If you are genetically gifted with the ability to get results that other people claim are highly unlikely or darn near impossible, you don’t need to read this. But if you are faced with an insurmountable “To Do” list, here are twelve predictable (and avoidable) pitfalls that could stand between you and your goals.
1. Forgetting about the customer. Henry Ford said that the company doesn’t pay employees a salary, the customer does. The employer is just the middleman. But many businesses operate as though the customer is an afterthought. If you want to be successful, be completely and unrepentantly obsessed with the customer, whether internal or external.
2. Failure to set clear goals. According to a blizzard of studies and my own observations over the past 20 years, the number one reason people don’t achieve their goals is that they don’t have clear goals. Fear of failure prevent people from clear goal setting or makes them settle for fuzzy, ambiguous goals. Double your chances of success by making sure that you and your co-workers have shared, measurable, challenging, and achievable goals.3. Poor communication. Even with clear and compelling goals, inadequate communication undermines your chances of achieving those goals. Most people don’t realize that communication involves both talking and listening. Many conversations are like two televisions facing each other. Highly successful people avoid this all too common pitfall by engaging in effective and continual communication with all stakeholders.
4. Fuzzy roles and responsibilities. Fumbled handoffs and the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing commonly cause setbacks along the road to success. One of the biggest causes of conflict is the lack of clarity. Assure that roles and responsibilities are clearly understood and agreed to by all.
5. Inadequate planning and fictitious schedules. Every hour of planning saves about a day of wasted effort and rework. And yet, given the choice, most people will either under-plan or fail to plan at all. Even detailed schedules can do little more than document the demise of the people carrying out the plan. Overlooking critical handoffs and interdependencies can add days, weeks, or months to the completion date of a goal. Savvy professionals create viable plans and schedules that have the team’s commitment.
6. Fail to imagine disasters and visualize the upside. Many people are so busy just working on the tasks at hand that they fail to look around for possible potholes that could have a major impact on results. Even when risks are identified, the most common mistake is to do nothing to avoid them. Those in the know mitigate risks before they occur and keep a keen lookout for the upside that can accelerate and amplify success.
7. Treat everything as the top priority. If everything is number one, nothing is. We’d love to have it all, but choices inevitably have to be made. Sometimes costs need to increase to obtain a satisfactory level of quality. Sometimes features must be sacrificed in the name of reliability or to hit a hard deadline. The reality is sometimes you must prioritize ruthlessly.
8. Acting surprised when changes occur. There isn’t a project on earth that has been accomplished without some kind of change impacting the project. And yet people continue to let change throw them off balance. Change is inevitable, except from vending machines. The world is changing rapidly and your projects are too, so anticipate and accommodate necessary and inevitable change.
9. Falling victim to self-limiting assumptions. Of all the obstacles we face in life, none are bigger than those of our own making. We fail to consider possibilities outside of our experience or possibilities that in the past have been off limits, because we have self-limiting beliefs about what is possible. We miss opportunities right in front of our noses because of the filters of our experience. Avoid this trap by routinely challenging assumptions and beliefs, especially self-imposed limitations.
10. Failing to manage stakeholder expectations. What is a stakeholder? Anyone who cares about your project and/or anyone who can help or hurt the achievement of your goals. Most people fail to identify key stakeholders who could dramatically accelerate or undermine success. A stakeholder map is a powerful stakeholder analysis tool that clarifies goals. After visualizing all stakeholders and their interrelationships, ask, “What will this stakeholder say when this project is wildly successful?” Frequently, expectations will be in conflict, forcing tough decisions and trade-offs to the surface. Managing the expectations of all stakeholders up front increases the likelihood that the success of accomplishing your goals will be shared.
11. Repeating the mistakes of the past. A common practice is completing a “retrospective”, where things that went well and things that went sideways are reviewed with the intention of avoiding similar problems in the future. However, the mistakes tend to look pretty much the same each time through. There’s a difference between ten years experience and one year of experience ten times. Learn from experience – make new mistakes each time!
12. Not being grateful for what’s going well. We seem to be conditioned from an early age to notice what’s not working and to focus on criticism instead of appreciation. This bias toward critique is reinforced by a society where negative people appear smarter. Recognizing what’s working well is equally important. Appreciating our contributions and those of others provides much needed motivation. Even mistakes can open doorways to new possibilities, especially in the world of creativity and innovation. Practice an attitude of gratitude. Celebrate successes along the way – and some failures too!
Feeling lucky? Play the lottery. But if you want to generate positive results predictably and reliably, follow these practical and sensible guidelines for getting things done. Being aware that heeding these land mines on the path to success doesn’t guarantee success, but at least you’ll encounter new, surprising, and more exciting problems.by