Recipe for Zero Action

“I wish I could fire this guy,” Evan told me. “I ask him to do something – I’m very specific – and then he doesn’t do it. I asked him to finish that survey and bring it back to me. I get nothing. Is he lazy? Or is he stupid?”

I asked Evan to tell me how he went about asking this employee to finish the survey. “I just tell him to do the survey,” he said. “How hard is that? And if he looks like he doesn’t understand, I explain it to him. Last week I explained that we need to have every employee fill this survey out so we can get credit toward our next training series. Every single person filled it in except Dale. What’s with this guy?”

Evan needed to look at what was wrong with his request, not what’s wrong with Dale. First, he never gave Dale a “By When” on that assignment. Without a due date, the request is incomplete.

Second, he assumed that explaining the importance of the survey would get Dale into action. Understanding doesn’t cause action – something all of us who would like to lose 10 pounds know very well. We understand exactly how to lose 10 pounds (eat less, exercise more, right?), but that doesn’t get us to take the appropriate actions to produce the result.

You can be pretty sure that people will not do much for you when you make these two mistakes. Practice adding a due date and time to your requests. And don’t trust explanations to make anything happen: giving someone information is not the same as making a clean request.

Evan still has a chip on his shoulder about Dale, but at least he won’t forget to say “By When” next time.

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