Why don’t your staff do what you ask them to…

It’s the age old problem isn’t it? If your staff did what you told them everything would be fine.

But they don’t.

So why don’t staff do what you want them to do?

Well, contrary to popular belief, it isn’t usually that they’re ‘useless’ or even that they’re doing it to deliberately annoy you (although it often feels that way!).

It’s usually to do with one of four reasons – and three of them are to do with you!

So we’ll be kind and start with the reason which isn’t to do with you first.

1. They think they know better.

Maybe your staff aren’t doing what you want them to because it doesn’t make sense to them.

If this is the case, you really need to sit down and understand why it doesn’t make sense to them.

Is it because they’ve found a better way of doing things?

Your staff are far closer to your customer and your operations than you are, so very often they can see ways to improve processes – make them faster, more efficient or less prone to error. Make sure you don’t ignore this invaluable pool of expertise.

In fact, why not be even more proactive. Encourage suggestions and reward great ideas.

The Japanese have a philosophy in business called ‘Kaizen’ – which means continual improvement. It’s all about making your business better by lots of small steps – something we’re very keen on making sure our clients understand (in fact, we provide an annual report showing the difference small improvements can make to your bottom line – and you’d be amazed at the numbers involved!).

By involving your staff, you’re far more likely to achieve continual small improvements – plus they’ll feel more motivated and engaged as they become part of the process.

So that’s the first (and we feel most important) reason your staff may not be doing what you want them to.

So what other reasons are there?

2. They don’t know what to do

With all the time pressures you face every day, it’s very easy to think that you’ve explained fully what needs to be done.

But in actual fact, you’ve left out some minor but fundamental details which mean your staff don’t fully understand what needs to be done.

What’s the best way to test this?

Have your member of staff explain back to you what they should be doing – you’ll soon see if there are steps that have been left out.

Also make sure that you’ve got great written procedures that are regularly updated. We’ll cover how to do this in a future blog – but rest assured, no matter how big or small your business, this is both essential and achievable.

3. They think they’re doing it already

If you don’t tell your staff that they’re doing something incorrectly, then they’ll either assume they’re doing it right, or they’ll assume that it isn’t important.

Giving timely and effective feedback is really important.

However a lot of stressed and time-pressured business owners forget even to give positive feedback (when often a simple “Thank you” or “Well done” is all that’s needed) so giving what is perceived to be negative feedback or criticism is even more overlooked.

But it’s really not that difficult – you just need to make time to do it.

And use an Action ~ Impact ~ Desire structure for your meeting. What was the action that they undertook which caused an issue, what was the impact on you and other people and what do you desire for the future.

This simple structure can be used for feedback where you’re praising actions they’ve taken or feedback where you want them to do something differently.

4. They don’t understand why they’re doing what they do

This is a classic and often overlooked reason.

When someone asks you "Why" when you ask them to do something, it's so tempting just to say "Because I said so".

But when I was young and asked to do something (or more usually, told not to do something!) if I protested my mother always gave me a reason why.

And I try my best to do that with my own children.  I'm not perfect at it (they'll quickly tell you that!) but I have learnt that when I answer their question "Why" with an explanation, things go much more smoothly.​

And you'll usually find the same with your staff.​

In fact I heard someone the other day refer to CEO as Chief Explaining Officer – and he’s probably right!

And in fact, this is more than just understanding why your staff are doing one particular task.

It’s really important that everyone in your business understands the big picture – what the business is about, what you’re trying to achieve, why you’re different from your competitors. And, more importantly, how your staff are helping achieve the big picture.

Have you heard the one about the bricklayers? When asked what they’re doing, one replies that he’s building a wall whilst the other one proudly replies that he’s building a cathedral!

So next time a member of staff doesn’t react or perform as you’d hope, just ask yourself whether any of these four reasons might be at play.

By the way, in a future blog we’ll explain why we don’t think you should refer to your employees as staff. Instead you should think of them as team members – and you’ll see the difference this small change can make.

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