Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Getting things done

One of the toughest challenges in any organisation, regardless of methods and processes, can be converting knowledge or intentions into actions. Sometimes organisations, or rather the people that make up them, appear paralysed - like rabbits in the middle of the road staring at the headlights whilst frozen in place. In fact, I think that one of the main components of my job is helping organisations move from thought to actions. There's probably just as many causes for this inaction as there are people but I think they can broadly be placed into several categories:

Fear of reprisals.
Organisations that punish mistakes end up stagnating as the only way to avoid making mistakes is to do nothing. People are very adaptive and tend to "game" any system to their own advantage. If those that make a mistake are seen to miss out on promotions, pay rises or future assignments then people will spot this very quickly and react accordingly. This isn't always easy to avoid - if you are a manager do you really want to give challenging assignments to people that have previously failed? I think the solution here is to give people assignments that challenge them, and that have an inherent risk of failure, but which are at a level of difficulty suitable for the employee and level of their experience/skills. And, of course, to remember that to err is human.

Fear of failure. 
Some individuals have a built-in fear of failure. Regardless of the organisation they work within they have - based on prior experience - learned to avoid failure at all costs. This prior experience can be a previous organisation or even their childhood experience. It is important for managers to spot these people and to coach and develop them allowing them to relearn and break this behaviour pattern.

Illogical hope.
It is not only fear that can cause inaction. Some organisations face problems by maintaining some kind of illogical hope. In the face of seemingly insurmountable problems they react by burying their heads in sand and hoping that the problem will somehow go away all by itself. Of course, usually, the problem tends to just get larger and more difficult to solve. Encouraging a culture of communicating transparently and giving honest status updates goes a long way to helping guard against this. It's harder to ignore a problem you have to give updates and reports about than one nobody talks about.

A feeling of despair or hopelessness.
Some problems seem so large, so insurmountable, that we lose al l motivation and drive to solve them. We don't know where to begin and cannot comprehend a solution to the whole problem. I think an important solution here is to encourage baby-steps. That is instead of trying to solve the problem completely we should try to find some small activity that we can do to start to improve the situation or to solve a part of the problem. By breaking the problem down into bite size pieces we can remove a feeling of hopelessness and see real progress which gives vital positive feedback.

Whatever the cause, getting people to take that first step can be frustratingly difficult at times. I can certainly feel that my creativity, my drive, my enthusiasm and my teaching abilities are all pushed to their very limits and wonder on occasion why I didn't pick an easier job. However, the buzz of helping an organisation or team achieve real change and real goals is a hard habit to kick.

1 comment:

  1. How about plain old laziness or lack of motivation (due to lack of autonomy, mastery, purpose)?