Employee Motivation and Engagement – Secrets on Getting Employees to Listen and Improve Their Performance

Getting employees to listen

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.

David asks:

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:

  1. Introduction
  2. Transition From Employee to Team Leader
  3. Getting Employees to Listen to You
  4. Managing Different Personalities in a Team
  5. Telling an Employee They’re not Ready for a Promotion
  6. Keeping Employees Motivated During Downsizing
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
This entry was posted in Curiosity For Knowledge and tagged , , .

14 Responses to Employee Motivation and Engagement – Secrets on Getting Employees to Listen and Improve Their Performance

  1. Pingback: Powerful Tips in Making a Transition from Employee to Leader

  2. Pingback: Employee Motivation and Engagement

  3. hedi Javadi says:

    Fantastic read!! I particularly enjoyed Agustin’s comment.

    I think Leaders must realize they don’t always have a true line of sight on everything they are attempting to fix. They only have an overall perspective which leaves out a crucial component… ie the expertise of those who can tell you right away if something will work or not. Many employee can provide valuable input, share their innovative ideas with concrete solutions to improve / increase efficiency of a given process. Unfortunately very often their ideas are not even taken into account or they are told thank you for your input but this is not your mandate!!! In other words, they are simply closed to the idea or even worse the notion goes completely over the heads. It is within those types of managers that leadership goes to die!

    • Antonia says:

      Hi Heidi,

      Many times, over and over, we see leaders transform into great leaders when they have allowed employees to contribute to decision making. These leaders knew that their employees, who have hands on insight on problems and possible valuable solutions, are the ones who are in the best position to improve processes and come up with innovative ideas that is key to the future of any company!

      Employees love to feel that they are a part of something BIG and love to feel that they contributed to it. If they allow these employees to spread their wings, they will not only create a positive, healthy, fun environment, but they will reach their own full potential!

      Thanks for your insight:)

  4. Pingback: Managing Different Personalities on a Team

  5. Cheyserr says:

    Understanding others is quite an overwhelming job to do. But trying to change them or forcing them to do things when they won’t even agree to your methods is a lot more depressing.

    • Antonia says:

      Hi Cheyserr,

      So true! Forcing others to agree to your methods can be depressing. The main reason is because if we focus on something that is impossible: trying to change the other person. If our focus is on achieving the best result, we welcome other’s methods in doing so.

      thanks for this very valuable input:)

  6. Isabella says:

    There’s a quote that from the first time I heard it, has made me reflect and helped me. As a leader, it is that much important, because we can really make another human being’s value come out.

    “Wait long enough and people will surprise and impress. When you’re pissed off at someone and you’re angry at them, you just haven’t given them enough time. Just give them a little more time and they almost always will impress you.” Randy Pausch

    Look hard enough, deep inside what the person’s value is. Focus on their strengths. It doesn’t mean you have to ignore their weaknesses, but if that’s the only thing you focus on, you are missing out on so much more this person has. It will only make your position as a leader much easier and enjoyable in the long run.

    • Antonia says:


      I am cheering this one on!!!!

      Randy Pausch gave a powerful Last Lecture during the time when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It is definitely worth listening to. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo

      He shares some amazing tips on coaching others from his past experiences!

      Thanks for this one:)

  7. Lilly says:

    This is something I only understood from having 2 kids. My son and daughter are a year and a half apart. When my son started grade school, he hardly needed my help. He just seemed to get things quickly and was doing well. Then with my daughter, I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t understand the same things that had worked with my son. For a while I thought there was something wrong with her. I got a tutor for her. The tutor tried another way of showing her (which I had never thought of). She practically played things out for my daughter and when she gave answers (whether right or wrong), she always questioned her. Today, my daughter is doing very well. There was nothing wrong with her, she just needed special guidance.

    David, if anything, remember this. Being a leader means you have a responsibility to serve others (just like a parent). You are asking for help, so you are on the right path

    • Antonia says:

      Hey Lilly,

      I am so glad and thank you for sharing your experience as a mom…I don’t have children and feel it is not really my area of expertise.

      Sure love your comment about serving others! Just because someone is different, doesn’t mean they are “weird” or that there’s something wrong with them

      So many legendary geniuses out there were labeled to be weird or considered to have some kind of disability.

  8. Agustin says:

    There is another important thing that ALL leaders need to be open to!

    More often than not, employees find a better way of doing things than the way you told them to do things. As leaders, we must stay open to suggestions, instead of thinking that our way is the only way. Chances are that if they know you are not open to suggestions, they will continue to do things the better way. I have been around leaders who in noticing this, take it as a personal offense and see it as act of insubordination and penalize the employee for it. This employee is “Gold”, you have permanently demotivated him! This employee should be given credit for innovation and improving processes that can be shared with other employees. By doing this, you will encourage others to come up with better solutions. Another thing, YOU become a GREAT leader!

    Hope this helps

    • rita says:

      This a great comment Agustin!

      A leader must also be a follower. Some just use their position and authority by going around giving orders. In the end they stand alone. A true leader can be recognized by the growth of their employees.

    • Antonia says:

      Hey Agustin,

      WOW! You are really bringing in some amazing points to reflect upon!

      When a leader is able to everything you have described, in the long run, employees will be able to pretty much “run the show”. I believe that a great leader can be recognized by how well their employees perform even when they are not present.