Why we don’t do what we want to

A sales leader recently approached me and asked me to speak to his sales organization. I love speaking to sales people. They need encouragement, for fewer professions, if done right, encounters more “no’s” than sales.

Why we don't do what we want to

Like any good sales person would, I asked what he hoped to accomplish with the presentation. What was the desired call-to-action?

He paused, then said, “I want them to become more relational in their sales approach.”

“That’s a worthy objective,” I said. “Tell me, are they highly transactional right now?”

“Oh yes,” he said. “That’s what I’m hoping to fix.”

“And are they highly motivated by compensation?” (Actually, I asked if they were “coin-operated.” We shared a laugh, as the meaning is the same.)

“Yes, very much so,” he replied.

“And have you adjusted your compensation system to reward a relationship selling approach over a transactional, order-taking, one?”


We both knew that water and people follow the path of least resistance. Unless you change the underlying structure, changing behavior is nearly impossible. And it certainly won’t happen by listening to an inspirational message about relationship selling. I’m good but not that good.

The lesson from that conversation plays out in our personal lives too. We might long for the inspiring message, even sign up for daily inspirational feeds, or watch TED talks, or purchase the latest self-help books, but, as someone observed, hope is not a strategy. Take these intentions as a example:

  • You want to lose weight, but if you keep buying snack foods and ice cream (my nemesis), you’ve not created a structure that can resist a moment of weakness (for me, usually at the end of a hard day).
  • You want to develop a side business, write a book, create a training program, or another worthy project, but you fail to block off and guard time on your calendar to work on it.
  • You want to be more engaged with others, but you don’t turn off your phone when you meet with them.

In each case, while your intention is laudable, the underlying structure is unsupportive. Changing our structure is very difficult for three reasons:

  1. We are unaware. Structure is formed by our habits, and most of those are developed without much forethought. And we’re also prone to take our cues from the demands placed upon us. Consider your “awareness” and stress levels to unanswered emails, phone calls, and meeting requests.
  2. We are uncertain. Structure has many facets and it takes time—deliberate time—to understand, experiment, and create a system that allows us to thrive. Few of us value intentionality enough to make time for it, and when we do, we’re not sure where to begin.
  3. We expect instant success. Working on our underlying structure is not instantly gratifying. We may make a few changes—say, for instance, to block off time in our calendar for that neglected project—but quickly surrender it to a lesser, but more urgent “yes.”

Changing our structure is very difficult, especially for busy executives. But it can be done. (I developed a workshop precisely to help them do this.)

Consider your most important intention right now. In what way is your underlying structure—your habits, work environment, rhythm, etc.—helping or hindering you?

Comment below: What underlying change did you make that helped you achieve something you’ve wanted to do?

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