About the episode:
Today we Meet Peter Christian, an experienced business consultant to middle and executive management. Peter gives us insight on how he’s helped 300+ companies improve multiple aspects of their businesses, as well as explaining what makes a good and a bad project manager and why they’re important.
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About Peter Christian:
Peter H. Christian was a founding partner and president of espi, a business consulting firm in Northeastern PA. Previously he was an Executive at Crayola Corporation. He has worked with 300+ clients in business development, profit improvement, operations, IS selection and implementation, and Project Management. He has 40+ years of experience in strategic and facility planning, CI, lean, and supply chain. He has helped companies to realize millions of dollars in cost reductions and profit improvements adding and retaining thousands of jobs. He has authored the Amazon bestselling business books, “What About the Vermin Problem?” and “Influences and Influencers” and is published in a variety of professional magazines.
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The Importance Of A Good Project Manager | Peter Christian
My guest is the Author of two Amazon Bestsellers. The first one is What About the Vermin Problem? Apparently, it’s about rats but not about rats. We’re going to find that out and Influences and Influencers. He’s a speaker, professor and business consultant to the middle and executive management.
Peter Christian, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Rick. I’m glad to be here.
I was looking at your title there. It’s like, “Is this about rats?” The Influences and Influencers, that’s self-explanatory, which is awesome. Tell me about this. Is this a metaphorical thing for you?
I wanted a catchy title. I think I got people’s attention with that because they certainly asked me a lot about that whether it deals with extermination and it wasn’t intended to be that. It was one of the segments that got my attention about dealing with other people. That particular instance dealt with communication for lack of communication, where at the end of a project, I was hit with, “What about the vermin problem?” It’s something that hadn’t been discussed through the entire entity of the project.
It totally baffled me and my colleague who was working with me. I thought it would be certainly interesting and it is. It has gotten a lot of attention and questions like you. Is it about rats and getting rid of rats? I hope not. It’s about people but you can all judge for yourselves whether you consider it rats or not. I didn’t consider them rats. It’s just the question.
You’ve also been a consultant to middle and executive management. What is that about? I have very limited information about you in front of me. You were an executive at Crayola as well. That I know. Where did this consultancy start?
It started through the actual work I was doing when working for corporations like Crayola. There was a lot of internal project work that was going on. I was essentially an internal consultant to the company looking at making changes to things. That’s what projects and consulting are all about. It’s looking to make changes for improvement. When I left the Corporate World if you want to call it that, not working directly for a corporation but with corporations, it seemed natural to get into the consulting world and helping other organizations through the experience and the knowledge that I had gained. I felt that I knew enough and could help people enough to do that.
I had the opportunity to do it coming right out of college. I could’ve worked for Price Waterhouse but I didn’t feel that I was worldly or knowledgeable enough to tell people 20 or 30 years my senior what they were doing wrong and how to do it better. Certainly, after having about twenty years of experience in the Corporate World, I had that confidence and felt that I had the ability to do that.
I do not just work with middle and upper management but I worked with a lot of workers, the people who do things every day. I found them a lot more interesting and fascinating than the executives because they knew what they were doing and talking about. Executives had lost somewhere along the line. It’s the way it goes, unfortunately, a hazard of the trade.
Was that true for you, though? You were an exec at Crayola. Did you see yourself losing touch?
No. In fact, I would get criticized for that by some of the other executives who would say, “You’re too involved. You’re too much into the details,” but I thought to myself, “How do you make decisions? How do you understand what’s going on so you can direct people about what to do if you don’t know the details?” I didn’t try to micromanage or get too much into it where I was doing other people’s jobs but for my own edification so that I could help to better direct my folks and determine the courses we were going to take. They certainly appreciated it too.
When we could sit down, we could have a real conversation. I wasn’t giving them the blather if that’s what you want to call it, that the executives speak with all the generalities and so forth. We talk details. I was able to provide some good information to them and they certainly provided great information for me that helped me with my job.
You mentioned something a little bit ago that you had difficulty at one point giving direction or consultancy to those 20 and 30 years of your senior. I remember when I was 30-ish years old, there was a client of mine who was in his early 60s. He called me up and he’s like, “Rick, ever since my dad passed years ago, I haven’t had anybody to bounce ideas off. You seemed like somebody that understands marketing.”
Mind you, at this point I was right at the start of my company, which was an IT support and cybersecurity company. That’s only several years now. It was towards the beginning and he’s like, “You seem to have a handle on marketing and sales. Would you mind if I bounce some ideas off of you?” I was floored because here was somebody that was 30 years my senior that recognized that he could even learn something from me being that young whippersnapper.
