James Kane’s guide to loyalty

Posted by Elizabeth Harrin

Trust in dictionaryWhy do people always want to work with certain project managers? Why do some project sponsors always appoint the same project manager, regardless of the type of project? At the most recent PMI North America Leadership Institute Meeting James Kane – a loyalty scientist – gave a presentation about how we build relationships with people.

“Our brain has not evolved socially,” Kane said. “It hasn’t developed as much as other parts of our biology.” He explained that brains work off shortcuts – triggers that help us make connections. We build relationships like that too, which is why it is easier to click with someone who went to the same school as you, and why you add nicknames to people, like ‘Pam from Accounts’.

Loyalty, Kane explained, is a behaviour. Neurons enable us to learn and the brain evolved to know who to be loyal to because development as it child takes a long time before we are able to operate independently. You need to be loyal to those who look after you when you are incapable of fending for yourself.

Kane explained that loyalty is framed by certain behaviours:

  • Do you make my life easier?
  • Do you make my life better?
  • Do you make me more productive?
  • Do you make me more efficient?

If the brain finds people who do deliver to one or more of these criteria, it will stick with them.

Kane said that research from Harvard shows that there are 3 things to look for before loyalty develops. These are:

  • Trust
  • Belonging
  • Purpose

“When these three things are fulfilled inside my brain I’ll be loyal to you,” he said.


Trust is made up of competency, character (transparency), consistency and the capacity to fulfil what the individual needs.”We expect every relationship we have to be trustworthy,” Kane said. “You’ll never get credit for being trustworthy.”

In a project relationship, that is true. Your project sponsor and your team will expect you to always be trustworthy – as will anyone else whom you ever deal with. You won’t build great relationships because you are trustworthy. It’s a hygiene factor.

“The only way to build trust is to manage expectations,” Kane added. The expectations of stakeholders will be different from yours so there is a chance that you will never get a fully trusting relationship between you and some members of your project team, especially if they have unrealistic expectations about what the project can deliver.


Purpose is made up of vision, fellowship and commitment. Purpose means standing for something more than just the expectation of cash. It is not about the salaries you offer your project team members, although to many of them, financial compensation will be very important. Try to inspire them, and encourage them to see the overall picture for your project so that you can build a loyal team.


Kane said that belonging is the most critical part of creating loyalty. You have to have:

Recognition (“Do you know who I am?”): this could be in the form of logging into a site and having your name appear at the top of the screen, or by being greeted by name by the project sponsor in the corridor.

Insight: you need to know what challenges are being faced by the group and share the same worries, even if these are not aired in public.

Proactivity: you have to do something to solve problems when they are flagged up. Use the information you have in a proactive way to increase the sense of belonging.

Inclusion: you have to work with the team in a partnership, building a consensus wherever possible so that they feel included. Including them in decision making is a good start. Using tools in meetings to gather data and build consensus, like Seavus DropMind, can help them feel as if they are part of the solution as well as part of the team.

Identity: you belong to a group, but you have an individual identify. Share your passions with the project team – do you knit, do you like Italian wine? Create individual biographies for your project intranet site. You have to share something to build a connection, and building connections increases loyalty.

Creating loyalty in project team members and engendering a sense that they will be loyal to the project can be a very good thing as it can reduce attrition rates and help you keep the same team members for the duration of the project. Think about all the things that make up loyalty, and I’m sure you’ll agree: you want those in a project team, don’t you? Even if the word ‘loyalty’ seems a little extreme for your project environment, cultivate trust, belonging and purpose and you’ll see the impact on project results.

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Related posts:

  1. Ten Characteristics of Successful Project Teams – Part 5
  2. Ten Characteristics of Successful Project Teams – Part 6
  3. The Trust Factor
  4. 3 ways to build trust in virtual teams
  5. What makes people trust you?

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