January 17


5 Reasons Your Employees Aren’t Doing What You Want

Ever feel frustrated that your employees just don’t seem to get it?

Every business owner has been there at some point. It’s a terrible feeling that makes you feel trapped in your business. You hire people so you don’t have to do everything yourself. Then you start to think you always have to be there to look over their shoulders or have to do it yourself.

The next time you find your face in your palm and hear yourself muttering “What were they thinking?”, stop. Take a breath and ask yourself if any of these 5 things apply.

1. They don’t know the “right” way to do it.

I’m sure you have a crystal clear picture of how to do just about everything in your business. Have you ever bothered to tell your employees what the “right” way is? If you did, how do you know they heard you and understood?

How to fix it

For every important task or process in your business, you should have a documented procedure for how to do it. Once you’ve written it down, review it with your employees to make sure they understand. Also, listen to their feedback. They might have a better way to do it. If so, update your procedure to reflect this.

Make sure all these procedures are accessible and well organized.  Any employee should be able to refer to them whenever they need. Just hired someone? Have a procedure that covers training them on the procedures relevant to their position. And make sure it gets done.

2. They don’t know they’re supposed to do it

Maybe they didn’t do something because they had no idea you expected them to do it. No employee, no matter how good they are, can read your mind. Don’t rely only on verbal instructions or on the hope that your employees will magically know their job responsibilities.

How to fix it

Make sure the responsibilities of every position in your business are well defined and documented. Every employee should have a copy of the document for their position. Don’t just hand them out. Have each employee read it and acknowledge they understand it.

Tempted to avoid all that extra work and just tell everyone that “anything that needs to be done is your job?”


That’s like saying “someone” needs to do this.  When you say that, everyone hears “someone else needs to do this.”  So, unless “someone” is the actual name of one of your employees, never say that. Instead name a specific person so it is clear to everyone who is accountable for the task.

3. They don’t know why it matters

Face it “because I said so” hasn’t worked on you since you were 5.  It hasn’t worked on your employees since then, either. It’s human nature to want to understand why we do what we do.  That’s just as true for mundane things as it is for big existential questions.

How to fix it

Make sure your employees understand why doing a particular task matters. Also make sure they understand why doing a task in a certain way matters.

An important part of providing that context is communicating your vision. Talk about your vision and the company values regularly. Build the expression of the company’s values into the procedures. When your employees understand (and believe in) the vision, they’ll be better equipped to make the right decisions.

4. They don’t think you care about them

I’m sure you had a job at some point where it was clear your boss didn’t care about you. All they cared about was having a warm body doing some job for them. You were pretty unmotivated, weren’t you? If your employees don’t feel like you care about them, they aren’t going to care all that much about the job they do.

How to fix it

Treat your people like people. It’s not that hard.  Take an interest in their lives outside of work. Ask them for input about things that affect their position. Listen to them when they have ideas and suggestions. Trust them to make the right decisions. When people feel cared for and valued, they’ll care and they’ll bust their ass to do good work.

5. They’re just following your example

“Do what I say, not what I do” is a terrible management approach. Employees notice when you ignore procedures or fail to follow through on things you say you are going to do. Then they believe you weren’t serious when you said all those things were important. If they aren’t actually important, then there’s no reason they should take them seriously.

How to fix it

Walk the talk. You are the leader of the business. Your most important job is to be embodiment of the company’s vision and values. You set the tone. So make sure everything you do in your business is the model for your employees to follow.

Did you notice the common thread in each of these 5 reasons your employees aren’t doing what you want?

It’s you.

The next time you find yourself fuming about your staff, look at yourself first and try to see your role in it. This isn’t always easy to do, so it’s something a trusted advisor can help with.

Maybe the person is just ill suited to the job. But most of the time, you will find the root of the problem in one of the five items we’ve just covered.

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