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Teams are expected to produce results

Columnist Dave Conrad says the path to success is paved with small, attainable goals and realistic expectations.

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Dave,

It seems like my team gives up on things way too easily. They throw in the towel before giving their best efforts toward a project or a change. Everything gets tabled or just squashed. Management is starting to wonder if my team can handle necessary work challenges — and if I am management material. I don’t want to lose my job because of my team’s work avoidance. Why do people give up on things so easily and what can be done about it?

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Dear R,

Winston Churchill said, “Never give up on anything you can’t go a day without thinking about.”

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We start off with the best of intentions, but we also start off projects and tasks with some pessimism, skepticism and fear. The problem is, we often let even the smallest obstacles derail us, because we believe they are much more adverse than they really are.

Work can be tough — it can make us masters of avoiding, starting or completing it. Remember that the times when it’s most important to persevere are the times that you will be most tested.

But please know, you and your team are being evaluated all of the time and you can’t act like worriers that quit any project before you even have a chance to see how you can manage it.

Also, remember, your management role and responsibilities require you to ask your employees what and when they are going to do get some work done on a project or task. You have license to demand an explanation of the plans and strategies your employees will use to get their work done. So, “toughen up” and make your employees “toughen up." But please take care to tell your staff how you will be available to help them.

More on why people give up

I think the biggest reason people give up is, because they only look at how far they have to go, instead of how far they have gotten. We should be proud of what have accomplished, and not be discouraged or overwhelmed by what we still have to do. We simply cannot let the distance between where we are and where we need to be “scare the pejeepers” out of us.

Often, when the band, the speeches and all the hoopla has died down, we lose the motivation to dig into the work and start hitting home runs again. Some management experts would say that we may just become complacent, even lazy, and our initial energy and passion have waned to the point where we start doubting ourselves and even think, “Why in the heck did I even embark on this mission?” Then, collective doubting kicks in and all you start hearing are excuses, arguments and reasons why this or that cannot be accomplished, and not why they can.

Research shows that the attraction for whatever we hope to do is a far less powerful motivating force than our desire to avoid the inevitable pain we experience while we’re trying to achieve them. Simply, “pain avoidance” is more powerful than pleasure fulfillment. I think we all know that great feeling that we have when we have accomplished things fully and in a quality fashion.

Another reason we get discouraged and quit too early is because we set our expectations too high to begin with. Setting aggressive, but reasonable and doable goals will help keep your energy and momentum going, while building your confidence to hit them. Simply, you can’t go to the moon if your rocket can barely get off of the ground.

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Staying motivated

So how can you and your team stay motivated and remain on track with your goals? Here's what you and your team can do:

Think “Why” or our purpose. When I get discouraged or frustrated with my work, I just think about my "Why" and the reason I am doing (or not doing) my difficult but doable work. Thinking about my "Why" gives me focus and motivation.

Teams must know their goals. The larger the goals, the more work it takes to hit them. Have your team break up the goals into “bite-sized” and measurable action items that, if met, will fulfill the larger goals. And make sure you help them obtain the resources they need to complete the work.

Assign roles and accountability. Make sure everyone knows their responsibilities and how performance will be evaluated. Then, encourage your staff to motivate each other by keeping a positive attitude and praising work well done.

Incremental rewards. Have your team take the time to celebrate even even their small successes. Reward their insights and discoveries, not just the end result. As one of my Rochester management colleagues says, “What gets rewarded, gets repeated.”

In conclusion, please often believe that some pursuits are an actual waste of time and resources. And they may be right that there will be times when you should throw in the towel. So, set up realistic measures, so you know exactly when it may be time to change course or abandon an undoable project. However, please don’t set easily attainable goals that do not produce anything.

Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at conradd@augsburg.edu . Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.

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