Countering Work Avoidance: A Key Tool for Executing Toward Results

The primary work of Results Based Leadership is to make progress towards a desired population level result for a given group of people and/or a specific place. However, as stakeholders and partners move into execution to achieve the result, organizational and systems barriers will have to be confronted. These organizational and systems barriers might look like:

  • An unwillingness to name dysfunctional behaviors or practices that are impeding the results work
  • An over-commitment on activities that may not contribute to achieving the desired result
  • A lack of accountability on promises and commitments that are made
  • An ongoing and persistent gap between what is wanted and what is actually happening

There comes a time when results leaders have to acknowledge that “every system is designed perfectly to produce the results that are currently being produced.” With this awareness, results leaders have to take the bold step to shake up the status quo and disrupt systems by asking their stakeholders (including themselves) to do the hard work needed to see the ways they have contributed to (and perhaps benefitted from) things staying the way they are. And, in doing this, they have to be ready for the inevitable resistance to this disruption that stakeholders will feel and associated “Work Avoidance.”

Watch for two types of work avoidance:  Diversion of Attention and Displacing Responsibility

Diversion of Attention might look like:

  • Defining the problem to fit current knowledge and expertise
  • Denying the problem exists
  • Avoiding the conflict 
  • Creating a proxy fight, such as a personality conflict, to avoid addressing the real problem. 
  • Discounting solutions that threaten legacy behaviors and relationships
  • Offering fake, pretend, or marginal solutions

Displacing Responsibility Might Look Like:

  • Marginalizing or attacking the person trying to raise the difficult issues.
  • Scapegoating someone or externalizing the “enemy” 
  • Attacking or blaming formal authority
  • Delegating the hard work to those who can’t do anything about it

Once work avoidance is identified, the best line of defense against it is to place the attention back on the work designed to produce the population level result. Bring every discussion back to the data at hand, including data that tracks the implementation of programs, achievement of performance measures, progress of strategies, meeting of targets, and changes in the population level result.

“The safest place for a leader to stand is on the foundation of results” – Raj Chawla

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