How many times have you been sitting at your desk wondering, “Why won’t they ___________ ?” Perplexed, you talk with your buddy at work. The conversation goes something like, “I’ve got this person, and I can’t figure out why they won’t ______________.” Or perhaps you talked directly to the person, but after several conversations, they still haven’t done what you asked them to do.
There are four reasons why people don’t do what you ask them to do:
They don’t know how.
They don’t think they know how.
They don’t want to.
Reason number one for a lack of employee performance, they don’t know-how, is the easiest to solve. People who don’t know how to do something need training, coaching, a mentor, a job aid or some other form of instruction. The hope is that with the right training and exposure, they will be able to do what you’re asking.
Reason number two for a lack of employee performance, they don’t think they know how, can be improved over time with patience and consistent coaching. You aren’t working with clean slates. Most people are recovering from or reacting to a past relationship or situation. If a person worked for a controlling manager who never let them make a decision or worked for someone who invoked punitive consequences for making mistakes, the person will likely be hesitant to make decisions. Hence why they continue to ask questions and repeatedly check in, but never make a decision independently.
If you work with someone who doesn’t think they know what to do, but you know they have the answer, encourage them to trust themself. When they come to you for validation or approval, ask questions, don’t give answers. Tell the person you trust their judgment and encourage risk-taking. Tell them you’ll support their decision, even if it proves to be the wrong one. And encourage them to make a decision next time without consulting you. Then keep your word. If they make a wrong call, you have to have their back and can’t invoke negative consequences.
Reason number three for a lack of employee performance, they can’t, is challenging but clear-cut. People who can’t do a task their brains aren’t wired for, will never do that responsibility well, regardless of how much coaching, training, and assistance you provide. If you have repeatedly and effectively, coached, trained, and provided support and the person still can’t do what is being asked, remove that responsibility and give the person something they can do well. If that responsibility is a large part of the job, you have someone in the wrong job. It’s time to make a change.
Reason number four for a lack of employee performance, they don’t want to, is annoying but manageable. There are lots of reasons people don’t do things they don’t want to do. Those reasons include, but aren’t limited to, boredom, lack of buy-in as to why something is important, insufficient time, feeling like a task is beneath them, etc. If you’ve got someone who can but doesn’t want to do something, you can either take the responsibility away, incent them to do it, or give feedback EVERY TIME the task doesn’t get done.
Giving negative feedback isn’t fun for the giver or the receiver. No one wants to hear that they aren’t meeting expectations and most people don’t want to tell you. But the discomfort of receiving negative feedback EVERY TIME the person doesn’t do what they need to do will create behavior change. They will either begin doing what you ask, quit, or ask for a transfer. Either way, your problem is solved.
The first step in getting people to do what you want them to do is to discover why they’re not doing what you ask. It’s impossible to appropriately manage employee performance if you don’t know why someone isn’t doing what needs to do be done. And the person to ask why a responsibility isn’t getting done isn’t you or your buddy, it’s the person not doing the work. So, get out of your head, leave your office or laptop, and go talk to the person not doing the work.
Here’s how to start an employee performance conversation:
“I’ve noticed you’re not doing ___________. Help me understand what’s happening.” Watch your tone, inquire from a place of genuine curiosity, and identify the reason they aren’t doing what they need to do. Then you can intervene appropriately and hopefully get what you want.
I’m taking golf lessons, which should frighten anyone within 100 feet. Every time the instructor explains something new, he asks me, “Does that make sense?” “Does that make sense” is a common clarifying question that many people ask, but it’s not a good question for two reasons.
Reason number one: If an explanation doesn’t make sense to me, I’m the idiot for not “getting it.” It’s not that the instructor hasn’t been clear, I just “didn’t get it.”
Reason number two: The question doesn’t force me to speak, thus the person asking the question doesn’t get any information. “Does that make sense” is like asking a shopper in a store, “Can I help you?” We all know the right answer to that question is, “No, I’m just looking.” This is a similar to when someone asks, “Are there any questions?” The right answer is “no.” And when people say “no,” the person who asked the question often says, “good,” affirming people for not asking questions and making it less likely that questions will be asked in the future.