That was part of the thing. I didn’t decline it but at the same time, there was a question in my head of, “Why me,” which is probably something similar to what you were maybe going through. How did you break that mental limitation, which I think I placed on myself? I don’t know if you share the same perspective or not.
To me, if you don’t stay involved in what’s going on, it gets boring. I saw too many executives who wandered the halls, didn’t have a heck of a lot to do and sat in meetings. I would get bored very easily. To stay involved, understand what’s going on and there are always new things happening. To try and get complacent or do the same thing over and over again year-after-year, for me it’s marching in place or falling behind what’s going on. You’ve got to know what’s happening so that you can stay up with the technology. You can make good decisions going forward. Otherwise, you’re marching in place or looking in the past and that’s a disaster for any organization.
How did you gain that confidence to be able to give advice to those who are 20 to 30 years your senior?
We establish relationships. I listened to them and then I played back to them what I had heard. I talked about ideas and how we could move forward. We would go back and forth about it. It was a very comfortable relationship. It wasn’t me coming in and telling them what to do as though I was the expert and I had all the answers. I listened a lot. I think people appreciate that. I don’t think that’s done enough in business. We say we are but we don’t. We listen but we only do it to tell them what we want to tell them anyway.
There were times when I changed my ideas. I would go into a session with one thought in mind. By the time I got done, it might be very much different than what I had thought based on what I heard. There was newer information that came forward. I think you need to do that. You need to be flexible. If you’re going to stick to one thing and one thing only and not listen to other people, you’re in for a long, hard ride.
Was this some of the basis of your book, Influences and Influencers?
To this day, I still listen to people, pick up things and it changes my perspective on certain things. It has to because the world is changing. If you don’t stay up with that, you’re twenty years in the past and it isn’t going to cut it now. Some things do hold true over time but other things don’t. Look at 2020 with a pandemic, how we’re dealing with that and trying to deal with what’s going on in the world. We hadn’t been thinking about that up to that point. It’s changed things quite a bit in how we and business operate.
You’ve worked with over 300 plus companies. That’s a huge resume. What have you noticed outside of not staying up with the times and some of the things that you’ve seen as one of the biggest inconsistencies within these organizations? They make them inefficient, ineffective, unproductive or unprofitable.
One of the things is people who think that they’ve got it locked. They know the way to do it. They’ve always done it that way. They’re going to continue. They’re very reluctant to change but yet they realize that if they keep doing the same thing over and over again, they’re not going to get any better. Why they’re reluctant to change? I don’t know. I guess it’s human nature that we get stuck in whatever we’re doing or comfortable and it’s tough for us to change.
The other thing is commitment. People tell you that they want to do things differently but when you get down to it and you’re at that point where you’ve got to make the changes that are necessary or do the things that might be a little bit uncomfortable, they back off. They’re not committed to doing it. They tell you one thing but they do something else. You can ask my children because they got tired of hearing my motto growing up. Kids tell you whatever they think you want to hear and then they go and do something different.
I would always say to them, “Don’t tell me, show me.” After a while, I didn’t even have to say it. They go, “I know. Don’t tell me, show me.” It’s the same thing with business. “Don’t tell me what you’re going to do. Don’t tell me what you’re thinking. Show me. Do it.” I see a lot of the ones that do it and do it well succeed. The ones that don’t, they struggle. Sometimes they cause disasters. The company folds because of that.
You talk about project managers and their importance too. Why are they so important to what you teach?
That’s why I got into teaching to try to help people and move things along because I’ve seen some bad project managers. Either they don’t know what they’re doing or they try to micromanage people. They’ve got to be in on every detail. I wanted to know what was going on but I didn’t want to be a part of it necessarily. When people came to me with questions or discussions or whatever, I could talk intelligently about it.
Good project managers put their teams together and then they let them function. It’s like the orchestra leader. He doesn’t play an instrument. He probably could but he doesn’t. He’s there to make sure that everybody hits the right notes at the right time and things are coordinated in that. Could an orchestra work without an orchestra leader? Probably but I don’t think it would sound as good. You’ve noticed that every great orchestra has a leader in front of it.
The same is true with projects. If you want a good successful project, you need a good person who’s leading it. They provide the vision. They make sure that the team understands what they need to do. Each person knows what he or she needs to do. They work with them to make sure that things are getting done. They’re the ones that remove the roadblocks and the obstacles that get in people’s way. Usually, people are not working on one thing in that project. They’re working on multiple things and they’ve got to juggle that.
The manager has to be there and recognize it and how to make those things happen. When something gets in the way, they’ve got to remove that roadblock from the team or the team member to make sure that things are happening. They’ve got to remind people, “We’re all human. Sometimes, we take things for granted or we don’t do what we should do when we should do it.” They’re there to remind them. I call them pitas project. You know what a pita is. A lot of people do. In fact, I did that to my class and they realized. Now, they call it kind pitas.
