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Getting People to Do What They Don't Want To

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I feel like dealing with reluctant employees is similar to me trying to convince my 6-year-old to do something she doesn't like -- absolutely frustrating!

woman talking to child

Shari Storm: "Can't you get a job at my old daycare?" my 6-year-old pleaded. It was the middle of winter break, and we were forced to send her to a community center that she didn't like.

"But WHY do you have to work?" Ugh. The questions.

I had compromised with her and was working mornings from home so she only had to be at the community center for a few hours in the afternoons.

As I was trying to get her out the door, I had one eye on my laptop. I was watching a frustrating situation at the office unfold.

An employee from another department was supposed to have cross-trained someone for a project in my department. The cross-training had not happened. Why hadn't the cross-training happened? For starters, the employee responsible didn't want to do it.

As I was crafting an e-mail to her boss outlining my frustrations, my 6-year-old tugged at my sleeve. "Can I go upstairs and get my necklace?"

"No. We have to go," I said, absentmindedly.

"But I feel better when I feel pretty." Hard to argue with that one.

"OK, but hurry."

I was still typing when she returned. "I think I should bring a doll too. I'm going to go find one." And she was off again.

As the time ticked away, it dawned on me that the situation with my daughter was exactly like the situation at work. It's very hard to get people to do something they don't want to do.

And just as I was doing with my daughter, this manager had done with her employee. We were not paying enough attention. We weren't being firm enough. We were letting other priorities shift the progress.

I snapped by computer shut, with the e-mail to the manager unsent, and looked my daughter in the eye. "We have to go now. I'm sorry." And we were on our way.

If you have an employee who needs to do something they don't want to, keep these three tips in mind:

1. Divide the project into smaller deadlines and ensure, by checking in often, that each small deadline is met.

2. Resist the temptation to let other priorities waylay the project at hand. There are always multiple, important things to do. We all gravitate to those things we like doing.

3. Be firm but kind in your insistence that the job get done. Don't become the manager that employees know will eventually forget about something if they drag it out long enough.


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Kimberly Schaeffer February 7, 2010, 11:33 AM

It is absolutely true and unfortunately working mothers forget that we can only control so much. Sometimes we have to step back, take a deep breath, and rethink our strategy. I do agree with the 3 tips. They may not always be the answer, but they are definitely a step in the right direction.


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