Why Don’t Things Get Done? 3 Reasons Your Company is Stuck

Why Don’t Things Get Done?

The following is a guest article from Bill Mills of Executive Group, Inc. Bill will be speaking at our Minnesota CEO & Business Owner Conference on October 8.

billmillsAs a leader in your organization you have a responsibility to get things done. These things need to be done correctly, on time and on budget. They also, for the most part, need to be done by other people.

This is a problem, but probably not for the reasons you think.

It is true that people are fallible. We, as a species, can be indecisive, inconsistent, emotional and unpredictable. We can get ourselves over committed and distracted. We have the whirlwind of daily activity that over-fills our plates, none of which means that we are not trustworthy or capable.

A few years back Harvard reported that 90% of managers failed to put significant time and energy into the vital few initiatives that would drive their companies forward. (Check out Beware the Busy Manager, https://hbr.org/2002/02/beware-the-busy-manager.) The Covey organization reports that based upon their firsthand research, 87% of employees do not know what they should be doing to achieve their goals.

So whether it’s 87% or 90%, the problem is clear: people are the problem! I mean, after all, it must be THEM, right? If you’re still not convinced, how about the Covey research that found 49% of employees were not committed to company goals and 81% lacked any accountability for their goals? IT MUST BE THEM!

If you’re feeling a little anxious about blaming these abysmal statistics on your people, it may be because you’ve seen what I’ve seen over my 27 years of working with managers, executives and business owners. More than ever the business mantra seems to be, fire fast. More than ever I hear managers tracing breakdowns back to individuals and then feeling tremendous pressure to replace them. But my experience has taught me something else as well. I’ve seen rock stars in one company fail miserably in another. I’ve come to believe that if you pit a great person against a bad process, the smart money bets on the process. I believe, in all fairness to our employees, before we fire people for not being a right person in the right seat we consider three other processes first.

Process #1: The Leadership Process

The leadership process is a process that must be followed by people who manage other people. This process is designed to enroll people in such a way that they bring their complete commitment, engagement and creativity into their work. Unless an employee’s manager is competently executing the leadership process, how can we blame the employee for lackluster results? And if you find yourself saying, “What are the steps of this process?” we may have uncovered a big reason people are being labeled as bad hires.

Process #2: The Structural Process

The structural process is the process by which an organization is designed. There are three fundamental design mistakes that are present in most every company, and they create symptoms that look a lot like people issues rather than design issues. Mistake number 1 is not accurately understanding the requirements of a role and matching it to a person’s capabilities. PeopleSmart Inc. surveyed 4,400 roles and found that 48% of the time people were incorrectly matched to their job’s requirement. They found that 34% of the time (mistake number 2) job functions were reporting to an inappropriate higher function. This meant that a functional role was either reporting to a functional role that essentially overlapped responsibilities or reported to a functional role that was much higher in the structure than it should be. Mistake number 3: PeopleSmart Inc. found that 52% of the time an employee’s manager did not have the appropriate personal capability to manage effectively. The manager was too far removed from the work to provide adequate support and direction or they were too close in the case of a working manager who essentially did the same work as the employee.

If an employee isn’t expertly led, supported and matched to the job at hand, how can we blame them? And how can we avoid blaming the next employee if we don’t have a process to fix the structure?

Process #3: The Process of Work

We talk about working smarter . . . then we go back to work.

In 1993 I was working in the emerging field of Organizational Culture. Our process was amazingly fast. In about 4 hours we could help companies identify their organizational values and rally around them. This shaved 1 to 1.5 days off the standard approaches of the day. Now I’ve learned a process that produces the same results in about an hour.

Toyota can build a new car in under 20 hours with virtually no defects. Mercedes spends more time fixing problems on their new cars than Toyota spends making a car. That’s all due to the process they use. Maybe, when we do a root cause analysis of a breakdown, we need to look past the poor soul standing in the wreckage and see the work process that put them there.

I love Peter Senge’s classic observation: Your organization is perfectly designed to give you the results you are currently experiencing.

Before we start our next witch hunt, let’s be sure to check off all the boxes of leadership, structure and work process first. We might just find a whole army of productive, capable people right under our noses and when we fix a bad process we can hold our heads up and say, “No employees were harmed in the improvement of our company.”


Bill Mills is the CEO of Executive Group, Inc. (www.mnexecutivegroup.com), a business owner peer group organization that focuses on helping companies achieve market leadership. He will be presenting some of these ideas and practical solutions at the Minnesota CEO & Business Owner Conference in October.

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