We’re going to keep hitting this nerve, Peter. What makes a bad project manager?
They don’t communicate well. When things change, they don’t tell people on a timely basis. They hide bad news. They don’t help their people to succeed, but they expect them to. I had a boss like that. He said, “That’s what I pay you for. What are you coming to me with any of your problems for?” That’s what the boss is there for. It’s somebody that you can bounce it off of and can help you to get past it.
When you don’t do that and expect people to do whatever, why do they need your manager for? I had that. I literally said to the vice-president at one point, “Why do we have this guy here?” He rolled his eyes and he said, “It’s your job to take care of him?” I said, “What’s his job then? I thought his job was to take care of me.”
When I was working at McDonald’s when I was sixteen, late at night and there was no manager, they found the only person because they’re understaffed on management. Who cares? Those were some fun nights without the manager. I had some of the same thoughts even at sixteen years old. The place didn’t burn down. We still made the burgers. I was sixteen but they found somebody who was eighteen to set the alarm code and lock up. That’s all that was needed.
It’s like, “Why do we have these bodies around here anyways if we all know our jobs and their SOP down to a T? I learned a lot of lessons working for McDonald’s too. How consistent everything is across the board from restaurant to restaurant. I even apply those principles in what I do now and consistencies, procedures and operational efficiencies. It’s probably some of the biggest lessons.
There were times late at night to where there were no managers because, at sixteen, I’m closing. Let’s run the mop across the floor in the dining area. I’m the one that’s cleaning the grill because I’m the sixteen-year-old but you don’t need a manager there for that. Why do they even exist? Is it to take the complaints? There you go.
It’s to take the complaints. When a problem crops up, to be there to help and to take care of that. The employee is supposed to be doing her job, whatever that is whether it’s making the food or serving the food or whatever. When something crops up or the machine breaks down, the manager is there to help to make sure that the machine is functioning again or the food items aren’t available. Why not? It’s to make sure that they are. That’s not the employee’s job to do that. There’s this to take the stuff that’s given to them and then do something with it.
It didn’t matter so much too because we’re talking about the contrast between good and bad project managers. There were times when there were good managers at McDonald’s that you would love them to be around you. When you knew that that person wasn’t there, that was a bad manager that called in sick or whatever, you’re like, “We didn’t need that person anyways.”
One of the favorite people that I had and who I respected was the basketball coach, John Wooden. I would watch him coach games. He was emotionless. He didn’t say anything but when he needed to bring his team in, he would give instructions. They said to him one day, “You don’t seem to do a lot during the game.”
He said, “We do it all during practice. It’s instilled in the players. If I’ve done my job then they know what to do when the game takes place. If I have to tell them then, I haven’t done my job and they haven’t listened very well.” I went, “Wow, that’s powerful.” It’s true. At that point, it’s the middle of the game, craziness is going on and now you’re going to tell them what to do. You’ve practiced it over and over and it’s instilled in them. That’s what good managers do.
Are your books related in anyways, the 1st book and the 2nd book?
In a way, the first one was more about instances that I came across dealing with people and how they acted and reacted. It wasn’t so much an influence on me. It was more an educational tool for people to say, “There’s a fine line between success and non-success. It depends on the decisions we make and the actions we take.”
Is there a gray area there that exists?
Absolutely. It’s a very fine line between the two. If you move one way, you can be very successful. If you go the other way, you can have lots of problems. Mine was to point out positives and negatives and say, “If you did it a little bit differently, you could have the completely opposite result.” The second book, Influences and Influencers and was only because the person I was working with on the first book told me, “All authors write at least two books, if not more.” I went, “Really? I wasn’t intending on that.”
I’m constantly learning. She’s got a sneaky way. She’s got me writing the third book without telling me. She’s got me writing an article every month and I said, “After twelve months, I’ll have twelve articles and that’s enough for a book. You know that. Don’t you?” She started laughing. I’m like, “You’re not asking me. You don’t dare ask me about the third one.”
With Influences and Influencers, it got more personal. It got into the fact that there were so many people in our lives that have an impact on our lives whether we realize it or not. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t until after the fact, let’s say. There were things that happened in our lives, experiences that we go through and so forth that have an impact on us, molded us and shaped us.
We say either, “Yeah, that’s the way I want to act,” or, “God, I never want to act like that again. I don’t want to be like that person.” If you put the two of them together, again, they’re both learning experiences. I think the Influences and Influencers bleed over to the first one, which is The Vermin Problem and how we act. How we act is because of the experiences we’ve had, the people that we’ve dealt with, the people who have influenced us one way or the other from early childhood through our adult lives.
