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


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 are no shortage of ideas of what could be done and what should get fixed. I wholeheartedly believe that most people want to do a good 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 happen and what actually gets accomplished.  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 get 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 relatively 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 good conversation means what’s being said is registering and resonating properly.

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 get 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 fairly simple techniques that can be learned through basic training.  Provide time management resources/tools and frequent trainings 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 want to see.

Fourth, the formula to achieve anything is fairly simple.  The level of effort required is usually a function of project scope, task difficulty and resource requirements.   Outputs require inputs and people inputs are mostly a function of time.  Time is usually related breadth and depth of activity, experience requirements (which often requires 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 get 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.

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2 Responses

  1. Hi Ed,

    It’s interesting how you tied leadership to delays in projects. However, I don’t see how “Insufficient Resources” Or “Poor Time Management” are related to leadership.

    In any case, I have published an excellent article this morning (on leadership in project management) titled Leadership Skills: Tap Into Team Members’ Existing Motivation. I hope you will have the chance to read it when you get the chance.

    • Thanks for your response. Who else ultimately makes resource investment decsions but someone at the leadership level. I’ve seen many potentially good projects fail or only achieve marginal results due to a insufficient resource allocation. As far as time manegement goes, there is no one’s time more value than the leader. How he/she spends his/her time is often directly correlated with business success. It also impacts what gets his/her attention and support. I look forwward to reading your blog.

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