Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez

This week Maria’s guest on the show is Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, the world’s leading champion of Project Management and Strategy Implementation.  Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez is the creator of concepts such as the Hierarchy of Purpose featured by Harvard Business Review, and the Project Revolution; which argues that Projects are the lingua franca of business and personal worlds from the C-suite to managing your career and relationships.  Antonio’s research and global impact in modern management have been recognised by Thinkers50 with the prestigious award “Ideas into Practice”. He is also part of MG100 – Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 coaches.

The most successful leaders are the ones who are able to say we’re going to do these three things next year.

In this week’s show we will find out how a Spaniard has ended up living in Belgium. Why Antonio doesn’t consider technology, AI or big data to be the biggest disruptions in business today and all about Antonio’s recent award from Thinkers50. All this and more …

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Podcast Transcript

This week Maria’s interviewed Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez as part of her podcast series.  Antonio is the world’s leading champion of Project Management and Strategy Implementation.  He is the creator of concepts such as the Hierarchy of Purpose featured by Harvard Business Review, and the Project Revolution; which argues that Projects are the lingua franca of business and personal worlds from the C-suite to managing your career and relationships  Antonio’s research and global impact in modern management have been recognised by Thinkers50 with the prestigious award “Ideas into Practice”. He is also part of MG100 – Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 coaches.

Maria:    

So, let me start off with introducing Antonio Nieto Rodriguez.  He is the world’s leading champion of Project Management and Strategy Implementation.  He is the creator of concepts such as the Hierarchy of Purpose featured by Harvard Business Review, and the Project Revolution; which argues that Projects are the lingua franca of business and personal worlds from the C-suite to managing your career and relationships.

Antonio’s research and global impact in modern management have been recognised by Thinkers50 with the prestigious award “Ideas into Practice”. He is also part of MG100 – Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 coaches.

This is the introduction that you kindly sent me, Antonio. I think it doesn’t do you justice.  I think it doesn’t cover the breath of all the things that you’ve done. It’s a very short synopsis. It’s nice to have this opportunity to talk to you and learn a little bit more about you.

Antonio:

Good morning Maria. It’s a pleasure to be here on your podcast. I have been also following what you do for speakers, and how you’re influencing. It’s a pleasure to have this time with you, and share a bit more about my experience. Like you said that’s just a couple of lines. I’ve done more. I’ve done more … I’ve failed too. It’s not like everything is bright in life. From failure you learn. I have many, many years in project management experience and some were good, some were disastrous, but I learn a lot. I’ve been living abroad quite a lot of my life. I am Spanish from Madrid, but I’ve been living in Mexico, in the US, in Italy, in Germany, in Belgium, the Netherlands. I’m kind of globe trotter. I love global concepts. I love global communities. I’m just a global citizen.

Maria:     

Fantastic. How did you come to move to so many countries? Because I read that you were educated in five countries. How did that come about?

Antonio: 

Well I had no choice … where my parents were, so I had to follow them. I was very little the first my father used to work for the Spanish airlines. We were travelling quite a lot like home was the airplane. He moved to Mexico. It was more by just following my parents, and it became something common to me to travel and to feel good in many places so I’ve continued.  Now home is basically Madrid and Brussels in Belgium. I’m here with my family too. So that’s how I came to all these trips.

Maria:  

Fantastic. You speak a lot of languages fluently, don’t you as a result of all this travel?

Antonio:    

Exactly. Not because I’m smarter than anyone. I was again forced to speak German and Italian just because I was living there. You get used to it. I’m not a power of nature. I was living there and I was forced to it.

Maria:

Do you consider yourself Spanish at heart?

Antonio:   

Very much, but Spanish international. I care about the big items in the world, the big issues. That’s ultimately my goal to try to help the people who need most. That happens in Europe. That happens in South America, and Africa. That’s one of my goals in life to reach to those people.

Maria: 

What I loved actually looking at your website and reading all about you, I love that you have a purpose, and you state that purpose. Most of us spend our lives trying to find our purpose and you are totally clear on what your purpose is. Would you like to share that with our audience?

Antonio Nieto:              

I would love to share that. I believe in the power of purpose. I think we have been doing a lot of talk about vision and mission, but only when I came close to the idea of purpose I realised.  Purpose is a glue, everything can relate to it much easier. You don’t need fancy words. Just state what you feel and want to achieve in life as a company, as an individual. Yeah, I found mine, very clear and I don’t mind sharing it. Here it goes. My purpose is to help corporations, organisations, governments to excel in their transformation projects, and achieve more profound impact on our society. I want to share my knowledge. I want the people to achieve their goals, and we make impact in society.

Maria:       

That’s wonderful. We’re going to help you do that, because it’s a wonderful purpose.

Antonio Nieto:

Thank you.

Maria:       

How did you come to that? What brought you to project management, what gave you an interest in leadership and helping leaders?

