Sometimes we work hard to achieve a goal, but measurable progress remains elusive. We sense movement, but we aren't making progress. It can happen in any organizational effort — projects, new product development, research, process improvement, organizational change — anything. And it can happen in Life — career advancement, weight loss, pursuing a dream.
When this happens, what can we do? Here are seven popular ways to get nowhere and what can be done about them.
- Irrelevant effort
- The work itself isn't relevant to progress. Perhaps it's progress-neutral, or it might be progress in a direction unimportant right now (or ever).
- Review what you're doing. Exactly how does it move you towards the goal?
- Self-canceling effort
- The work underway might have both positive and negative effects that cancel each other out. An example: digging a hole but failing to throw the extracted dirt out of the hole.
- Are you doing anything that erodes the value of the overall effort?
- Misleading measurement
- The method of measuring progress might be faulty. It registers no progress, but progress is actually real.
- How do you measure progress? Why do you believe that there's a connection between progress and whatever you measure?
- Running in circles
- Even though each bit of effort moves you forward, you eventually revisit wherever you are. A form even more difficult to detect is like Brownian motion — you rarely (or never) revisit any one spot but the average position doesn't change.
- What's the evidence that the work underway actually produces steady advancement?
- Missing pieces
- The work requires Unity of purpose requires
memos and orations alone
cannot achieve it.infrastructure that you don't yet have in place. Consequently, the progress you do make is periodically erased. Bailing out a leaky rowboat without first addressing the leaks is a good example.
- Is there anything you could have done earlier that would have made what you're doing now any easier? Is it too late to go back and do it?
- Someone or some people are actively working against progress — political foes, disgruntled team members, or even yourself. Maybe you're aware of this, or perhaps some of it is outside your awareness, becoming visible only episodically.
- Have you talked with those involved in this conflict? If not, what would happen if you brought the issue into the open? Could it possibly be worse than what's happening now?
- Disunity of purpose
- Here the different elements of the group (or the different parts of your Self) are all working steadily and making good progress, but they do so in different directions with different goals in mind. In some situations, this disunity becomes clear only after a revealing incident.
- Unity of purpose requires investment. Announcements, memos, and orations alone cannot achieve it. Unity of purpose follows only from extensive mutual communication.
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenuQKLUMsVubCpqOpqner@ChacCCvpZbzKGsgliMGNoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Learn from the Mastodon
- Not long ago, Mastodons roamed North America in large numbers. Cousins to the elephant, they thrived
in the cool, sub-glacial climate. But the climate warmed, and human hunters arrived. The Mastodon couldn't
adapt, and now it's extinct. Change is now coming to your profession. Can you adapt?
- It's a Wonderful Day!
- Most knowledge workers are problem solvers. We work towards goals. We anticipate problems as best we
can, and when problems appear, we solve them. But our focus on anticipating problems can become a problem
in itself — at work and in Life.
- Finding Work in Tough Times: Communications
- Finding work in tough times entails presenting yourself to many people. You'll be conversing, interviewing,
writing, presenting, and when you're finally successful, negotiating.
- Deciding to Change: Choosing
- When organizations decide to change what they do, the change sometimes requires that they change how
they make decisions, too. That part of the change is sometimes overlooked, in part, because it affects
most the people who make decisions. What can we do about this?
- Creating Toxic Conflict: II
- Some supervisors seem to behave as if part of their job description is creating toxic conflict among
their subordinates. It isn't really, of course, but here's a collection of methods bad managers use
that make trouble.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenuQKLUMsVubCpqOpqner@ChacCCvpZbzKGsgliMGNoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.