Project Practitioners > 4 Keys to Compelling Positive Action

4 Keys to Compelling Positive Action

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


Every person has a desire to be the best version of themselves. Whether that is your career, your physical appearance and health, or a hobby, people go into these activities with the best intentions.

This truth lies in the project management space as well. No organization goes into a project thinking this is going to be a disaster so let’s allocate valuable resources toward this eventual failure. A project manager should not go into a kickoff meeting telling everyone to prepare for the worst because the project is doomed from the beginning.

Not knowing is fine. Telling everyone sure death is not.

I wrote an article over a year ago detailing my failure on my first attempt at the PMP exam. Since then, I have people commenting weekly telling me their stories and how they feel immediately afterward. These messages range from ‘I failed and cannot wait to try again’ to ‘I suck and want to give up.’

The ‘failed and immediately started studying’ group already have taken positive action. They have tasted defeat, yet the purpose of passing the exam exceeds all negative thoughts.

The ‘I suck and want to quit’ group needs something more than passing the exam to keep them moving forward. A promotion or raise is not incentive enough to continue.

The same goes for a project manager on a failing project. The end result may not be enough motivation or inspiration to keep morale high and continue to pour in resources exceeding the original estimations.

Psychologists lay out four keys to compelling positive action. Notice two distinct words in their phrasing, compelling and positive. Compelling means ‘evoking interest, attention, or admiration in a powerfully irresistible way.’ This action will not be incremental and small. These steps will drive you and your team forward ‘powerfully.’


  1. Know What To Do and How To Do It

Problems become solutions quickly if someone knows what to do and how to do it. In construction, often times installing underground utilities like sanitary and storm sewer structures and pipes end up being different than the plan.

If your installation crew is off by a foot, how do you solve that problem? An adjustment crew comes in with concrete rings, mortar, and wooden wedges to bring the structure up to proper grade and alignment.

Knowing what to do and how to do it solves this issue quickly. Not knowing what to do may cause additional damage and unnecessary cost.

Asking questions in this first phase is important. Being unsure is okay. Sitting there silently while being unsure is not okay. One must be willing to ask the question to get the answer. Within your team and organization, someone will have the solution available.

You do not need to know everything. However, you must be willing to ask the question.


  1. Believe It Will Work

 In this step, you have the know-how and the how-to. Now, you must believe. If you are going through the motions of the solution you have been given thinking it will not work, it probably will not work.

The mind is a powerful tool. You can take a sugar pill to cure an ailment. The placebo effect is not just for medicine. It can be used to trick yourself into thinking an otherwise useless idea can be useful.

This belief is important when the proper tools are unavailable. You must cobble together resources to make it work. You may have to schedule a laborer to operate small machinery for the day because someone did not show up. You might have to hang a piece of carpet to prevent rocks from falling because rubber mats are not available.

Of course, this patchwork technique should not be permanent but believing it will work is part of why it actually works. You may have never tried it before, but based on your experience, this out-of-the-box approach is effective enough.


  1. See The Value

You have the know-how and the how-to. You believe this approach will work. Now comes the value aspect to hammer this direction home. Without doing it this way, you see the negative potential in falling farther behind schedule and deeper into debt.

But, by taking it in a different direction, you see the value of it. What is the benefit of using a laborer to operate small machinery for a day? If you do not replace the operator, you are a full day behind schedule and get nothing done. By replacing this person with a less qualified individual yet someone who has some experience, you potentially break even. The operator puts you in the black. No one puts you in the red. A laborer breaks even.

There is value in breaking even. Projects survive with break-even days, especially when unexpected events occur. Going from a loss to breaking even is a different way of turning break even to a profit.


  1. Get Support From Your Community

The final step brings it all together. You have the knowledge, you see the value, and now you need to share it with those around you. This community not only includes your team but also senior management and your organization as a whole.

Gaining support from those around you, while they do the same, gives momentum to the project. Now, instead of your small group of individuals, you have an organization behind it. This support multiplies your capabilities and gives your project the best chance for a turnaround.

Some days you just do not feel your best. This sense of community places the weight across many shoulders and spreads the responsibility. Community is a form of delegation. By taking it all on yourself, you break down. Getting support from others allows you to keep moving forward on those days all is lost.

The materials are late, bad weather is on the horizon, and your foreman did not show up to work. All appears lost until you make a phone call and you can borrow someone from another crew, you find work elsewhere where the materials are not needed, and the rain holds off. All of a sudden, your terrible morning is turned around because others are willing to chip in and save the day.



These four steps do not guarantee success, but they do ensure positive action. By completing each one, you are closer to a positive outcome than you were before you started. Gaining the knowledge to not only know what to do but also how to do it is a start.

This step may include seminars, books, on-the-job training, and so on. Belief in this knowledge gets established through action. Repeating actions with similar outcomes reinforces the things you have learned.

The value of these two steps becomes obvious when time is saved, costs are cut, and tasks are completed. The momentum of this cycle becomes apparent and compelling, positive action organically sprouts.

Finally, relying on others and delegating creates this community of support to continue the momentum. You will start with a snowball and end up with an avalanche.

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