Antonio: 

It’s a long story Maria. I worked 10 years in PwC, and there we were all doing projects and somehow, I became one of the experts in project management to help companies.  So, if you’re struggling with your big transformation project, IT, ERP implementation, a big merger – I was the expert. I did some research. I became really one of the experts in PwC. I tried to become partner in PwC, you know that’s the highest level you can reach in those organisations. My business case to become a partner was to develop project management for PwC. I call it project management advisory services. I did my presentation. I was convinced, very well prepared. The day after they told me, “Antonio we love your presentation, but you’re fired.”

Maria:  

What was that about?

Antonio:  

Well I think the reason they gave me is that project management is something very low level it’s like you cannot make value out of it. It’s something everybody can do. So PwC will not go into those low level kind of professions – “it’s not for us”.  First that was a big shock after 10 years. Second, I was very disappointment that senior leaders and partners, very bright people, just diminished the value of projects. That gave me extra energy to try to find out why. Why these people didn’t value projects, although we all do projects all the time. That was one of the key moments in my life. A big failure because I didn’t make it to partner, I was on the street for a few months. But then it was like a big swing to continue my research and really focus on it.

Maria:

Have you gone back and said, “Ha-ha, look at me now?”

Antonio:    

Well – Yes.

Maria:   

Fantastic, brilliant. I picked up something on your site that was bit controversial. I’m going to read it out, because I think you need to explain this too. You say that “The things that are not going to be the big disruptors coming up, it’s not about technology, it’s not about AI, it’s not about big data. These are not the things that we need to worry about. There’s something bigger. That bigger thing is in fact … you were saying managing.

Antonio:       

Project.

Maria:   

Project management and management.

Antonio:         

Exactly.

Maria:     

How do we argue that?  There are clients who are coming to us and asking for speakers on AI etc? Why should they be focusing on projects?

Antonio:

I think again it is something that has been unnoticed, but it’s impacting every organisation.  Can be profit, non-profit, any industry.  They are struggling with projects. They do their activities they manage very well. It’s 100 years they’ve been working on that. We mastered that. We have process, we have tools. We have incentives, we have KPIs.  But the side where you need to deal with the change, and that’s all the projects, it can’t be just one like a digital transformation project. I’m sure if people are listening they will know that this is painful, and it’s not easy.  But then you go into it a bit deeper and you have hundreds of projects. One of the issues is that companies tend to launch projects very easily. It’s very, very easy to launch a project.

You say, “Oh, I have this great idea. Let’s meet on Monday and we kick off.” Then nobody continues. It’s very hard to finish projects, very hard to stop them. The amount of projects just doubles every year. I believe that because this has not been on the radar yet it’s affecting everyone. It’s really affecting businesses, organisations, governments … so that’s my claim. I think we know about the digital AI, and robotics, and big data. We know it’s there, and there’s a lot of research but this one is kind of hitting everyone, and we’ve not seen it yet.

Maria:        

That’s fascinating.  I think maybe we should get you in to see the British government and talk to them about some projects. We have a bit of a project going on at the moment I’m sure you’re aware.

Antonio:      

I know.

Maria:           

So the other area I wanted to talk about was your book “The Focused Organization”. This sings to me, because I see myself as a leader of my little organisation. It’s a very small organisation compared to those that you consult with and work for, and speak for. But I like the fact that you say that by focusing on a few key initiatives you can have a dramatic change in your business. Do you think we are focusing too much at once is that what we are doing wrong as leaders, and as managers?

Antonio:   

Absolutely Maria. The more I talk to leaders, the more successful ones are the ones who are able to say we’re going to do these three things next year. This is what the team wants to focus, should focus, and we should deliver. We’ll start but we’ll finish. But that’s very hard because you’re saying no to … I don’t know how many other options. They say that in innovation every company might have 3,000 ideas per year but you are saying about 2,997, “no” and you say 3 to “yes”. So, it requires courage, it requires discipline to get it done, get the right people on board and just follow through till the end. I’m convinced, I think there is something you need to learn as a leader, is to be able to prioritise and focus. That cascades the whole organisation. It creates the right culture. They see true leaders because they have courage, they are on top of three initiatives not 25, so I believe this is one of the key success factors of many businesses, and leaders.

Maria: 

OK, I’m going to take that on board because I’m one of those people that has a list that is way too long, way too long. I want to come back to the Thinkers50 that we talked about at the beginning when I mentioned in the introduction, which is being called the Davos of the world thinkers. The part which I find fascinating is that you underplay that you are one of the top thinkers in the world. You are in the 50, but I would say you are in the top 5. That’s a huge honour, and it’s a wonderful thing to have. Tell us about the award that you’ve won recently. Also tell us what you did in order to get there to receive that award. Because that’s an interesting story and tell us a little bit about you as well.

