Sitting in a Training Seminar last week, on Risk Management & Governance for a Not-for-Profit Board of which I am a Director, I was fascinated by a discussion about the challenge of getting Board Members (in this case, all volunteers) and sometimes staff members to deliver on the action items & tasks assigned to them.

With all the best of intentions, items can easily fall off people’s “to do” lists, especially as most lists are long or seemingly endless!

When I’m working with a business owner or manager on getting better results from their team(s), we often end up in conversations about how to “motivate” the team to get more done. The truth is that we can’t motivate others – we can only create an environment which encourages them to be motivated themselves.

One thing to keep in mind is that people only do things for one of two reasons – to decrease pain or increase pleasure. Sounds simple, right? If there is no negative consequence or real “pain” incurred by not doing something (and I don’t mean physical pain) and no positive consequence (enjoyment or ”pleasure”) in doing it, then it’s highly likely that it won’t get done!

In the scenario discussed at the seminar, there was no consequence for not doing (except putting up with being reminded that it wasn’t done yet!) and no real pay-off for getting it done (except for not being bugged anymore!), so the procrastination continued. Eventually, the job was taken over by someone else and the issue was fixed. The person who was supposed to do it was delighted to have it off their “to-do” list!

The challenge here is that the next time this person is assigned a “non-urgent” task that they’re not very keen on, it’s highly likely that the same scenario will play out. The message to all staff is that the reward for procrastination is that someone else will pick up the pieces!

So, to reinvent your team’s response to their projects and tasks, take a careful look at the consequences and get creative in having clear incentives and disincentives to produce the outcome you want!