How to Get Staff To Do What you Need Them To Do

“I just wish they would do their job!”

Linda was pretty frustrated with her assistant, Nancy.

There was plenty of work to do and she felt like Nancy was not as productive as she could be.

Linda was so busy with her own work that she didn’t have time to manage them. And to be honest, she wasn’t all that interested in managing people. She didn’t feel like she was good at it. She just wanted to do her own work.

This is a really common problem for business professionals who find themselves responsible for managing people and running a business.

They feel like everyone should just know what to do and go about doing it without instruction, distraction, or drama. They seek to avoid the distraction of spending time and energy managing and leading other people. But that’s just not how it works.

Humans are messy, complicated creatures. That’s why the most successful leaders are also students of the science of understanding and influencing others.

It’s not enough to just wish your staff would do their jobs. You’re going to need to take action to make it better – or it will get worse.

You must be clear and specific in what you are asking them to do.

You may think you’ve already done that. But I’ve found that we are rarely as clear as we think we are in our heads.

If you want to make sure you’re being clear then write it down.

That’s how I discovered that I wasn’t being clear and specific. It was only when, out of frustration, I shut my door and decided to write it down that I saw how many gaps I was leaving for my team.

That’s how Linda showed up to our recent coaching call.

She is a solo practitioner with a young assistant, Nancy. Linda wanted Nancy to do more simple and repetitive tasks that he thought she should know how to do.

Linda wasn’t assigning these tasks to Nancy because she wasn’t confident she would be able to do it right. Linda thought it would take too long to train her and then review and correct her work. So she kept doing it herself.

My clients often want help solving this kind of people problem.  The solution takes time because we’re trying to change attitudes and habits in multiple people – including the client.

We start by making sure we’re clear about what we’re asking others to do.

You’ll know you’re being clear and specific if you can explain – and the staff member can explain back to you:

Why you are assigning the task.

This puts the task in the context of the overall objective and the business. People are more open to taking on work when they understand why it matters and why they are the right person for the task.

Linda wanted more help with routine communication with clients and potential clients.

This included:

  1. Closing files at the end of a matter – including the wrap-up communication, billing, and cleaning up loose ends.
  2. Opening files once she had decided to take a case – including getting the representation agreement signed, setting up billing and case management systems.
  3. Simple status updates for clients via email or letter.

Linda can explain to Nancy how each of these areas will give her space to work on billable tasks and grow the practice – and improve client service. She can also help Nancy see how taking on these responsibilities will help her grow into greater responsibilities and have more meaningful work.

What outcome do you seek to achieve?

The outcome is the final result of the assignment. What is the final work-product you want them to complete? How will you measure success?

In the early stages, you may also need to train the person how to do the work – but that’s a training conversation, not an outcome conversation.

Writing down the specific outcome will make you think it all the way through and avoid one of the big reasons why delegation fails.

When people are unclear about the outcome they will often elect to underperform rather than take a risk and make a mistake – especially in professions where mistakes are not ok.

I suggested that Linda give Nancy templates for the communications she’d like her to prepare in each of the situations so she sees a completed work product.

She also liked the idea of explaining each step to her and having her create a checklist of what needed to be done to achieve the objective.  Having Nancy involved in creating the SOP involves her in the process and ensures that she is creating checklists she can follow.

When the task is due – and how you will communicate about it.

Don’t be wishy-washy on due dates. Being really specific allows you each to manage your calendars and avoid worry. Also, be specific about your mid-project communication.

For example, can you complete this by 3:00 p.m. on Thursday? If you think you might miss that time will you let me know by noon on Thursday?

You’ll notice that these were questions – because unless you get a “yes” to both you haven’t had a successful handoff.

Your delegation SOP should be clear about how to communicate about delays and unexpected challenges so you don’t have to go over it in detail every time.

Into Action …

If you’re frustrated with the quality or quantity of work getting completed by your staff take these action steps:

  1. Take a deep breath. Give yourself space to think. It won’t help anyone to try to deal with the problem while you are frustrated.
  2. Make sure you’ve been clear and specific on the why, the outcome, and the communication. Write it down.
  3. Have a conversation with your team member about the situation. Use the After Action Review questions.  What did you expect to happen? What actually happened? Why was there a difference? What be done differently next time?

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