The work I do involves getting people to do what they need to do to get the results they want, which is typically met with resistance until they can shift their perspective of the actions they need to undertake.

A common form of resistance that often shows up is diminishing intentionality, which I first encountered when selling business coaching. If I left people to think about it, all the excitement faded, and 95% of them would think themselves out of the opportunity to work with me and advance their results.

The law of diminishing intent

The phenomenon explains the seemingly innate capability of people to talk themselves out of actions they have committed to if a delay is introduced and extends beyond sales. 

It accounts for situations where managers encounter frustrations and disappointments when someone agrees to do something and then doesn’t do it. And it tends to end up with managers engaging in uncomfortable follow-up, chasing and butt-kicking cycles.

What causes it?

Diminishing intent occurs when the person allows their thinking, and sometimes the views and opinions of others, to interrupt taking the action they committed to. Instead, they fall into a procrastination loop of doom, often using ‘busy-ness’ as their excuse. Other events and ideas show up, and the priority of the committed action slips down the list, eventually becoming buried in the inbox, never to be seen again.

How can you eliminate diminishing intent?

Start with taking responsibility for your delegation practices and the clarity of your communication. 

Use this simple five-point checklist to ensure that your communication is concise so that diminishing intention can’t get a foothold and the stuff you want doing gets done.

  1. Why

Ensure that everyone understands why the action needs to be taken and done in the specific way discussed. Remember, there is no such thing as common sense. Everyone has a unique set of perspectives, so left to their own device’s individuals will default to their own well-intentioned methods.

  1. Logistics

Deal with the logistics of the task (time, money, resources and skills) before it begins so that obstacles are removed before they become excuses for lack of progress. If you are not willing to make the tough priority calls and resource commitments, don’t be surprised when things don’t get done.

  1. Anxieties

Unfamiliar tasks that require people to step out of their comfort zones will fall victim to procrastination if priorities become a matter of personal preference over business need. Get concerns out on the table (primarily these will be about fear of failure, the unfamiliar or rejection) and coach people past them.

  1. Consequences

Make sure the positive and negative consequences of action/inaction are understood. The levels of dissatisfaction and vision required to move someone to act will be unique to the individual (and the context in which they are required to perform), so take time to understand and communicate this.

  1. Action

Make sure there is a clear, quick action that can be done immediately. The bigger a task or project appears, the more likely it is that starting it will be deferred. One simple action with a deadline and scheduled follow-up can break this inertia and get the ball rolling.