The golf instructor should be asking me:
What did you learn today?
What are you planning to do as a result of what we’ve covered?
What techniques did I demonstrate?
Let me see how that form looks.
What questions do you have for me?
If he asks me the clarifying questions above, he will know what I am likely to do on the golf course.
Here are some clarifying questions that will force people to talk and won’t make them feel stupid for asking questions. Instead of asking, “Does that make sense,” consider asking:
“I want to make sure I gave clear instructions. Will you tell me what I’m asking you to do?” You could also phrase the questions like this, “Just so I know how I landed, what do you think I’m asking/expecting you to do?”
** This may sound condescending and like micromanaging in writing, but the question can be asked in a supportive and non-judgmental manner.
I was talking with one of my clients a few months ago. She was very upset because she told one of her employees what to do and he didn’t do it. Frustrated, she said, “He knew what to do, and he didn’t do it.” I asked her, “How do you know that he knew what to do?” She replied, “I told him what to do and when I asked if he had any questions, he said no.”
Her situation is a common one. The right answer to “Do you have any questions” is “no.” And we’re surprised when we swing by the person’s desk two weeks later to get a status update on the project, and he hasn’t started working on it yet.
Here are some additional examples of clarifying and delegation questions. These questions will force people to speak, providing a clearer sense of what people know and are likely to do.
What questions do you have?
What are you planning to do first? If the person answers this question appropriately, ask what they are planning to do next. If they don’t answer the question appropriately, step in and give more direction.
Provided you trust that the person knows what to do, give a tight deadline and ask to review the person’s work in a few days. Give people some freedom, but not enough to waste a lot of time and go down a fruitless path. Delegation is something at which most managers can improve. More effective delegation will lead to fewer missed deadlines and frustrations in the workplace.
You’ve either seen the video or heard about the group think that happened before NASA’s Challenger exploded in 1986. One engineer felt strongly that there was a defect in the Challenger’s design. He spoke up, others disagreed. He continued to speak up, until it became very uncomfortable to do so.
Most employees don’t even get that far. Many employees are afraid to speak up at all, feeling that it’s not ok to have a counter point of view, and that those who disagree with ‘management’ are eventually fired. I honestly am not sure where this comes from. It hasn’t been my experience, and yet the fear of speaking up is pervasive. I hear it in almost every organization with which I work.
If it’s not ok to express different opinions, your organization will deliver the same-old products and services you always have. If staying the same works in your industry, great. But stagnation is detrimental to most organizations.
If you want more innovation in the workplace, you have to make it safe to speak up and offer a different point of view. Saying new, different, and even controversial things must be encourage and rewarded.
Five Ways to Encourage Innovation In the Workplace:
Wait until you get both. Don’t allow a meeting or discussion to move on until you get new, opposing, and different points of view.
Positively acknowledge people who risk and say something new or different from the norm.
Ensure people with new ideas and different points of view are allowed to finish speaking before they’re interrupted or before someone else tries to negate their ideas.
Create a few new awards in your organization and announce winners publicly and with great fanfare. You get what you reward.
Create Awards to Encourage Innovation In the Workplace:
Acknowledge the person who fails massively trying something new.
Award the person who brings new ideas to the table, regardless of what happens to those ideas.
Celebrate the person who willingly gives you the worst news.
The fear of speaking up and saying something new or different will destroy your innovation efforts. It will also squelch your employees’ ambition and ability to be creative. Make it safe to tell the truth, even when the truth is hard to understand or unpopular, and see what happens to innovation, creativity, and employee productivity and morale.
No one likes giving people negative feedback. Giving negative feedback often makes both the feedback deliverer and the recipient feel badly. To make everyone feel better, we dress negative feedback up with pickles and relish, otherwise known as The Empathy Sandwich.
The Empathy Sandwich in action: “You’re doing really great. Now you did almost cost the company $50,000, but in general, things are going great.”
The Empathy Sandwich leaves people unclear, wondering if there is a problem. Instead of softening negative feedback with positive platitudes on both ends, tell people you’ll be providing positive and negative feedback as things happen, and then separate both types of feedback.
