There are many reasons that people don’t do what we expect or ask them to do.

   Maybe sometimes the person is difficult.

   Maybe sometimes the person is lazy.  


   Maybe sometimes they don’t know why (the mission).

   Maybe sometimes they don’t know how (a method).

If laziness and bad attitude are standing in the way, we’ll be fighting a losing battle.

If, on the other hand, it’s the mission and a method that need to be clarified; we can make great progress and help people succeed.  It’s easy to tell people what we want, making sure they know why and how is the hard part.

The Mission

Defining why we do what we do can be hard.  Organizations large and small, for-profit and not-for-profit, governmental and private, devote scarce resources; human, monetary, and natural, doing lots and lots of “stuff.”  They have mission statements that are crafted with the assistance of highly trained and capable consultants; then tucked away in a binder until it’s time to work on the next strategic plan.

Do employees really know and internalize “The Mission?”  We unveil our new mission statements with great excitement, mount them on break room walls and post them on our websites; then the posters become part of the landscape, we might see the mission statement on the wall, but we don’t internalize it.  People can tell you in great detail what they do at their job, but how many can clearly state why they are doing it?  Of course, everybody needs a paycheck, and that could be the main motivation, but if the pay is the only mission it’s not going to yield consistently good results.  And, “because I was told to,” is not a very fulfilling reason either.

With that in mind, our first mission as leaders is to set a clear, concise,  and consistent Mission, capital M intentional, for the whole team.  We need to understand why we are devoting our personal and professional resources to the things we do. If we can explain why we are here, and can help others find their own why, their own personal mission, then the first step towards mission success is accomplished.  But that’s only the first step.

The Method

What is the second step in helping people become successful? Ensuring they know how to do what we are asking them to do. This includes training, support, and focus.  I call this “A Method.”

Think about it; we are moving fast.  New programs, products, and processes are regularly introduced and then we start working on the next improvement.  We often roll out the next big thing before our prior big thing is fully understood and utilized.  I think that is pretty inefficient.

Training; this is self-explanatory.  Establishing the rules, guidelines, and processes; codifying the steps.  Instructing people on the process.

Support; check back, again and again.  Make sure the resources needed are available.  Create a culture where admitting your lack of knowledge is safe.  How often do people not admit they don’t understand something because they are afraid of looking bad in front of their peers?  Questions are good.

A way, not THE way

Focus; eliminating static, reducing noise.  Helping people find the step by step processes that they can repeat, and will work for them, is crucial in helping people become successful.  In technical settings establishing THE process is appropriate.  For other, soft-science settings a more personal approach is appropriate.

A few years ago a lot of people were repeating the sentiment that “people don’t do what’s expected, they do what’s inspected.” I think this might be true sometimes, but I also think that people do what works for them.  We are not all “wired” the same way and a cookie cutter approach, outside of very standardized routine processes and tasks, will often not work.

Helping people find the method that will work best for them is critical for long term results.  It’s not easy.  It’s often not quick.  But it pays off, every time.


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn on August 1, 2016

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