How to Get Fired at C-Level with Peter Taylor

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It’s our pleasure to have Peter Taylor back on the show. In this episode he shares some insights from his new book entitled “How to get fired at C-Level”.

Peter was our guest back in Episode 6 where we discussed how to be productively lazy. He is the author of two best-selling books on ‘Productive Laziness’ – ‘The Lazy Winner’ and ‘The Lazy Project Manager’ as well as many other titles.

In the last 4 years he has focused on writing and lecturing with over 200 presentations around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

Transcript from Episode 68: “How to get fired at C-Level” with Peter Taylor


Can you share with us a brief overview of your background?

I’m Peter Taylor and I am probably most well-known as the “The Lazy Project Manager” from the book I wrote back in 2009. These days, I spend my time enjoying the opportunities to travel and speak and occasionally run workshops but combining that with the kind of change transformation and PMO setup and development across organizations around the world. So, that’s me in the nutshell.

What led you to write the book

“How to get fired at C-Level”?

I kind of learned the lesson with the “The Lazy Project Manager” that if you come up with a provocative title people pay attention and that definitely works. So, skip 18 books on to where I am now. The idea behind it really was that you can go out there and you convince 100 project managers that things need to change and that’s fantastic. But the reality is if you can go and convince one C-Level executive, one board member, it changes the way we work with projects and they can come about so much quicker.

So I thought that’s was the audience I targeted with this – How do I get the attention of C-Level executive, board members, MDs, chief executives, chief financial officer, CIO, etc. I came across this wonderful piece of research that was done about the number one reason why chief executives get fired and that kind of built the inspiration for the book and so it’s how to get fired at C-Level, why mismanaging change is the biggest risk of all. That’s what happened.

The misconception that you highlighted is that the primary reason that chief executives get fired because of the current financial performance. So, what is the reality?

The reality is chief executives get fired for a whole variety of reasons but the number one reason based on that piece of research was – they got fired for mismanaging change. Now, you can mismanage change in a variety of ways. There are other factors which was, you know, not delivering, not looking after their customers that kind of thing.

But the number one reason was mismanaging change and if you think about it from my world, the change is project, so clearly something is going wrong. And it kind of reinforces my belief that there was this disconnect between executives, sponsors to project-based activities inside organization, so I latched to that wonderful headline. I built the book from that point forward.

So, project management skills are there for becoming, as you again highlighted in the book, more valuable than ever for all executives. Can you tell us why you believe that that’s new?

I think it is new because of the acceleration so I can reflect back many, many years to my starting project management, I was given a project to do. And it was done in isolation, they needed some change and I oversaw it, I lured to become project manager during that. But that was that was the fundamental change that the organization had at that time because they had other changes that came along. The reality these days is that change is so much more required in organizations.

It is faster, change overlays change. The organization I am working with right now, it’s a major multi-million transformation programs going on. One of the big challenges we have is overlaying hundreds of projects and look at their dependency upon the business because we want to bring about successful change but we’re not gonna cripple the business as usual either. This is the kind of challenge C-level executives face.

They have that very flexible and active and reactive kind of strategic drive these days, which is important. The five-year plan just doesn’t exist really anymore. But when that drives out project-based activity, it has to overlay on existing product portfolio, it has to overlay on existing business as usual. The challenge for project managers and executives is that they have to manage it somehow.

It is a very, very complex world and it is volatile, it is uncertain, there is a lot of change, etc. as the book of models describes.  And that’s the world is out there. So it’s kind of like it hasn’t changed in some way because it’s always been projects but it has changed in the capacity and depth, scale and demand, the speed, etc. And the number of projects that is going on inside of organizations and really that’s where successful C-level executives have the right connection between themselves, sponsors and the project-based world.

Is the time for the people at C-Level to go back to school or to refresh how project management has changed and how change management is so important or you know does the “C” also stands for complacency?

I’m not sure it’s complacency. I talk about this kind of three ways of looking at your portfolio. The really good way of looking at it is as an investment. So you put together the business case, you sanction it. Once you’ve got the business case in place in that project delivery then it’s about benefits realization. And it’s that whole life cycle of the change.