Giving feedback to people you manage: “As your manager, my job is to help you be successful. As a result, I’ll tell you what I see, as I see it. I’ll give you both positive and upgrade (negative) feedback in a timely way. Because if I don’t, you won’t grow as a result of working with me.”
Paving the way to give feedback to peers and those at a higher level: “We see each other work and are in a unique position to provide each other with feedback. If you see me do something positive or not so positive, I’d like to know. I promise I’ll be receptive.”
Delivering feedback and avoiding The Empathy Sandwich: When you give feedback, separate the positive from the negative. You could say something like, “I want to talk about a few things today. Here are some things that are going well… Now, I also have something to talk with you about that is not going as well… After you deliver the negative feedback, say something like, “I know there is a tendency to dwell on negative feedback. I want to remind you of the positive things we talked about today.”
People can handle negative feedback. They won’t quit if you’re honest about their performance. They will likely become defensive and get upset for a time. That’s ok! Your job when giving feedback is to be clear, timely, and specific. Prepare and practice your delivery out loud. Ensure you have the relationship to deliver the feedback. Don’t worry so much about the response.
“I don’t like my boss and my career is going nowhere in this organization, but we get free lunch and the office has a game room, so I think I’ll stay,” said no employee ever.
Employees enjoy free lunch and ping pong, but these perks don’t improve retention or performance. The only perks known to improve employee loyalty and commitment is time off, a flexible schedule, and the ability to work from home. Everything else is nice to have, but does not impact career decisions.
We’ve all heard about the great workplace exodus. Employees are leaving jobs in droves for a different life. To retain employees, a job has to work for employees’ desired lifestyle – the number of hours employees want to work, the amount of commuting and travel they want to do, and the social aspects that get met at work. Once those basic needs are met, leaders and managers can focus on other things.
Organizational leaders and managers have been led down a path of expensive distractions disguised as employee retention strategies. Eliminate the noise and focus on the four things that really matter to employees. And provided you meet your employees’ lifestyle needs, your best people will stay.
After lifestyle needs, this is what’s important to your employees:
I trust the leaders who run this organization.
My opinion means something. I am listened to.
I feel respected (by my manager) and have good relationships in the organization.
My work is challenging and interesting.
So what should you do if you want to be a best place to work?
Here are Four Employee Retention Strategies Managers Can Take:
1. Meet one-on-one with employees and have meaningful discussions about performance and career goals.
2. Ask employees for their opinion and demonstrate that you’ve heard them.
3. Provide opportunities for employees to do work they enjoy.
4. Ensure employees who want to advance in your organization are learning and growing.
Read about our Be a Great Place to Work leadership training program that eliminates the noise and teaches the things leaders and managers really need to do to retain the best employees.
At the end of presentations, attendees often approach me and say something like, “People tell me my communication style is really direct and that it can be off putting. I don’t know what to do about this.” Or they say, “People say I’m really quiet and hard to read. They have a difficult time getting to know me.”
If you’ve been given the same feedback repeatedly, or know you create a first impression that may be challenging to others, set expectations and tell people about your communication style when you begin working with them. Don’t wait until they feel offended, confused, or frustrated. Simply tell people when you meet them, “I’ve been told that I’m too direct and how I provide feedback can be off putting. Anything I say is to be helpful. If I ever offend you or provide too much information, I hope you’ll tell me.” Or you could say something like, “I’m told that I’m quiet and it’s hard to get to know me. I’m more open than I may appear. If you want to know anything about me, feel free to ask.”
People will make decisions about and judge you. There is nothing you can do about this. But you can practice what I call, ‘get there first.’ Set people’s expectations about your communication style and what you’re like to work with, and then ask people to speak freely when they aren’t getting something they need.
The root of frustration and upset is violated expectations. People may not be aware of their expectations of you or be able to articulate those expectations, but if they didn’t have certain expectations, they wouldn’t be upset when you acted differently than how they (possibly unconsciously) expected.
I’m a proponent of anticipating challenges and talking about them before problems arise. If you know something about your behavior is off putting to others, why not be upfront about it.
