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Leadership Thought #228 – Five Reasons Why Things Don’t Get Done

October 12, 2011

Free Shallow Focus Photo of Woman Leaning on Doorway Stock Photo

I’ve been in many organizations in my professional career.  In each instance, I’ve always come across a leader or management team who has a grand vision of the future and what’s possible.  There is no shortage of ideas about what could be done and what should get fixed. I’ve always believed that most people want to do a decent job and make a positive contribution.  It’s rare when you meet someone in a leadership position who shows up to work each day expecting to fail, yet sadly it happens on a regular basis.  There is often a disconnect between what people know should get done and what actually happens.  We’ve grown far too accustomed to performance mediocrity and lowering our expectations.

There are typically five reasons why things don’t get done:

1)      Lack of understanding and full agreement as to what needs to be done and by when.

2)    An inability to prioritize amongst competing priorities.

3)     Poor time management and project planning.

4)    Insufficient resources.

5)     Not holding people accountable for results.

There are easy fixes to each of these issues.

First, before starting any project or major activity put the outcome expectations in writing and have everyone affected sign off on it.   Have the person being delegated the task(s) write the first draft so you are certain they understand the gist of what needs to get done.  Don’t assume that having a friendly conversation means what’s being said is registering and resonating properly. Clarity shouldn’t be optional.

Second, whenever you are making decisions on allocating time and resources consider everything else on someone’s plate.  Ask them what they are already working on and if anything needs to be reprioritized.  Make sure the most important items are always getting the highest priority.  You also can’t burden people with too much difficulty or complexity at any one time.

Third, most people are terrible at time management.  This has always struck me as odd because there are simple techniques that can be learned through basic training.  Provide time management resources/tools and frequent training so that your people know how to manage their time better.  Everyone should know how to plan their work and work their plan.  If someone is always showing up early and working late it means they don’t know how to get their work done in a timely and efficient manner – don’t overvalue workaholics.  As with everything, the leader should model the behavior he/she wants to see.

Fourth, the formula to achieve anything is basic.  The level of effort required is usually a function of project scope, task difficulty, and resource requirements.   Outputs require inputs and employee inputs are mostly a function of time.  Time is usually related to the breadth and depth of activity, experience requirements (which often require training), tools, and equipment.  It’s one thing to run lean.  It’s quite another to set people up for failure and not give them what they need to get the job done.

Finally, if you addressed the previous four issues and you are still falling behind and not reaching your goals, then you either have the wrong people or a flawed accountability system.  Failure should not be an option.  Mistakes will happen and you should learn from them but don’t lose sight of the final objective or lower the performance bar.  Keep your people on task and on track.  Have regular conversations about deadlines and make course corrections proactively.  Don’t ever allow yourself to be surprised by non-performance. Good people will live up to your expectations and if someone can’t or won’t get the job done then find someone else.