4 Reasons Why People Don’t Do Something

So it happened that my father-in-law and mother-in-law are Doctors of Education. Which leads to the fact that willy-nilly you start comprehending various useful techniques 🙂

One day, after some academic council, my father-in-law asked me: “Alex, what do you think, why do people not do something?”

Honestly, his question caught me cold. I started fantasizing: well, the reason may be some interfering circumstances, traits of character, lack of experience…

No, no, no, he said. It’s not like that. If people do not do something, there are only four reasons. That’s when my arsenal of management tools increased by one more tool. And this tool is exactly what we are going to discuss today, and at the same time we will analyze several real-life stories:

– Why project managers need to be transferred to a separate building

– What do you do when your customer does not use your reporting system

– How to stir up a low-performer

So, if a person does not do what you want them to do (or does something else or in a wrong way), do not immediately rush to solve the problem. Take a breather. After all, if a person does not behave the way we want, there can only be one of four reasons:

1. Vague goal (person understood it differently)

I remember when I told my employee in Intel: Max, look at the static analyzers. Max said “OK, no problem” and left. He comes back in three days. Me:

— So?

— I looked them up.

— And…?

— Here’s the table…

I almost killed him. I needed him to find a free static Java code analyzer and build it into our version control system.

Max understood the problem in his own way — that I needed a comparative analysis of available static analyzers. He downloaded and installed all of these analyzers, came up with metrics for comparison, found test cases. For three days he was engaged in quite meaningful activities. And in the end, I as his manager was pissed off, not happy.

If I asked you, who is to blame in this situation, you’d probably blame me. But let me disagree 🙂

You can blame the manager for assigning vague tasks if you are an employee. But when the task is being assigned to you, it’s not always possible to tell your boss later: ‘well, you should get your s$#t together and learn how to assign tasks…’

In task delegation, there are always two or more people. If I’d asked Max how he understood the task, this situation would not have happened. But if Max had asked me about the task details, this situation would not have happened either.

2. Does not know how (it includes a “does not know” in general)

A person may not know how to do something we want him or her to do. And a person can sincerely misjudge their capabilities (“I’ll sort it out somehow.”) “I coded virtual machines, I can definitely create a PowerPoint presentation?..” — and it’s true, the presentation would be done. Another thing is that it would be so bad, that it could not be shown to anyone…

There is exactly one case where we can be 100% sure that a person knows how to do something. If they have repeatedly and successfully (both words are important here) accomplished similar tasks and you’ve seen it yourself.

If the person can explain how to accomplish the task, it’s certainly better than if they could not. But it’s not a guarantee that they really know how. I can explain in reasonable detail how to break bricks by hand. But in reality, the brick would win anyway, I’m afraid.

Therefore, if you did not see how the person accomplishes the task, then at the task assignment stage you have to agree on the type and frequency of control. ‘Buddy, we’ve never had such tasks before, so let me check your work every two days, and together we’ll decide what to do next, alright?’

3. Can not

We are talking about the lack of resources. First of all, time. For example, you’ve assigned the task to the person; this person works on multiple projects. So, you left. After that two more managers show up and strongly motivate them to perform their tasks. You come back – your task is not done. “Why?..” “We agreed…” “You promised…” Not enough resources.

And, for example, if you ask an engineer to debug a huge corporate enterprise software on an i386 PC, where it takes 20 minutes just to start-up the software, most likely your task won’t be done fast.

4. Does not want

For some reason, a person does not want to carry out the task. Maybe, they do not like you. Or the person truly does not understand why this task should be carried out. Or the person does not agree with the decision made. Possible reasons are endless.

How to use this tool

Intuitively, we often start with the 4th reason and try to find a solution there. ‘How do I motivate an employee to do A, B, and C?’ — is probably the most popular question at our trainings.

Hey, wait. Are you sure the motivation is the issue? Let’s cover the first three reasons first. If they’re not covered (or you’re not sure), don’t start with the solution for ‘does not want’ reason. It’s not easy, and there are other tools as well.

But sometimes it gets ridiculous.

Real-life story. The CTO of one big company once calls me:

— Sasha, I need advice. My project managers do not think about their projects’ strategy. I want to separate them from the teams and move them to another office building. What do you think, would it help?

And this question totally confounded me.