Antonio: 

Of course, it’s great to have this recognition. I’m talking for myself. I’ve been chairman of the project management institute. I know the project management very well. I know how committed this profession people who are very, very dedicated to their jobs and making projects succeed. According to some numbers there’s about 50 million project managers out there, who are often diminished.  You see based on what I just told you about PwC, project management is not as fancy as marketing or strategy. It’s changing but I think there’s a lot of people behind me. I was just lucky to be there a bit more advanced than many. But a huge recognition, and very happy. The way I got there is, well I follow a bit these kind of big events, or Harvard Business Review I study and see Harvard do you publish some projects, and I realised they don’t publish some projects.

Very little compared to finance and marketing and sales. There’s a gap of one to 100, so I target Harvard. Business schools, they don’t teach project management so I target them to say … Basically all the people I teach project management they end up studying working in projects after their MBA. It’s a career path very clear nowadays. Thinkers50, I came across their ranking and said, “Wow, in 15 years nobody from project management expertise has been there.” So I reached out to Stewart and Des and they said, “What project management? Leave him alone. This is nothing for us. This is … don’t talk about that. It’s not … it’s just -find another ranking.” So I consistently pursued. I just said, “Stewart give me a moment, give me some time.  Let me explain you the projects are there to stay.” There is the main way to deliver value in companies, but nobody has addressed that. How can you create and accelerate more value creation? It’s through projects. It took me like two years since I identified the list. First discussion with Stewart and Des and then actually they started to think, “Wow, this is actually something different. We hear a lot about innovation. We have a lot of thinkers about innovation, leadership, strategy but you’re coming with something very different.” I think that was at the end what they appreciated something different, and actually very practical. Is we have all these ideas, but at one point we need to make them happen. That’s the recognition they gave me. It’s not just me, but project management in general.

Maria:                                       

Fantastic. You’ve avoided the story because you actually, I know cut your honeymoon short to come to the Thinkers50 event. In case you won the award. how did you negotiate that?

Antonio:  

That was a tough one Maria. I told Stewart and Des that I was getting married a week before the event in November. I told them listen I will be in Argentina in Patagonia in the south … the most south place the word. Can you not tell me? I knew I was nominated. Can you not tell me if I will make it or not, because I need to cut my honeymoon short?  He say, “No, impossible. We don’t tell you anything.” I had to negotiate with my wife. She was very nice. The deal was if I didn’t win the award we could go back on honeymoon.

Maria:

Fantastic. You didn’t continue honeymoon even when you won the award. She’s a very understanding wife, very understanding.

Antonio:

Yeah. We did have a mini honeymoon afterwards.

Maria: 

Anyway, congratulations.

Antonio:   

Thank you Maria.

Maria:   

The other thing I wanted to ask you about, because you’ve been speaking for a while now, and you’ve spoken in many countries, you’ve taken a lot of engagements. How did you go from your work to writing to speaking? What was that progression like, how did that happen?

Antonio: 

Well basically it’s funny the way I … I started speaking when I was in PwC. I went into a couple of events, this is late 90s. I thought, wow people are … there are with congresses, big congresses. Most of the people I didn’t find interesting they were not good at communicating. I didn’t get anything. So I said, well “I can do that, I can do that.” I was very, very shy when I was a kid so I wanted to force myself to be learning these communication skills, and be comfortable standing in front of 500 people, five people, 5,000 people. It was both way of developing myself, and second I saw that the speakers were more important in congresses. Everybody would come to you. I said I want to be one of them. One of the leading reasons was I could travel for free.

At that time you were not paid of course, I was not known. I had done some research around projects, but I got the trips for free. I did travel a lot. Then I became good. I really … I was good at communication and making things simple, and people would get attached by my stories, and learn some things that they could apply at work. Then I realized it’s sort of a profession, and you can make money out of it. It’s a long path. I’ve been 15 years at least speaking in public, but I really enjoy it. I love to share and engage people, and make them think, and act differently the day after. It’s something that I really enjoy a lot.

Maria:

Is there any piece of advice that we could finish on that you would give to somebody who’s booking a speaker like yourself with so much knowledge, and so much to give, and so much expertise? What would you say to them to get the best out of your time at an event?

Antonio:           

I think Maria the challenges I always face is my topic is not the fancy one, which would be around disruption, innovation, digital. The feedback I get is it’s one of the most comprehensive inspirational down to earth practical speeches they’ve ever got. They start talking about conferences, or companies who engage many speakers. My style and my insights are practical, are good for everyone. It’s an entertainment. It’s an hour of a good time, lots of stories, but practical. This works in reality. I am one of the few experts who still has a full time job in a corporation. I know what works I know what frameworks don’t work. Most of them don’t work. I know the ones which work. If they want something that works, that’s going to have value straightaway for their people, plus inspiring them. They should certainly contact you to get me there.

Maria:     

That’s brilliant, wow, we should have prepared that, wow fantastic! Antonio, listen thank you so much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure to get to know you a little bit better. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

Antonio:           

Thank you Maria. What a pleasure.

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