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The most frequent question managers ask me is, “Why don’t people ever do what I want them to do?”

The common explanations are that employees are lazy, disagreeable, nasty or just plain stupid. The usual solution is to try to replace them. The next person hired often seems no better. The truth of the matter is very different. 

We live in a world that places great importance on what a person is supposed to BE. People get recruited because they have many university degrees or because they have a “great personality” or “look right”. This is all about what they ARE (or can BE). 

The working world also concentrates on what a person is supposed to DO. Most people are paid based on the hours they “work” (attend the workplace). This assumes that if they are at their place of work for 8 hours, they “worked” (DO) for 8 hours. People are paid to DO things. 

All this may look fine until we consider how a business gets paid. Businesses are paid for results. Your car has a small dint and you want it removed. This is what you want to HAVE. This is the RESULT (PRODUCT) you want. You get a quote of $1000 to fix it. That seems OK and you leave the car with the repairer. Two days later you go to collect the car. You check the car and the dint is fixed. You pay the $1000 and drive away happy. Even though the quote may have detailed the hours it took to do the work you don’t really care. You wanted to HAVE the car fixed and you got that. You got the PRODUCT you wanted.

So, we have the company manager hiring people based on what they ARE (can BE). He tells them to DO things. He pays them based on the hours they attend work.  And he receives income from his customers based on what is PRODUCED (what they can HAVE). It shouldn’t be difficult to see that this is all rather odd. 

People can BE very nice or very qualified yet produce little. Others can be very busy DOING things yet produce little. Then there are those people who think only in terms of PRODUCTS (results). They may be very nice or not so nice. They may be highly qualified or not. Because they naturally feel they are employed to PRODUCE things that others want to HAVE, they are naturally PRODUCTIVE. 

The good manager says, “Produce this, or bring me 10 of these, or this week’s quota is 400 items”. And he will probably get what he has asked for. The bad manager says, “Do this task” (with no result stated). Very bad managers run around saying, “Get busy, work harder, do more”. One of our clients would sit in his office worrying if his employees were ‘pumped’ or not (a state of BEING) or step outside to inspect them and then fret and complain if they were not “really busy”. Yet he had never defined exactly what they were to PRODUCE.

“Why don’t people ever do what I want them to do?” is the wrong question. The question should be ““Why don’t people produce what they are supposed to produce?”, and the answer to that question is very simple. It’s because they are never asked to. 

We have hugely improved the productivity of our client organisations by doing one very simple thing. Beginning with the top management down, we sit with every employee and help them to work out what it is they are supposed to PRODUCE and we write that in their job description. What or how they are supposed to BE or what they are supposed to DO is barely discussed. By that one action, production improves significantly. That means more products are delivered to customers and that means more income for the company.

As an example, we were asked to help turn around a US$1 billion construction project that was six months behind schedule and US$100 million over budget. We helped each one of the top 50 executives, including the Project Director, to understand what their required PRODUCT was. The result was an immediate improvement in production and the project was completed six months ahead of schedule and US$ 100 million under budget. 

Insist that people are nice, and you will get niceness – not necessarily production. 

Tell people to “Get Busy”, and you will get busyness but maybe little production. 

Think products, ask for products and you will get production. And, of course, they will be doing what you want them to be doing. 

It is also important to note that productive people are happy people and are therefore very nice to work with. 

Peter Simpson