Why Do People Do What They Do?

You’re at work.

You find out that someone on your team who reports to you failed to do what they were supposed to do.  Again.

It’s a leader who agreed to coach his team, but he prefers to stay in his office and let them “have their freedom” instead. He “doesn’t want to micromanage them.”

…or an employee who short-cut a key procedure. 

…or someone who is perpetually late and unprepared for your meeting.

What do you do?

Believe it or not, even if people won’t admit it…the most common action leaders take is…

…they do nothing. Or…

…they email something to the person.

We can all hopefully agree that these are not likely to fix the problem unless it was a one-time mistake.

The next most common response is “to talk to them”.

This is a great idea, but there are thousands of ways to approach the discussion.

I teach entire courses on having these conversations and even wrote a book about it.

However, for today, I have two ideas you might try out when this happens. 

  1. Ask great questions. 

  2. Search for causes (PDC)

As we learned from Pat Friman in his must-watch TED talk, there is always a baby in the back seat.

But how do we figure out what is behind the behavior we are seeing? And why would we even want to do such a thing?

Studies show that if you find and address the causes of a particular behavior, your solution will be more effective and last longer.

If you ask questions or observe, you should be able to figure out some or most of the causes. 

The factors that cause a behavior to happen can be summarized in 4 categories of items. 

Information – 

  • Do they have what they need? 
  • Is there a reminder in the environment at the point of performance? 
  • Have you discussed it with them explicitly?
  • Have you agreed upon behavioral expectations?

Equipment and Processes – are either of these lacking? 

  • Are they written? 
  • Easily findable and understandable?

Skills and Knowledge – 

  • Have they demonstrated they can do the behavior you are expecting? 
  • Can they describe to you what they are supposed to do?

Motivation and Consequences – 

  • Are there sufficient positive consequences for the behavior? 
  • Is there more reinforcement for the behavior they are doing instead? 
  • Are there barriers you can help remove? 


If you want an entire list of questions you can ask,
download this performance diagnostic checklist (PDC) that I developed along with Dr. Jim Carr and Dr. Jon Bailey. 

Here is a list of downloadable studies where we’ve demonstrated the effectiveness of using checklists like the PDC to improve organizational performance. There are more studies out there using the various versions of the PDC – if you know of them, reply to this email and send them to me. 

If you are in a human services setting, there is also the PDC-HS.  (Link)

One good thing about a tool like this is that it can help even inexperienced individuals solve work problems.

Using the checklist might not solve all your problems, but having dialogues like these can improve your relationships at work.

Have you used these tools before? How well did they work for you? Write to me and tell me about it!

Concerned about staff turnover?

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