When people interview to work for me, I set clear expectations about my communication style and what I’m like to work with. I tell them all the things I think they’ll like about working for me and all the things I suspect they won’t. I tell them the feedback I’ve received from past employees and things I’m working to alter. People often nod their heads and say, “no problem,” which, of course, may not be true. They won’t know how my style will impact them until they begin working with me. But when I do the things I warned them would likely be annoying, we can more easily talk about those behaviors, than if I had said nothing.
Talk about your communication style when projects and relationships begin. Replace judgment and damaged relationships with dialogue.
Some people say that you show employees appreciation by giving them a paycheck and that any more thanks is over the top. We call that old school management. And it doesn’t work.
The human brain thrives on recognition. People are more likely to replicate positive behaviors when those behaviors are recognized. If your employees are doing a good job and you appreciate them, don’t make them guess. “Well, my badge still works. So I guess things are going ok,” is not sufficient recognition.
Today is Employee Appreciation Day – a made-up holiday to remind us to say “thank you” to the people we work with, who contribute every day.
Don’t take your employees for granted, or you’ll be finding new ones.
Here are six ways to mark Employee Appreciation Day today and every day:
Employee appreciation ideas 1) Ask employees what’s important to them – why they accepted the job, why they stay, and how they would like to receive recognition.
Most employees will work their entire career without a manager ever asking these questions. Getting to know your employees better and differently costs nothing but a little time.
Employee appreciation ideas 2) Ask employees about the kind of work they want to do in the future and what they want to learn and gain exposure to. Write down what they say (so you don’t have to remember) and give employees exposure to this type of work when it’s appropriate (when there’s a business need and when they’ve earned it by doing good work.)
Employee appreciation ideas 3) Give very specific, positive feedback regularly. Giving specific feedback demonstrates you’re paying attention to employees’ work and noticing the impact they’re making. Employees want to know how they’re doing. As odd as it may sound, feedback is a form of recognition. Taking the time to observe performance and give specific, timely feedback tells employees they matter.
Employee appreciation ideas 4) Tell the senior people in your organization what a great job your employees are doing. Employees have limited exposure to senior leaders. Don’t make the people who can influence your employees’ careers guess who’s doing great work.
Employee appreciation ideas 5) Take the time to write a handwritten note. In my 15 years of working in a corporate environment, I received one handwritten note from one of my managers. I kept it for 10 years.
Employee appreciation ideas 6) Spend time with your employees. Every employee needs face time with his/her boss. Don’t underestimate the value employees place on the time you give them. If you’re not meeting with your employees on a one-on-one basis regularly, start. Meet for 30-minutes once a quarter. Then meet once a month. Employees create the meeting agenda and come prepared to give you an update on their work. You should be prepared to give both positive and upgrade feedback.
Notice not one of the employee appreciation ideas or ways to recognize Employee Appreciation Day above is monetary in nature. Employees want your time and attention. They want to learn and grow. Provided employees feel fairly compensated, money is secondary.
Today, and every day, find a way to say “thank you” that’s meaningful to your employees. And the only way to know what employees will find meaningful is to ask.
It’s easy to forget about team building when you’re working virtually, or to think that team building can’t be don’t virtually, or to decide to wait to do team building until your whole team can get together in person. My advice; don’t wait.
Often the most meaningful aspects of work are the people we work with and the relationships we build. When you leave a job, you leave your laptop and take your friendships. You can build team work virtually, you just need to make the time.
Even if you’re type A and tightly wound (like I am), spend the first few minutes of meetings on small talk, just like you would if you were gathering in a physical conference room. Ask what people are doing for the holidays. Commiserate over vacations you’re missing and food you know you shouldn’t be eating.
Eat lunch together, virtually. Remember when people used to sit together in the office breakroom or cafeteria? Why not eat together via video? Team building doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can just be spending time together, talking about things other than work.
Humans need people contact and relationships. People are missing other people. Connections with our coworkers make us feel connected to our organizations.
Small talk and group lunches create camaraderie, but they don’t teach people how to work together. In addition to social activities, give people a chance to talk about working style preferences too. You don’t have to do personality assessments and long training programs to build teamwork. Just give people a chance to talk about how they like to work, on a regular basis.
