Adopting a Virtue-Centric Approach in Project and PMO Management

This blog was inspired by listening to an interview with Jeffrey Rosen, who talked about his new book “The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders and Defined America.”

In today’s digital era, where social media plays an important role, there’s a noticeable shift toward intense self-promotion and personal branding. Platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook have become showcases for personal achievements, often at the expense of collective accomplishments. This continuous sharing of personal triumphs and curated realities feeds into a narrative where the pursuit of individual success is glorified, taking away attention from the greater good of communities and societies. In our professional world, especially on business-oriented platforms like LinkedIn and Xing, this social media trend poses a risk: Will we gradually lose sight of the essential communal values that are the backbone of organizational, institutional, and societal success for personal constructed narratives? This introspection blog is timely in an era where individual triumphs, driven by likes and shares, might unintentionally harm the overall well-being and ethical teamwork of the community.

Principles that Underpin Successful Societies

At this juncture, let’s examine the fundamental principles that underpin successful societies. The USA provides a timely example of self-interest versus society. Their founding fathers recognized a crucial tenet: the bedrock of a thriving democracy is not the relentless pursuit of personal pleasure, but a steadfast commitment to virtue (Hamilton et al., 1788). This age-old wisdom, though rooted in the past, resonates with striking relevance in our contemporary project and PMO management world. Are we witnessing a tilt toward self-gratification – where pleasure dominates virtue and, if so, should this be a wake-up call to align our focus more with the collective welfare and less with individual accolades. In a world increasingly guided by the metrics of likes, shares, and personal accomplishments, the enduring principles of virtue and communal well-being should stand as a principle, guiding us toward a more balanced and ethically grounded approach in both our personal and professional lives.

Historical Perspective

The founding fathers of America were visionaries who recognized the importance of virtue for a functioning democracy. Their belief was that personal virtues such as integrity, honesty, and responsibility were indispensable for a society’s success (Franklin, 1791). Unlike today’s individualistic culture, where personal achievement often overshadows collective welfare, these early leaders advocated for a balance that favored community well-being.

In contrast, the modern corporate world frequently rewards self-promotion and personal achievement, at times neglecting the communal benefits. This shift not only impacts team dynamics but also affects the overall outcomes of projects and initiatives. The result is a work environment that, while rich in individual accomplishments, may be poorer in collaboration, innovation, and ethical practices.

The Dangers of a Pleasure-Centric Approach

Prioritizing short-term personal gains over long-term communal benefits leads to several risks. Ethical dilemmas, reduced collaboration, and a toxic work environment are just a few of the consequences. Furthermore, this approach often results in short-lived successes that lack sustainability and do not foster a positive organizational culture.

For instance, a project manager who focuses solely on personal accolades may achieve immediate recognition but at the cost of team morale, cooperation, and ultimately project success. The same for a PMO whose focus is on winning awards than on its customers.

Such a scenario illustrates the dangers of a pleasure-centric approach: it undermines the collective effort and can lead to the failure of projects, the portfolio, and ultimately the future of the organization.

 Shifting Certifications Toward Community and Greater Good

One approach involves redefining how we perceive and engage with professional development, with a particular focus on the role of certifications. Certifications, traditionally seen as a means to advance individual careers, can be restructured to emphasize communal and ethical values.

  1. Broadening success criteria: This approach involves broadening the traditional success metrics in certifications to encompass not just individual accomplishments but also the ethical and social responsibilities of the professional. In simple words, it means to focus on how actions and decisions contribute to team dynamics and the wider community well-being.
  2. Certification exams based on individual, team, and community success: This certification model shifts the evaluation process to a more comprehensive framework. It assesses an individual’s technical knowledge, teamwork capabilities, and the collective outcomes achieved by the team, along with the professional’s contribution to the broader community through ethical and responsible decision-making.
  3. Collaborative learning and assessment: Group projects and collaborations should be encouraged. Peer review and feedback can foster a more community-centric perspective, emphasizing the importance of collective success over individual achievements.
  4. Curriculum changes: Revise curricula to include topics like community building, ethical leadership, and social impact. Additionally, introducing case studies that highlight collective success can shift the focus from individual glory to team achievements.
  5. Community engagement: Incorporating volunteer work or partnerships with NGOs and non-profits as part of the certification process can instill a sense of community responsibility.
  6. Leadership and role modeling: Mentorship programs where experienced professionals guide new certificants in understanding community and teamwork values can be highly effective. Promoting stories of individuals and organizations that have achieved success through community-focused approaches can also inspire others.
  7. Continuous improvement: Regular updates and feedback loops are essential to ensure that certification criteria remain relevant and impactful.
  8. Organizational culture shift: Advocacy and awareness are crucial in promoting a shift toward community-oriented practices. Offering incentives for businesses and professionals who prioritize community benefits can also be a powerful motivator.

Benefits of a Virtue-Centric Approach

Adopting a virtue-centric approach in project and PMO management has numerous benefits. It fosters improved team cohesion, morale, and a sense of shared purpose. In the long term, it benefits the organization and society at large. Case studies have shown that teams and projects driven by a collective goal and ethical practices tend to achieve sustainable success and foster a positive work environment (Reaves, 2018).

Conclusion

The pursuit of personal pleasure, while not inherently wrong, needs to be balanced with the pursuit of virtue, especially in professional settings. This blog calls for a reflection on current practices and encourages a shift toward more virtue-centric approaches in project, PMO management, and professional development. By doing so, we can create a work environment that not only celebrates individual achievements but also prioritizes the greater good of the organization, and the business community.

References

Franklin, B. (1791). The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Henry Colburn.

Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J. (1788). The Federalist Papers. J. and A. McLean.

Reaves, J. (2018). A Study of Groupthink in Project Teams. Walden Dissertations and Doctoral Studies.

Rosen, J. (2024). The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders and Defined America. Simon & Schuster. (Amazon)

Author

  • AIPMO

    AIPMO is the Association of International Project Management Officers, founded in 2015.