Trouble is that a lot of companies, they don’t go to that full depth. They might actually be all about the simplest what it allocates, the focus is all on the business case and they just believe once they’ve approved the business case that change will happen. And sometimes there are weaknesses out there in the world of project sponsors, in the world of project management, the business doesn’t understand what’s going on.

That kind of middle point which is the most common is that they do the business case and it’s just a matter of burn, it’s just a matter of what we need more money to just keep going. If you think of everything that goes on at change is driven from strategy, it is driven from C-level, it’s all about making sure that investment is understood and managed in a safe way.

There is a constant challenge dividing at C-level, their time between strategy creation and implementation, so what inside do you have to help us with that challenge?

What I think, we are beginning to see the growth and stability of PMOs and portfolio management, we are beginning to see the rise of, in some companies they now have a chief change officer or chief product officer. It’s someone who represents at that level. I think if you think about it the PMO is the one that manages the portfolio, let’s not get hung up on titles, but they can either be the custodians of change which means in the business that says “We need this, we need this, we need this, go make it happen” or they can be better still they can be the advisors which is in the business says “Here is a new strategic direction.

Okay, that’s fine, understand the need for it, and understand it requires this number of projects or programs but you listen, this is the impact on existing project work that’s ongoing. We need to make some decisions”. By far the most powerful and I think this is the future is that businesses will have someone at that decision-making stage, to have the strategic conversations to advise and guide and help create a strategy. It is all about making that connection between executives, sponsors, and the project-based activity and of course to business.

And do you foresee that with a PMO there will be a CMO, a change management office?

I think there could be. I was involved in a transformation office in my previous company, for example. So you know they can be an elevation of that and have that voice of the highest level. I would love, I would love to be some sort of chief project of chief change officer at the board at that kind of board level.

Because as you see the business is more and more than business is about project-based activity, so it needs to be represented. At the moment it’s typically represented probably up through either the chief financial officer or through the chief information officer. But actually as that change gets big enough and if you think about it that change is typically is not IT, is it more business so it needs to straddle these two worlds.

The more a company has invested in that changed then the more argument there is for them to have someone representing the projects of change at that level. I think the future is going to be, we are going to see more and more C-level project-based representatives.

I suppose it depends on the project, if the project is a new product, it’s not necessarily a change, it’s just a new product?

That’s true. There are different models out there. If the project is – you going to build a new factory, you are going to build a major marketing campaign, you are going to produce a new product, and then yeah, you’re right they can be handled at the different level. It depends on the product, if it is the brand new product that is going to take the company forward into the future, they might take it really seriously at that board level.

It is the general summation of all the change that is ongoing and the complexity of the technical and business landscape and the need to be as low risk as far as a disruptions are concerned and raise the capability of success, raise the likelihood of success then the more there is an argument perhaps someone either permanently or occasionally invited to that kind of senior level to represent change.

In terms of the PM summit in Dublin next week, you’re coming over to talk with Steven and what is your topic of choice for the summit?

I’m really delighted to go back into the good old “The Lazy Project Manager”. So I’m the closing keynote speaker on the day. “The Lazy Project Manager” is just fun, engaging and there are some good lessons in there, as well. I’m really looking forward to my second visit to the summit and looking forward to closing proceedings with a few jokes, a few laughs, a few insights into ways of managing yourself better whilst you are managing projects.

If you had a reason for people to go to the summit, what would it be?

It’s a great event. I turn up to see Steven every time I can, and he is absolutely my favorite speaker out there, he is just a wonderfully engaging and yet superbly informative speaker. Look at the whole range, last year was excellent and the speakers I’m looking at now, it’s a good day and there’s lots of interaction. It’s a nicely balanced conference with time to network and communicate, etc. as well as the sessions. So, the people should be there definitely. I’m really, really looking forward to it. Not for speaking necessarily but being at all the other sessions.

What are your golden rules for project management?

Of course, be productively lazy but to have fun. I think it’s the right level of fun is really important. I try to engage as much appropriate humor as I can. It’s all about people and people like to enjoy themselves and if they are enjoying themselves, they are more productive. And when they are productive, be productively lazy.

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