December 15, 2011

Why People Do (and Don't) Take Action - Part Two

Last post I started the conversation about what it takes to be successful in any venture. Now that we know how to succeed, let's look at why people fail.

Below is a diagram that shows the different combinations of action and integrity. To the degree to which a person takes action with integrity, they will succeed. Pretty straightforward.

So, what's going below the line? Now it gets interesting.

In the lower left quadrant is where poor performance occurs.

So, I said I would get that report to you and didn't. I know I need to do it, but didn't. Why? Something came up.

I should go to the gym but don't.

I should clean my day.

I want to find a new job that I really love but haven't yet done anything.

I want to make a change but am afraid to.

Do this often enough and you lose all sense of possibility. You forget that you are capable of achieving. You become comfortable in your resignation about yourself and your life.

I call this quadrant learned helplessness. It is where we stray for a moment or two when our performance drops (and we ALL stray there from time to time) and where people stay when they believe their actions will not amount to anything.

If they think they can't affect change or make a difference. If they are told often enough that they don't matter (and this happens all over the world).

If you are at the effect of unconscious bias from a boss or a board. They don't recognise your talents, or might have concerns but don't honestly deal with them. If you are working in a job that is not congruent to your values, talents and interests. Or if you've outgrown it and failed to move on.


If you believe in your people and share with them the company vision and mission - they will know they matter and can make a difference.

Whatever you say - you will also communicate your real belief about them to them and they will live into it. So, if you let them know that they have areas to improve on but overall you believe they can do the job...they will!

If you think they're not up to the job, guess what? No matter what you might say, your unconscious bias will be communicated to them. They'll live into your belief. Their performance will drop even further as they try to impress you and fail. Even worse, you will prime your brain to notice only what they do wrong and miss the times that they actually succeed!

EVERYONE has something they do well and something they need to improve on. You just need to look for it and you will find it, whatever that is.

Why is this important? Because the effect of belief on individual performance is profound.

In their book Pygmalion in the Classroom, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson demonstrated how students' performance was affected by a teacher's expectations. The same applies in companies. We perform in line with people's expectations.

What are you communicating to your people?  How are they living into your expectations? What have you primed your brain to look for and what you are then finding?

Notice it creates a viscous circle of expectations and performance that can only be broken when you start to recognise the dynamic.

It takes an act of great generosity to believe in someone who you have lost faith in. But worth it as it might result in a massive turn around.

If you really do not believe they can improve, fire them. It's saving them a slow death.

Next...what happens when you take action with no integrity.

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