And why might someone not do his job?

Why do people fail to do what they are supposed to do? We’re quick to pin the blame on individuals, when it may be a system problem or a management problem.

So to list just a few of the reasons some one might not be doing his/her job (or some aspect of it):

They think they are doing it. That’s a mismatch between expectations or a mis-communication.

They don’t know why they should do it. When people don’t see a reason to do something, or the impact of not doing something, it may drop to the bottom of the priority list.

They think the what they are supposed to do won’t work, or will make things worse. Let’s face it some of the stuff that comes down from management is a crock. Like when I was told not to give feedback to any of the contractors on a project I was managing. So I’m supposed to let them continue doing something wrong that will jeopardize the project? I think not.

They think something else is more important. People do what they think is most important. And when priorities aren’t clear, they do what they find most interesting or enjoyable.

There is some negative consequence (maybe not obvious) for doing some aspect of their job. Like following a new standard (like “all errors will be handled without terminating the program”), I’ll have to sift through 1/2M lines of code in a legacy system, find all the instances that violate the standard, fix them, and test the fixes. Oh, and not miss the deadline on some other project.

There are obstacles outside of their control. Dependencies outside the team, lead-times on ordering equipment, facilities rules, policies, procedures….

Problems off the job. I worked with a guy who was dropping the ball with some parts of his job. When I talked to him, I found out that he was going through a messy divorce, and was spending a lot of time with lawyers and mediators. I got him hooked up with employee assistance for support and arranged time off for appointments. And that was enough to solve the work problem.

No one could do the job. Like trying to fit 10 pounds of rocks in a 5 pound bucket. Or completing a project or task in a time period that no one could.

System problems are management problems, not individual problems.

Incomplete communication about a task or job is a management problem.

Not setting context is a management problem.

Unrealistic expectations are a management problem.

That said, I’ve seen managers spend huge amounts–several hours a week for a period of months–of time helping one person reach minimum acceptable performance, and that’s a mis-allocation of a scarce resource (management time).

So look at how the system may be contributing to the problem. And look at how you as a manager, might be contributing to the problem. Then fix the problem rather than affixing blame, and do it quickly.