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North Central Business Journal News

(May 2001 issue)

by Sandra Kay Neal, Ph.D.

       Last month, we looked at one possible reason why employees don’t do as their manager expects.  That possibility was miscommunication.  This month, we’ll look at a second possible reason why employees appear uncooperative.

      If a manager followed the advice of last month and provided the expectations in writing, and the employee still did not complete the task as expected, the manager now needs to confront the employee with the written record of the previous communication and indicate with specific incidents of how that directive was not followed.  The manager then needs to ask in a non-judgmental, non-threatening manner “what happened?”

      This approach keeps open the possibility that the employee really did not understand what the directive actually involved.  This may sound strange, but many times employees think they are following orders and simply did not understand what those orders actually entailed.  Describing examples in specific details often helps people recognize exactly what they are expected to do in similar circumstances.  If this is the case, the employee usually apologizes for misunderstanding.

      Asking the employee “what happened?” also offers the employee the chance to explain the employee’s thinking.  Employees are not machines – they think about the tasks they do.  They don’t always think of those tasks as their supervisors do, but they nonetheless have opinions about their tasks.  Many times, employees appear to be disregarding instructions because they think they have a better way of accomplishing the task.  Sometimes their approach may be an acceptable substitute for the process supported by their supervisors, in which case giving the employee the chance to explain allows the supervisor to support the employee’s manner of doing things.

      Sometimes, however, the employee’s approach misses an important aspect which the supervisor understands.  Hearing the employee’s explanation offers the supervisor the opportunity to explain why the supervisor’s approach is the better tactic.  This helps the employee appreciate the broader ramifications of the supervisor’s approach and is likely to increase the employee’s grasp of the company’s objectives.  It also helps the employee to feel valued for his/her ability to grasp the goals of the company, and increases the likelihood that he/she will work toward those goals.

      If, on the other hand, the employee indicates that he/she just didn’t want to take the extra time to do the task as specified by the manager, then the manager can work with the employee to determine how to prioritize the tasks the employee is doing.  Employees often give minor tasks more importance than they warrant.  Keeping the focus on the important tasks can reduce wasted time and ensure quality performance.

      A few days after the conversation, the supervisor needs to look specifically at whether the employee has followed the directions.  If that has happened, the supervisor needs to tell the employee how pleased he/she is that the task is now being done properly.   Many managers forget to acknowledge when employees are doing things correctly.  Employees tend to take pride in the quality of their work, and appreciate when their bosses notice.  This noticing by their supervisor goes a long way toward maintaining quality performance.

      If, on the other hand, the employee continues to blatantly disregard instructions, then the disciplinary procedures of the company can be put in place, which may include termination.  At this point, the manager knows that everything possible was done to correct the situation.  There is also a written record of the steps taken to ensure compliance should there be any legal problems.

Sandra Kay Neal holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and has 19 years experience helping organizations solve human resource issues.  Her company, Synergistic Organizational Solutions, specializes in aiding small businesses.  Dr. Neal can be reached at sos_hr@localaccess.com.

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