This is the 2nd Q&A of a 6 part series on employee motivation and engagement. You might prefer to start with reading the introduction here.
I can’t understand some of my employees; they just won’t listen to me. I told them what they need to do to improve their performance, but don’t do it. Why?
Ok, let me start by repeating what you said, “You don’t understand your employees because THEY won’t listen to you.” Hmmm…
Here is my “tough love” answer:
There is a very important factor to keep in mind. No two individuals are alike. Each employee should be treated in a unique manner and we should be flexible in our techniques accordingly. I have had to constantly tweak and adjust myself according to the individuals. Some required for me to be very flexible in my approaches (compassion, my personal experience, analogies, humor, etc). If it was a physical exercise, I could probably be part of Cirque du Soleil.
A lot of leaders stop themselves from being all they can be and influencing others because they pretty much use the same coaching techniques with everyone. Especially if our technique worked with some employees. We get stuck and ask ourselves, “If some understood and are doing it, why aren’t the others doing it?” Sometimes we believe that they are just being difficult.
I know how frustrating it can be when you have spend so much time training and giving an employee tools on how to do a certain aspect of his job. He will look at you, nod and promise he will improve. Nothing changes. You want to just shake him up, right?
Well, guess what I discovered? In almost ALL cases, it was not the employee who failed; it was the technique I was using that failed!
You see, once we gain experience and knowledge, we forget what it’s like not to know this stuff. We feel like everyone already knows what we know by comparing them to the way we work and feel they don’t need a lot of supervision. By believing this, we could end up leaving out some important detail in helping an employee succeed.
First and very difficult thing to do is to step outside yourself and imagine what it was like to learn this for the first time. I still struggle with this one!
We need to understand what is going on inside the employee’s head, instead of looking into our own heads to determine what the problem is. Only the employee knows.
We need to LISTEN to them if we are to understand their needs.
“Earn the right to be heard by listening to others. Seek to understand a situation before making judgments about it.” – John Maxwell
How do you know what’s on their mind?
1. Ask Questions, lots of them!
You need to conduct a thorough analysis before diagnosing the problem.
Ask YOURSELF the right questions.
It is amazing how our mind and actions can shift just by the questions we ask ourselves.
If you ask yourself, “Why isn’t he doing what I told him?” or “is he just being difficult?”
Your answers will already have determined that this employee is probably difficult, lazy or needs a disciplinary action. If we believe that an employee’s performance issue is due to an attitude or character flaw, we completely close ourselves to other opportunities in resolving the issue.
If you ask yourself, “What approach can I take to better guide him?”
Your answer will drastically shift your mindset. You will open yourself to the other person. Open your mind in trying different things. When you meet with this employee, the way you communicate will automatically take on a whole new approach. The questions we ask ourselves have an incredible impact on our actions.
Ask the employee questions.
If the focus is on a specific task, ask them why they are doing it that way and how exactly are they doing it. I mean, even if you have to ask them to show you step by step what they are doing and explain why they are doing each step.
Do they know what they are supposed to do?
Do they know how to do it?
Do they know why they should do it?
What are the obstacles getting in the way of their performance?
Are there obstacles beyond their control?
“As a leader you should always start with where people are before you try to take them to where you want them to go.” — Jim Rohn
It is incredible what you will discover by doing this.
You will save yourself from exhausting coaching sessions that lead to frustrations for 2 reasons.
1) If you tell someone what to do, you are basically telling him from how you see things or what you think he needs. Chances are, you are probably attempting to fix the wrong thing.
2) If you ask questions and take the time to analyze exactly where he is at, you will be in a better position to prescribe the right pill.
2. Start With Why
Does the employee truly understand the importance of his/her role? If someone doesn’t completely understand why and how their work affects the overall performance of the company, they will less likely be engaged in contributing to the results.
There is a significant impact in improving an employee’s performance when they see and understand the value and contribution of their role. Show the employee how their role affects other departments, their colleagues, the client, other work that is involved, the profit or loss for the company, etc.
3. Show Them, Don’t Tell Them
Just like in facing everyday challenges, people will react based on the choices and possibilities available to them. It is important not to look at an employee’s situation from your possibilities, but rather from the possibilities that the employee sees. Once you have a clear understanding on what the employee feels are his choices, you will be able to help the employee exceed his limitations.
In the example of a specific task or training situation, do not recite a list of concepts that he needs to follow. Show the employee by demonstrating the process. Have the employee perform the task and ask them questions throughout the process. By having the employee explain it in their own words, they will comprehend the logic behind it instead of trying to memorize a list of concepts. Have them perform the task on their own. If they get stuck, guide them through it, but allow them to come up with a solution on their own.
The same applies on establishing clear goals and objectives.
Through a series of quality questioning, the employee is helped to develop clear, attainable goals and is guided in arriving at solutions and the best course of action towards achieving them.
The idea here is to develop awareness in the employee of where he/she is at (what they are doing and the result), give the employee the responsibility of determining what actions he/she needs to take and taking those actions. Avoid giving directions, lead through questions and offer support. When the solution comes from them, they will more likely be motivated and committed to move forward. Be there for support in helping them to expand on available alternatives and resources. Give them information which they can use in their course of action, but don’t give your own solution. The employee will gain self-confidence, have a greater sense of responsibility and their level of motivation and engagement will drastically increase.
“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”— George Patton
4. Follow Up
Following up sends the employee a very important message: That you CARE about them and their results. It is the perfect opportunity to see how the employee is doing and progressing. Do his results match the goals that were discussed? It lets them know that you are interested by staying in touch with how they’re doing and how you could be of further support. Follow ups are an ongoing commitment. Even if the employee is progressing. It doesn’t mean that a follow up is no longer necessary. Provide positive feedback and talk about long term goals that might interest the employee. Follow ups require dedication and choosing to do them. Although, it is often overlooked, it is one of the most important skills in leadership success.
Please, share any suggestions that I have not mentioned that has had a positive outcome in your role as a leader. Even if your role is not within the workplace, we can all learn and grow from you.
The full Q&A series are: