my finances, my everything. Odd to think that in a few hours my attention will change so profoundly. Once again.

Seeing the wood for the trees. Is that the wood 🪵 in trees 🌲 🌳 🌳 or trees in the wood? Either way I think the need for perspectival adaptability and focus is well made.

Motivation vs coercion

Shared goals, or carrots and sticks?

This blog continues the examination motivation. Social psychological theories on how motivation determines behaviour. Self-determination theory presents the case for suboptimal impact of motives born from persuasion.

Materials cited are sourced from: Ryan, RM., Deci, EI.  2000 “Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development and wellbeing” American Psychology January 2000, pp68-78

I have lost count of the number of times people have admitted to me that the latest pay rise, bonus, or dream role quickly loses its shine. That salary increase suddenly spent before it arrives just the same. The same issues with the same clients, or bosses, or staff. Many of those conversations returned to mind as I studied at some length the psychological theory on motivation I now summarise in this blog.

From a project management perspective, I think this concepts should grab everyone’s attention. It reinforces something I think we probably all intrinsically know. That carrot and stick management may get us to a point, but it is not going to get us all safely home. Could it even be an obstacle to success? This is another perspective on behaviour, and considerations to address when contemplating how we structure our control.

v | b | t

I will offer a conclusion upfront. When we choose to divide ourselves into them and us by our contracts we are reinforcing the externalised motivations reflected below. When we manage our staff with KPIs, outmoded controls, and seek to retain high performing teams simply with cash, we are reflecting the changed mindset, externalised motivations, performance and health implications that come with that lack of internalised autonomy, shared interest, and shared goal. The more we understand these implications the more visibility there can be. The more we can rethink how we collectively engender coherent behaviours. The more trust between parties we can hope to see.

Self-Determination Theory

In this article Richard Ryan and Edward Deci review their body of research into the impacts of external reward vs our individual intrinsic motivations.  At the heart of this research is a reflection upon the social context in which human potential can be fostered or undermined by the manner of motivations we attempt to introduce to those we may wish to direct.  Three factors are considered (Ryan and Deci 2000, pp68):

  • Competence
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness

Each is considered in respect to the developmental tendencies of an individual, but also the wider environmental factors that can antagonise or nurture any of these three (ibid pp68).

What is contrasted is the direction of motivational engagement.  Ryan and Deci outline their case in terms of factors that move us to act, be that the intrinsic (internal) motivational factors which are self-generated and arising from innate value and interest in an activity.  Or they can be external coercions of persuasion.  As Ryan et al advise, “the urge to act either an abiding interest or by a bribe” (ibid pp69).  Depending on this source motive, they argue the resulting experience of the actor, and the consequent actions derived, can be highly varied as a result.  Those authentic (self-motivated) having more interest, emotional attachment, and confidence in action and therein enhanced performance; and meaning two equally competent people will present different outcomes based only on this origin of motivational force (ibid pp69).  These differences are categorised in this theory. Argued to be a continuum of developmental, situational, and progressive characteristics.  They conclude that for both the health of the people we oversee, and the performance we hope to tend,

motivation is perhaps the critical variable in producing maintained change

Ryan and Deci, 2000. pp76

Intrinsic motivation is that natural inclination we may have toward “assimilation, mastery, spontaneous interest, and exploration“ (ibid pp70).  It requires supportive conditions and can be easily subdued.  Ryan and Deci have a sub theory called Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET) which “focuses upon fundamental needs for competence and autonomy” pp70. To which they conclude even the necessary competence will only support an intrinsic motivation to act when there is retained autonomy in doing so.  Arguing such lost autonomy will transfer motives from an intrinsic to an external source.  The key claim herein, being that “extrinsic reward can undermine intrinsic motivation” (ibid pp70, citing Deci 1970).  Or as separately quote “in attributional terms by an internal perceived locus of causality (deCharms, 1968)” (ibid pp70).

The implication of this is that carrot and stick motivations can become inherently counterproductive to long-term outputs, and to mental health.  “…threats, deadlines, directives, pressured evaluations, and imposed goals diminish intrinsic motivation because, like tangible reward, they conduce toward an external perceived locus of causality.  In contrast, choice, acknowledgement of feelings, and opportunities for self-direction were found to enhance intrinsic motivation because they allow people a greater feeling of autonomy” (ibid, pp70 citing Deci & Ryan 1985; citing further studies by Amabile 1996; Grolnick &Ryan 1987; Uttman 1997).

The third element identified is relatedness and a connected sense of security.  The examples offered being reflective of infant tendency toward exploration as proximal to parents.  However, they further argue this relatedness remains into progressive adulthood, “proximal relational supports may not be necessary for intrinsic motivation, but secure relational base does seem to be important for the expression of intrinsic motivation to be in evidence” (ibid pp71).

Self-Regulation of Extrinsic Motivation – if motivational origin is arising from outside influence, the Self-Determinism Theory (SDT) presents differing degrees of such requested behaviour, associated regulated means, and the manner of receipt of such attempted influence.  They call this second subtheory “Organismic Integration Theory (OIT)” (ibid pp72, citing Deci and Ryan 1985).  Ryan and Deci present this as the categorised continuum, with diagrammatic aid.  I present below an adaptation to connect the textual explanations they offer too.

Adapted from Ryan & Deci 2000, figure 1 and notes, pp72-74

I have highlighted the two extremes of extrinsic motivations and pose a question of what our motivational sources become in our contracts of construction, service, or employment, when driven too far towards price, KPIs, and performance bonus.  The concluding remarks of Ryan and Deci’s paper highlight cultural differences must be considered, and further that a linear progression from left to right should not be assumed as we individually mature in our many life roles.  They do however flag the related implications to mental health when perpetually existing in the left-hand more side of determinism.

employees experiences of satisfaction of the needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the workplace predicted their performance and well being at work

(ibid pp75)

To which they present further evidence from studies where an individual could be examined across various life roles, they cite Sheldon et al 1997, who they advise “demonstrated that satisfaction in each of several life roles (e.g., student, employee, friend) relative to the individual’s own satisfaction, was attributable to the degree to which that role supports authenticity and autonomous functioning” (ibid pp76).

Here are two final quotes from their concluding remarks (pp76)

Excessive control, nonoptimal challenges, and lack of connectedness, on the other hand disrupt the inherent actualising and organisational tendencies endowed by nature, and thus such factors result not only in the lack of initiative and responsibility but also in distress and psychopathology

Contexts supportive of autonomy, competence, and relatedness were found to foster greater internalisation and integration than contexts that thwart satisfaction of these needs.  This latter finding, we argue, is of great significance for individuals who wish to motivate others in a way that engenders commitment, effort, and high-quality performance

Ryan and Deci, 2000. pp76

Concluding remarks

One aspect of behaviour that I identified within my 2020 MSc dissertation was the reorientation of project interests dependent upon the party with most influence at time of procurement. In PFI, I argued this was not always the senior debt lender. Risk profile of projects changed as a result. If contemporary revisits of Self-Determinism Theory can be considered from the perspective of actor motivations as entities not just individuals, perhaps these categorisations can offer some means to inform subsets of what those motivational orientations may be.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Motivated behaviour

Behaviour as directed by motivations

How much can we explain what we do by our desires to know more, reaffirm we are more, or seeking to reconcile two things that cannot both be so?

All case references herein originating or cited per David Dunning “On the motives underlying social cognition”  Chapter 16 of A. Tesser and N. Schwarz. Blackwell handbook of social psychology. Malden, Mass: Blackwell, 2001

Behaviour derived from need

We have begun addressing motivational factors in social psychology this week.  The basics of life to keep the body functioning; safety; then belonging, social climbing, and culminating in actualisation – being the best that we can be (cf. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs 1954) or what Carl Rogers called “autonomy” to explain what it is that makes us seek out tasks beyond such basic need (Rogers, 1960).

Behaviour derived from desire not need

But we were asked this week to examine another origin of motivation.  What in social psychology is referenced as Social Justice, to explain the motives which direct us to act.  It offers explanation for those less obvious motives we may be hiding, or reason for questions we ask, the people we seek to acquaint, and perhaps secretly berate.

  • desire for knowledge
  • desire for affirmation
  • desire for coherence

I briefly describe each.

Desire for Knowledge.

If we know a little, we will seek out more.  Trivia, or answers to things we are almost certain we know, we will spend resource to have confirmed anyway (think of the cliff hanger question before the advert break).  We will invest time and effort in dismissing or reconciling what is unexpected, just to trivialise if need be.  We invest more time in people we think we need to know, whether that be for upside, to avoid downside, or with whom we must compete.  We take more interest in causal reasoning after an event, and recall past failures to inform future event.  We are proven to be more mindful of our opinions and our actions when we are likely to have to account for them.  We will be more critical of argument, more resistant to stereotype, and be more insightful and thoughtful in integrating information when it has impact that leads back to us.  We respond more openly to information that aids our own control, but seek information to support our deeds if retrospectively sought.  By variance of preference some of us live happily with uncertainly, whilst others routinely seek to narrow fields of interest, compromise or look to shut down too many separate lines of enquiry, or hold stronger to category stereotype to get to certainty quicker – even if quick is less complete.  This motive towards closure, plus the underlying trade-off or need for more cognitive detail, combine to make some people judge situations quickly, confidently, but belligerently, and others to not know when to form a judgement at all.

Desire for affirmation

Not all is knowledge based, however.  We are also driven by our pride.  We may have attributions that explain our success, but external factors to blame for the rest.  Our decisions on whether to seek more information and our analysis of the information sought, can be determined by the control we have over the state of affairs this will inform.  This can become a deliberative vs implementation mindset – helping a decision vs justification of what was decided upon.  In analysis we may be “reality constrained” but nonetheless intent on neutralising information not presenting us in good light.  We can spend time elaborating on the merits of traits we possess, and trivialising those we do not.  Short-comings demonstrated as common flaws in us all, or seeking to present someone worse at it than ourselves.  We may do this directly.  We may also do it by implication.  Higher performing people shown to be less gracious in praise or assessment of others – unless it is in something of no consequence to themselves.  Our choices in social groups, friends, and our just causes, all directed toward our sense of self-worth and our pride.

Desire for coherence

Cognitive dissonance is explained as a felt agitation when two beliefs are inconsistent but both owned.  By example, when we are forced to act against our principles we may convince ourselves of validity of both, change one to fit to the other, or find wider reason to hold one in lower regard.  The coherence we worked hard to own, we may work equally hard to defended.  And if choice has been made between two equally valid alternatives, we will denigrate the one we did not choose.  The counterargument here is that we perhaps simply find new perspective.  However, where there is clear distance between position taken and belief held, it is demonstrated the dissonance felt will prevail.  Such dissonance only felt however if negative impact could arise. Sometimes such dissonance appeals, where such wider view is coveted and we therefore wish to become.  Or it may be reduced where wider behaviour could mitigate any negative impact the dissonant conflict may suppose.

v | behaviour | t

All of these summaries are taken from David Dunning as referenced above. He leaves us with a few areas of research to continue.  Some I hold as contemporary challenges. And connected to projects.

There is the question of which of these three motivational sources acts with greatest influence.  Or indeed if we situationally need to consider all three. He asks at what level does motivation influence social judgement.  Is it explicit with conscious control?  Or is it implicit, without awareness and therefore presenting less opportunity for individual control?  My question, when considering these influences upon our project behaviours, and against our control environments in such a complex arena, is why are we not just assuming it is both?

Dunning reports that research into motivation consistently returns to individual differences.  More often so than does cognitive behavioural change.  He ponders upon why this would be.  And whether it is actually the motives of certain classes of people, rather than human judgements as a generalisation, that give potential to better clues.  In my opinion, one possible upside to this observation is if we can extend this premise to project settings. Such as the subsets of project actors in complex construction.  Can groupings be found to begin addressing motivation types that can pull interest into or away from a project goal? This I have previously identified as a possibility, per my MSc dissertation from 2020. 

A second possible area of further research he identified as cultural differences.  Dunning highlighted geographical culture, citing research that had given explanations to individual nuance comparing Japanese and North American differing motivations when faced with self-image threats.  Japanese reaction being one of self-development flags vs. North Americans deeming these triggers to defend self-image.  That could be considered directly in cultural terms in multinational projects.  But I think we could consider industry sectors as having cultural norms too.

Perhaps these two research lenses can be combined.  Could projects be typed to give idea of internal dissonance? Differences of understanding between parties themselves?  Varying the project settings, this could be layering of the supply chain, and across commercial interfaces between parts of government hierarchy, or the interfaces between the buyer and seller in procurement.  Other categorisations of comparison could be available across horizontal sector analysis, or vertical management analysis.  Or we could consider this temporally at various stages of a project.  Categorising motivations across knowledge, affirmations, and coherence between project actors.  Relative power and influence, compared to specifics of motivational themes.  Or more closely examining the variance within a single actor and its parts.

The comparisons I am providing of the Construction Playbook, the means of managing accountability within role and responsibility allocations, or the comparison of the High Reliability Organisation to other forms of safety concern, each providing places to pitch such research.

In all cases, perhaps opportunity to research this appropriately will come knocking.  Or through my ongoing research and learning, I can formulate an academically sound case to make the enquiry come around the other way.  Either way, I continue to find new comparisons and synergies between my risk orientation into the project management world, and that of psychology.

More than this however, I am now observing need in both camps.  This social psychology is evolving science, and the project world is a complexity of human process desperately in need of new perspectives.  These seem to me two parties in need of some mutual research. One as arena to the other.

In the interim, it remains more than enough to keep me asking more, upskilling more, challenging more, and seeking better perspectives on necessary wider change.

To be continued…

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here: