Why People Don’t Follow Through

By Dr. Mary Kay

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

In today’s competitive world, an organization that is successful is a learning organization—they invest in employee engagement and in leadership development.

Toward this end, progressive leaders use a learning curve when working with their teams to present priorities and tasks so that the information will stick.

Doesn’t it drive you crazy when you discuss a topic, and you have to go over it again and again? You will love using the learning curve to stop this frustration and increase your leadership skills.

Leaders want team members to do what they agree to, but it’s not always a straight path to such results. Understanding how people learn makes such a difference in getting things done.

To help you lead others to greater achievements, I want you to think about structuring your conversations according to how adults learn. This requires following the learning curve versus a straight path of communication.

How to Increase Results

I’ve found that people learn in four stages:

  • NORM: their current mindset or attitude
  • STORM: their initial reaction or resistance
  • FORM: the light bulb goes on – they understand
  • PERFORM: they get it done the first time – wahoo!

Why Norms?

To get results, we must work with our team members’ Norms, or their points of view. This sounds simple, but in reality, we often get off on the wrong foot.

For example, we become so focused on our mindset and what needs to get done that we overlook finding out what someone else thinks. This is our first mistake.

Real Life Example

“I’ve got an announcement to make,” we might say. “We’re switching the time we come to work next week. Let me tell you about it.” As we speak (hopefully, the message wasn’t sent by e-mail!) on this subject, team members grow more and more anxious, thinking of all the reasons why this sudden change will not work for them.

After we are through explaining the entire situation, we end the meeting with this question, “So, does anyone have any questions?” and everyone looks at each other in silence. “Okay,” we conclude. “Then the new schedule will start next week.”

Let’s reflect on this example and discuss what is going to happen next. We leave the meeting thinking it has been a good meeting and everyone is on board with the change. Feels good! In the meantime, everyone else is upset and disgusted and discusses it behind your back.

What happened? We have forced communication away from us and into the hallways and restrooms. I know this isn’t going to be popular, but WE have put the rumor mill into action.


Finding out about your employees’ norms (attitudes), however, can turn a situation like this right around. All you have to do is ask some questions: “Starting next week, we have to start coming an hour earlier. What do you all think about that?”

Leaders invite the input that “old school” managers actively avoid, knowing that it’s the only way to get the support of the team—especially when the topic is a difficult one.

Why Do We Want People to Complain?

Once the question (“What do you all think about that?”) is out there, then comes the Storm, which is the natural reaction most people have when you introduce them to anything new.  It’s how we learn! The brain is trying to process new information. It’s perfectly normal to resist change. Why? It’s the second step to learning.

It’s important to let people ride this Storm out. It’s not beneficial or productive to stop it.  If we don’t let team members communicate their thoughts and feelings, we will plug their learning curves.

In other words, the Storm doesn’t go away, so we need to let people vent (what I call – dump their bucket) with us rather than have them vent when they leave. Think about it – don’t you have people at work that have been Storming for years?

I’m sure you are storming about this theory right now and thinking about how things could get disruptive or out of control. Good! That means your brain is thinking about what I’m proposing.

People Will Commit to a Plan

To Form means to understand, to commit to a plan. It is during this stage that the proverbial light bulbs will turn on over your team members’ heads as they begin to come up with their own solutions to the new situation at hand. This really does happen if you don’t try to fix the Storm.

This aspect of the Form phase is important because, as humans, we remember (or follow through on) little of the information we are supposed to absorb, especially when someone is dictating it to us.


Some studies have shown that we only retain 20% of what we write, 20% of what we hear, and 20% of what we see. However, we remember 80% of what we say and do ourselves, so it stands to reason that it’s most effective to allow your team members to become involved in the solution-forming process.

Hands-on involvement makes a lasting impression on our brains. In short, if you want people to hear what you’re saying, you do the talking; if you want them to really learn it and follow through, they need to do the talking.

Getting Things Done

Once team members have dumped their buckets, the brain will start to formulate solutions. Try it. Haven’t you been disgusted with something or someone before and vented to a friend? After you dumped your bucket, you started verbalizing solutions. What did your friend do? Just listened to you vent. They listened without fixing.

If you allow people to follow this learning curve—from beginning to end, without interruptions or shortcuts—you will achieve ongoing, sustained results and add another tool to your leadership toolkit.

So Why Don’t all Managers do This?

Mostly because they have not attended leadership training that provides answers to real-life people problems. Or they fear the learning curve process itself. The NORM, STORM, FORM, PERFORM learning curve creates a lot of energy as it goes along, to the extent that many reactive managers feel the need to contain it.

Their “old school” management skill set causes them to defend themselves against the opposition, to fix Storming, and to engage by doing most of the talking, which in turn is the exact opposite method for getting results through people.

This isn’t just a theory – it works. This is why our customers use our on-site resources to teach their managers and key people the learning curve. All the members of your team (and family) want you to do is communicate and listen when you propose a new idea; it’s up to you to keep those lines open to channel their learning experience.

In return, people will follow through on new ideas because you have created an opportunity for learning, commitment, and buy-in. When you let your team members express themselves without shutting them down, even the ones who oppose your requests the most will become your greatest advocates.

How Do You Get People to Follow Through?

If you have ideas that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Would you like to contribute a post?

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Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and co-founder of the About Leaders community. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained thousands of leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Success course helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Stephen B. Carman says:

    Dr. Whitaker,

    Thank you for your article. I agree team dynamics and effective communication are essential from the leader. I would add that understanding situational leadership can also aid any leader as they work with their team.

    Additionally, I have found when I am working with a team that takes accountability personally, the dynamics between and within the team seem to be much smoother. One excellent resource is from IMPAQ [http://www.impaqcorp.com/accountability-resources/why-accountability/#].

    @MarkSSamuel has developed a Personal Accountability Model that can be used by anyone (leader or follower) to move from what they describe as a victim loop to an accountability loop.

    While it may be tempting for leaders to “push this on our people” an alternative is to model this as a leader and encourage others to adopt this personal accountability ethic themselves.


    Stephen B. Carman

  • Great article, I really enjoyed it. I would love to post this on my blog….

  • vince p mayne says:

    Dr. Whitaker very insightful – that explains why managers who bully their subordinates into committing to deliver are ineffective and damaging to organization over the long term.

  • Eugenio Cesare says:

    Frequently I have observed that the better the matching between the behavioral competences and technical expertise , the better the result.

    In other words, the right person in the right place.

    This applies to positions of leadership, technical and operational.

    The day to day challenges must be seen as opportunities for learning, generating knowledge, which is the transformation of information into results through the work.

    The leader must create a favorable environment for the engagement, empowering people to be committed to the processes and results.

  • Dr. Mary Kay Whitaker says:

    Great resource from Stephen and additional input from Vince and Eugenio. Thanks to all for your support on this article.

    JB, write a brief synopsis of this article on your blog and attach a link to the article. Great idea

  • Dick Daniels says:

    Mary…your article was posted on our Linkedin group: The Leadership Development Group. Here is my comment as the manager of this group: The model Ron is referring to in his post is Bruce Tuckman’s construct of group development. In 1965 he suggested that these four stages of group development (norm, storm, form, perform) are necessary and inevitable for effective group development. I always appreciate it when writers and speakers give credit to the original source of ideas rather than give the impression that they might be our own. For all writers in this group…let’s commit to giving credit where credit is due. That serves everyone with connection points for further study and understanding of the ideas we are discussing through this forum on Linkedin.
    Dick Daniels, Manager of The Leadership Development Group on Linkedin

  • Dr. Mary Kay Whitaker says:

    Hi Dick,

    Thanks for reading my article and your message on the About Leaders website. The learning curve as discussed in the above article (Norm, Storm, Form, and Perform) is my idea, theory, and was developed by me, Dr. Whitaker.

    The group development stages you are referring to in your statement come from Dr. Tuckman’s model of Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning (Tuckman, 1977). Dr. Tuckman’s model, terms, and sequencing of phases are quite different from what I have developed in relationship to how adults learn. My research has been conducted over 25 years with adults in the corporate world and higher education specifically as to how adults learn in contrast to Dr. Tuckman’s research on phases of team development.

    I too, think it is important to give credit to the original source and be factual and accurate in the statements that are written. It is also imperative to be impeccable with your word and not make assumptions. This is a role to be taken seriously when setting an example of leadership, being the leader of a group, and bringing out the best in people.

    All the best,

    Mary Kay

  • Very awakening for me this will help in so many way in my field.feel so enlightened.

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