4 Reasons people don’t do what you need them to do

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from managers is that their direct reports are failing to deliver on expectations. They feel at a loss about why this is happening and what they can do about it. They are likely to eventually come to the conclusion that the person is either lazy, lacks commitment or just isn’t up to the job.

On closer inspection though, there are many reasons that lead to this underperformance. Here are four of them.

1) They don’t know what to do

Especially in these days of rapid change and everyone running to keep still it’s easy to overlook the basics and to jump to conclusions that we have spelt out our expectations really clearly when we may not have done so.  Think about someone you manage whose performance is not living up to your expectations. How confident are you that you have articulated really clearly and specifically what you want them to do? Rather than using vague catch all terms like, “present professionally in meetings” or “write up a comprehensive report” etc. you will need to spell out exactly what that looks like so that they can replicate it.

2) They think they are already doing it

In the absence of effective and timely feedback, people either decide they are doing fine or that you don’t care about what they are doing.  Consider if you have really taken the opportunity to give specific behavioural feedback about what they are doing that works and what they are doing or not doing that doesn’t work. A simple model to use is Action Impact Desire. What action you saw, what the impact was on you, on others, or on the project and what you Desire for the future. This can be used for motivational feedback when they have done something well that you want them to repeat and developmental feedback when you want them to do something differently.

3) They don’t understand why they have to do it

Someone once said to me that CEO should stand for Chief Explaining Officer. Right from the top, down through the business, leaders at all levels need to paint the big picture and help people see how what they are doing contributes to that big picture. You have probably heard the story about one brick layer saying he is building a wall, while the next brick layer proudly said he was building a cathedral. How are you helping your people see how what they do, contributes to cross functional performance and ultimately to the performance of the business.

4) They think they could do it differently / better

On a similar vein, maybe they aren’t doing what you want because it doesn’t make sense to them. That could be because they don’t have the bigger picture or it could be that it really doesn’t make sense. They are closer to the front line than you and the chances are they will have ideas about how things could be speeded up, made more efficient, more user or customer friendly etc. Make sure you don’t overlook their expertise. Create the forum and the climate that encourages ideas and debate. Just because you are listening doesn’t mean you have to implement all their suggestions but it does help you keep your finger on the pulse, eases the burden on you to always know best and develops and values your staff.

I don’t believe people come to work to deliberately do a poor job. They may have different drivers and motivators from you but your role as manager is to bring out the best in those you manage. So, next time you are feeling frustrated that one of your people isn’t delivering on your expectations, ask yourself what could be getting in the way and how you might be contributing to the issue.

12 Responses to 4 Reasons people don’t do what you need them to do

  • Great observation and coments. I think it’s all about communication. I often notice that CEO’s and leaders can be too proud to really ask for feedback from their employees. They think they are in charge and it’s their job to give orders, but just as you pointed out above listening to those who are actually doing the job is critical for any business to get ahead. Most people want to feel valuable and many of them have great ideas how things could be improved but some would never share their feedback if they are not asked. Leaders need to provide an environment that encourages new ideas for growth while they communicate clearly their vision.

  • 5. They don’t envision any consequences to not doing it.

  • Love this article and I definitely agree with you! I would like to add to number three “They don’t understand why they have to do it.” To help with that, the management team should always remind employees of the vision, mission, and the values of the company.

  • 1.Clearly identify the problem/s
    2.Ensure you/they are not the problem/s
    3.List strategies to solve/overcome the problem/s with clear expected outcomes
    4.Implement the agreed steps to resolve issues with available/acquired resources
    5.Co-operative monitoring of the progress of the implementation of the steps with clear measurement instruments
    6.Assess the success/improvement required of the processes/resources
    7.Review and start on next phase.

    • Thanks Gerry. Your comprehensive response is almost like a bonus blog post. Thanks for expanding on the subject.

    • Hi Julie and Gerry

      Julie, a fantastic article, thanks, and Gerry, I relate to your comments / steps.

      Personally I find it has a lot to do with communication and attitude – from both sides, as well as the level of education / understanding of the parties. I have found in the past that while the majority of people WILL do what you want, some are simply happy with there little in life – and have no desire to change.

  • I put much of the “blame” at the door of the CEO! Many CEOs are not over concerned with theier employees perceptions of the business, of its operational culture or its strengths and weaknesses. Not everybody sees things the same way as the CEO and for example views of field based managers can be very different from those of office based managers; and the views of Finance can be different from Marketing.

    But for each group or individual these perceptions are reality. Even if they all buy into the CEOs strategy, they are all starting from different places and will each have a different route….and that’s if they all buy in to the CEOs vision in the first place.

    So my advice is always to try and understand those different internal perceptions (of the same company) and then the CEO will not be surprised that different people / functions require different ways and different stimuli to achieve the same objective.

    • I think your response highlights the balance between points 3 and 4. The CEO has the big picture and needs to constantly communicate that at the same time as ensuring the people’s skills, perceptions and experience on the front line are valued and fully utilised. Thanks Jeremy.

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