You’re talking about the programming that gets wired into us neurologically. We start to project upon those as we interact with them in the future because of how we have interacted with them in the past. It’s like, “Everybody must be that way.” It’s not true but it’s what we’ve been accustomed to. Somehow, we try to find a way to make that true for us. Isn’t that crazy?
I was working with one company and I got to meet the manager that I was working with. She introduced herself and said, “I have no friends.” I was stunned. She literally said, “I have no friends.” That’s not true. We all have friends. It depends on who they are and how you treat them. I could see why because she was not one of the better managers that I’ve come across. She didn’t treat people well including the consultants she hired, me being one of them. I can understand why she said she didn’t have friends.
It was interesting. We all do have friends. We have a lot of people who care about us and are there to help us if we allow them to. When you think that you don’t have friends, that’s not a good thing because there are probably more people on your side than you realize if you allow them to help you, guide you and give you direction when you’re not doing things well. That’s what a true friend is there for. It’s not somebody that’s going to pat you on the back and tell you everything is okay and you’re doing everything fine.
It’s the one who would send you a sign that says, “Pete, you’re screwed up and here’s why. You need to get over that.” Those are true friends and good consultants too. They’re the ones who don’t go to the client and say, “Everything is wonderful. You’re great.” You don’t need to be there because they don’t need you. They don’t need somebody to stroke their ego. They need somebody to tell them what they’re doing is wrong, how to fix it and make it better.
That’s what Influences and Influencers is about. It continues through your life. It shouldn’t stop. At 35, all of a sudden you say, “I got everything I need in life. I don’t need anything else. I’ve learned everything I’m going to learn.” No, you’re constantly learning, observing, dealing with people and new things are going to crop up. That’ll change your opinion in one way or the other.
At my age, I must be wise because I’m years past 35.
Absolutely. There you go.
Your third book, is this something that has to do with the first two? Can we talk about it? What’s it going to be about? Can you let out a little secret?
As it turns out to be, the overarching theme is what keeps you awake at night? Where I got that from is in dealing with companies and individuals and trying to find out what their problems were. They’d like to tell you but in a lot of cases, you find out that’s not the true instance. It’s a symptom but it’s not the problem. What’s a great open risk to say to somebody, “What keeps you awake at night? What bothers you so much that you lose sleep over it?
It consumes your days where you don’t get to do the things that you want to do. You’re not working on the things that are going to move you ahead because you’re constantly firefighting. I hate firefighting. I love days where there are no fires. I’m a very calm person. When there is, I want to put them out as quickly as possible and move on but I think most people are like that.
There was some that love that because I love the attention. They love all the excitement and all that stuff but it doesn’t accomplish anything. If you can prevent fires from happening, problems from occurring then so much the better. There are lots of different things that keep us awake at night. I had a couple of instances. In fact, I started the book talking about two instances that impacted me during my working career things that kept me awake at night literally until they were resolved.
It’s writing about that. I think through the books, the common element is that it’s relatable to people. They read it and they go, “I’ve been there before,” or “I’ve had that experience.” Maybe not with the same person or the same company but the same type of thing. They’re not alone, which is a good thing to reassure them that they’re not some strange person that everybody else or at least other people have issues like they do. Here’s how to deal with it or at least how I dealt with it. Hopefully, you can learn from that and deal with it as well. If you’ve got the experience and the knowledge, share it with people. That’s what it should be all about. It’s sharing to help other people so that they succeed. I love to see other people succeed.
I hate it when they don’t, they resist and have continuing problems because of themselves and their own decision as to what to do or not to do. It bothers me to know when because I’m getting paid some decent dollars to help them and I want to see them succeed. I want to see them get their money’s worth. To me, that’s a blast. Not just to succeed but to succeed even beyond what they expected. Where they go, “Wow. I didn’t get my money’s worth. I got all lifetimes worth.” That’s so cool. That’s the best thing there is about the job.
I appreciate everything you’ve said. I know that everyone can find you at PeteChristianBooks.com?
That’s my website. I’m also on LinkedIn, so you can look me up on LinkedIn. I think you can find me, look for this gorgeous face. I also have an email address, which is PhChristian53@gmail.com. Any one of those three, each one you can send me a message. If you want to call, eat together and discuss things, you might have an issue that you would like to talk about or read something that I wrote and you’ve got an opinion on it. I’d love to hear feedback from people. Get in touch with me.
We can also find your books on Amazon because you’re an Amazon Bestseller, What About the Vermin Problem? and Influences and Influencers. The third book that’s going to be coming after you write your twelve articles.
She’s going to get me to get that third book out. I feel it.
Thank you so much for being on, Peter. I appreciate you.
It was a blast. Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.
- Peter Christian
- What About the Vermin Problem
- Influences and Influencers
- LinkedIn – Peter Christian