Lisa McLeod: Why other people make it hard to get things done

  • Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2013 12:01 a.m.

It starts with a great idea. It’s exciting at the beginning. But then, as you try to implement it, your efforts aren’t greeted with enthusiasm. Instead you encounter apathy, resistance, and derision.

Thus begins the long slow slog of getting things done.

It doesn’t matter whether you work in corporate America or you’re trying to organize a neighborhood event, if the implementation involves other people, it’s going to be rocky.

There’s an inverse relationship: small ideas with few players, and thus small payoffs, can be implemented quickly and completely. You get to check the box fast; we did it, job well done.

However, big ideas with big potential payoffs, usually involve lots of players and moving parts. You almost never get to check the box, because you never feel as though you’ve fully accomplished the objectives.

“Like water flowing from an underground spring, human creativity is the wellspring greening the desert of toil and effort and much of what stifles us in the workplace is the immense unconscious effort on the part of individuals and organizations alike to damn its flow,” wrote author David Whyte

Sound familiar?

Here are two big reasons why other people make it hard to get things done, and how you can overcome them:

1. People gravitate towards checklists over concepts.

Several years ago I was the President of my church’s board of directors. One of my goals was to create a more welcoming environment for visitors. I provided some examples, the greeter could offer to take visitors on a tour, or inquire about how they found us.

We agreed. It was handed off to a committee. Two months later, I watched as a greeter tersely told a visitor, “It’s my job to take you on a tour and find out why you’re here,” whereupon she began dragging him around the building and firing questions at him.

The true purpose - make visitors feel welcome - had been replaced by a rigid checklist that had the opposite effect.

Somewhere between the original board meeting, the committee meeting and the greeter training, the conceptual purposeful element had been lost.

Solution: Keep the original purpose alive by stating it and writing it down - If I had to do it over again, I would have said very plainly - Please keep in mind, our purpose is to make visitors feel welcome. I would have put it at the top of every email, and I would have asked every greeter, what can you do to make people feel welcome?

2. People want 100 percent when 80 percent is good enough.

A sales team I work with wanted to establish protocols to improve customer responsiveness. They created six quick solutions for scenarios that represented 80% of customer requests. Yet at every meeting people said, “But what about this?” “What about that?” bringing up much less likely scenarios in their attempt to cover everything.

The end result was a huge binder of scenarios that took three months to complete, and is rarely used because it is so complex.

Focus: Imperfect forward progress is better than waiting for perfection.

Steve Jobs once said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”

It’s easier to do small stuff by yourself, but to get the big wins you have to work with other people.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant for companies like Apple, Kimberly-Clark and Pfizer.

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