We start sorting it out. The situation is roughly as follows. The company had R&D teams. Each team had engineers and ‘super’ engineers — tech leads. Now, these leads were promoted to project managers. They are responsible for the research team, the product team, the validation team + the technical writer, the system analyst, and other people on the project.

Here’s the problem, he says! They stay in the same room with their engineers, as they did before. And engineers distract them with their engineering issues. As a result, managers do not think about the strategy of the project. I want to move them to a separate office.

The question clears up a bit… And here I suddenly recall the four reasons.

Wait, I say, if managers do not think about the project strategy, there can be only one of four reasons:

They don’t understand what you want them to do. You tell them to think about a project strategy. What should they do? Do they need to tense up, flush with efforts, start sweating? How would you understand that they’re thinking about the strategy? What signs would show you that?

You may want them to plan the strategic development of the project. This is a distinct request. Or do you want them to bring you the ideas about the strategic development of the project? This is a different request. Did you tell people what you need exactly?

Let’s proceed. If people have never written a strategic development plan for the project, how do you want them to write it now? Maybe they tried and saw that it was some kind of nonsense, and they didn’t even show it to you.

Maybe you should give them some book on this subject? Or hold a workshop? Or, if you know how to write strategic plans, explain it to them.

How’s the workload for these people? They used to run only five engineers; now they have a whole crowd to control. And you, probably, require some new releases from them? Do they have time?

Did they even want to become project managers? Or they simply could not say ‘No’ to you?

It’s hard to deny the boss who comes and says: “Guys, we have a major transformation in the company. The only people I can rely on are you!” It is unlikely that someone will say at this point: “Nah. I’ll skip it.” People silently sigh and go bear a new burden.

As a result, before moving to a new office, there were many topics for discussion. 🙂

Or another story.

Real life story. After the conference in Novosibirsk this one person approaches me:

— Alexander, I have a question. We’ve been writing a new reporting system for three months. And we finished it. It has everything: 28 pages with ten tabs each. There’s everything — all information possibly needed.

— Well, congratulations. And what is the problem?

— Our German customer does not use it. Instead of logging in and getting data, she calls each of our engineers and asks what they did. How do we motivate her to use our reporting system?

Okay, let’s sort it out. If your customer does not use your system, there could be only one of the four reasons:

Does she understand she needs to use the system? Or you wrote her an email five pages long with an unclear title, and she was like: “Oh, okay, they’re doing something, good guys… I’ll read it later maybe.”

Does she know how to use the system? What makes you so sure ? How long does it take her to find the information she needs? Maybe she honestly tried it once, twice or even three times, she was drowned in the complicated process, found nothing and decided to call engineers, as it worked before. They always give the answers she needs, right?

Does she have access to the system? Maybe she tried to log-in once, the system didn’t log her in, and the customer thought, the system is not finished yet. And while it’s being finished, she’d call engineers.

Maybe she simply likes to communicate with your engineers? Or she doesn’t trust the data in the system, and she rechecks the information.

Before talking to her, you should go through all these reasons.

The main difficulty with this tool is to remember about it at the right time. Seriously, this approach seems so trivial, that it slips our mind.

Real life story. During one of our trainings a question came up: How to stir up a low-performer? There are a couple of really cool pros and several averages. And there is one person who does everything much slower than others. How to stir him up and make him work more and faster?

We’ve almost started to give our advice, but remembered, that we need to clarify the situation first. After all, if a person works less and slower than others, there can be only one of the following reasons:

A person does not understand that the way they work is bad. Yes, it’s slow. But the quality of work is superb! Not like those who hurry-scurry made up some code and that was it. Here’s the system approach, unit tests, self-reviews, etc.

Has the manager ever told the person directly that they are not happy with the amount of work done? Or does the manager send nonverbal signals to the person? Stops giving interesting tasks, limits communication, etc.

Is he able to work faster? Did he previously work fast?

What else does he do? Maybe he answers the newbies’ questions on Skype. Or he may have some family issues at the moment.

What does he want anyway? Stability? Development? Money? To become a tech lead? We can tie arguments to the person’s aspirations.

Maybe he does not agree with the decision that we are currently working on. And he expresses this disagreement with his behavior.

You’ve got to understand and think before you talk and communicate with the person. Not stir him up, but understand.

Finally, try to look for reasons

To make this training not in vain and just for reading buddy tales 🙂, right now you can take a situation when someone did not do what you wanted and try to figure out what their four reasons could have been.

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