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3 Strategies for Getting Things Done - Part 1

26 April 2017

Previously on this blog, I’ve mentioned the 3 Forces of Friction; forces that separate effort in organisations, creating “us and them” dynamics and making working together for shared goals and with a shared purpose, harder than it needs to be.

These forces are:

  1. How performance is managed - focusing on individuals, parts and activity rather than on the purpose and value of work in the round;
  2. How agendas are set - by others and for others not with others and together;
  3. An urgency for results - an emphasis on quick wins over systemic changes that would provide a platform for greater and exponential improvements.

Taken together, these forces tip organisations into many of the dysfunctional behaviours that they get and, in so doing, make it harder to generate and sustain the behaviours that they need in order to improve.

At the nexus where the 3 forces meet is how to approach the job of getting things done, for which there are 3 basic options; convince, coerce or coproduce.

Over the next 3 days I’m going to look at what happens when we employ each of these strategies for getting things done, starting today with CONVINCE.


When we look to convince others, we start with a prior view - something that already makes sense to us - and we focus on getting others to buy into it.

As often as not though, others will have their own prior view too, which may differ from our own. The focus for change can therefore quickly become how to win the argument.

To do this, reports may be written and data sought. There might be some good debates. Everything could proceed in ways that appear and feel entirely collegiate. Sometimes, we may even enjoy the process.

However, in his book Polarity Management, Barry Johnson shows just how ineffective this approach to getting things done is.

Faced with arguments that are offered to support a view that I don’t already agree with, there are a few possibilities. I can:

  • question the data (Is it valid?);
  • question the logic of the argument (Can we conclude that from this?);
  • qualify the argument (Is that what’s really important here?);
  • assimilate the data or the argument into my own point of view (What that tells me is that I’m right);
  • change my view.

Of all of these, the least likely is the last.

In fact, for every positive argument that is offered in support of a view that I don’t already hold, I’m more likely to hear what’s missing than what’s said.

For example, someone else’s assertion that “Centralising services will create economies of scale”, when passed through the filter of my prior held views, may only raise the question, “What about economies of flow?”.

I don’t hear the positive argument or I don’t credit it with the weight that its author intends because I already hold an opposing view.

And any assertion that I make in return doesn’t advance the debate, it just pushes my view through someone else’s opposing filter, pushing us further apart; polarising us in opinion rather than uniting us in action.

All else being equal, on it will go, opposing arguments being traded either into infinity - and confounding the need to get things done - or until one or other or both parties conclude that the other simply doesn’t understand; a profound deepening and calcification of the "us and them" at heart of the Forces of Friction.

Ultimately then, a focus on securing buy in through attempts to CONVINCE others is not only ineffective, it’s counter productive.

Come back tomorrow for what happens when organisations adopt COERCION as their means to getting things done.


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