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? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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:
- Diagonal Collaborations: Dazzling or Dangerous?
- Collaborations can be very productive. There are some traps though, especially when the collaborators
are of different rank, with the partner of lower rank reporting to a peer of the other. Here are some
tips for preventing conflict in diagonal collaborations.
- The True Costs of Cubicles
- Although cubicles do provide facility cost savings compared with walled offices, they do so at the price
of product development delays and increased product development costs. Decisions of facilities planners
can have dramatic project schedule impact.
- Making Meaning
- When we see or hear the goings-on around us, we interpret them to make meaning and significance. Some
interpretations are thoughtful, but most are almost instantaneous. Since the instantaneous ones are
sometimes goofy or dangerous, here's a look at how we make interpretations.
- Confirmation Bias: Workplace Consequences Part II
- We continue our exploration of confirmation bias. In this Part II, we explore its effects in management
- Solutions as Found Art
- Examining the most innovative solutions we've developed for difficult problems, we often find that they
aren't purely new. Many contain pieces of familiar ideas and techniques combined together in new ways.
Accepting this as a starting point can change our approach to problem solving.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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.