Tell you team you want to help people get to know each other better so work gets done more easily. Start each team meeting with one of the questions below, then move on to your meeting agenda. Do this all year.
Here are a few team building questions you can use:
What are your pet peeves at work?
What time of day do you do your best work?
Do you leave your email, phone, or text alerts on at night? If I text you after hours, will you get a ping?
If I email you on weekends and evenings, do you think I expect a response? Would you prefer I send messages only during regular business hours?
What work do you like to do most?
What work do you like to do least?
What’s an area of our business you’d like to learn more about?
What’s something you’d like to learn to do that you don’t have a chance to do now?
Read a question to the group. Give everyone at the meeting the opportunity to answer the question about themselves. And remember, the meeting leader/facilitator speaks last. People will often follow the most senior person’s lead. You want people to answer authentically rather than providing what they think is the ‘right’ answer.
Team building doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. Don’t wait until everyone is back in the office or for a future retreat. Help coworkers spend time together formally and informally, getting to know each other better now.
I’m not sure why, I wish I could give you a good reason, but the vague phrases above are what come out of people’s mouth’s first when giving feedback. To prevent giving fake feedback, you have to prepare.
There is a reason you think the person is awesome or has a bad attitude. What did they do that created that impression? Until you can describe what the person did to create an impression, you’re not ready to give feedback. You’re better off saying nothing.
All of the phrases above are opinions with no facts. Opinions are judgments. Feeling judged makes people defensive. When people are defensive, it’s hard to listen.
The purpose of feedback is to help another person. Give the person enough information that they know what to replicate and what to change. Before you give feedback, write down three things the person did that created your impression. If you can’t give an example, wait to have the conversation until you can. It’s better to say nothing than to say something vague and unhelpful.
Vague positive feedback sounds inauthentic. Vague negative feedback is judgmental. Neither strengthens your relationship or are helpful.
If you really want to be heard and you want to be helpful, provide an example. No example, no feedback.
No one (I know) enjoys writing, delivering or receiving performance feedback. It’s time consuming to write, challenging to deliver, and can be difficult to hear. Unfortunately, most performance management systems – goal setting forms, performance appraisal templates and online templates – don’t make the process easier. Instead, they make it harder. Short and simple is best.
When I started managing leadership development for a mutual fund company, I inherited a 12-page performance appraisal form and what seemed like 89 competencies. One of the business leaders I supported told me, “I’m not asking my people to use this form. If you can give me something that’s one page, I’ll have my managers use it.” That conversation sent me on a mission to make all performance management forms one or two pages. And really, why shouldn’t they be? People can only focus on leveraging and changing a few things at a time. Why give more feedback than that at any given time?
If you’re chasing people to use your performance management tools and templates, you have the wrong forms. In my experience, when people find something easy to use and valuable, they’ll use it. If something is difficult to use or doesn’t seem to add value, people drag their heels.
Here are a few ideas for making your performance management process easier:
Make your forms and templates simple. No performance management tool should be more than two pages. In a performance appraisal – quarterly, annual, or otherwise – identify up to three things the person did well and a max of three things they can either do more, better, or differently next year. Anything more is overwhelming and a set up for disappointment, frustration, and overwhelm.
If you have additional areas for the person to work on, meet again in 90-days and assess how the person has done with the three pieces of feedback already provided. If they have made significant progress on the things they were already working on, add a few new things to work on. If significant progress hasn’t been made on the existing feedback, wait to add more.
I know your existing performance management templates may not allow for what I’m suggesting. If you’re working with a template that requires more input, write up to three clear, succinct, and actionable bullets in each required area and not more. Bullets are better than paragraphs. Be specific. “Great job” is not feedback. Neither is, “needs improvement.” Give a specific example or two. No example, no feedback.
Resist the urge to write paragraphs of vague feedback or to accept that type of feedback in a self-appraisal. Paragraphs of feedback take too long to write and often say little. I’d suggest spending less time writing performance feedback and instead spend the time observing performance, asking others for input on the person’s performance, and writing three succinct, specific bullets that describe an action taken or outcome produced. Specific feedback is meaningful, useful, and received with less defensiveness.
Click below to see our suite of one and two-page performance management templates.