“I don’t know how to do this.”
“I don’t know how to do this” could be the best words you have ever heard. I know that doesn’t sound correct, but believe me, I’d much rather hear that from my employee than, “Oh yeah, no problem” and they march off not having any idea what to do next. Bad things can happen when they do that!
Sometimes employees don’t do their work, or they don’t do it correctly. The question is: “Why don’t people get their work done?”
Taken for granted that the employee is not simply lazy, there are only four basic reasons for employees not doing their work:
- They are completely incapable
- There is something in their personal or professional life that is going on that keeps them from focusing on the work they are supposed to do
- They do not know what they are supposed to do
- They have not been trained on how to do it.
Let’s take a look at these causes and see what is going on with each.
- They are completely incapable. This is sad, but it happens. Bad hire, major reorganization, or a new system installed could all contribute to this. Everyone is equal, but not everyone has the same capabilities. There are bank presidents who cannot do quantum physics, carpenters who cannot run a computer, and medical doctors, who can’t balance a checkbook. Okay, that doesn’t make them stupid. They just do not have the talent for that certain activity. It’s the same for people who work with and for you. If they are unlucky enough to be put into a position where they simply cannot do the work, then there are only two things that can be done. You either find them a job some place else in the company that they can do, or we have to show them the door because this is a bad fit. This is not personal. It is objective.
- Second, is there something going on “behind the curtain” so to speak. Let’s start with the worst. If they have one of the four major addictions: drugs, alcohol, sex, or gambling – they will need help. Unless you have a bunch of fancy letters after your name, like, “MD” or “Psy.D.” this help will not come from you. You are simply not qualified. If you have an Employee Assistance Program, then help them take advantage of it because they are certainly not focused on your work if this tiger is on their back. Then there are some of the possible peripheral problems with: marriage, finances, medical issues, family, or mental/emotional issues. Any one, never mind a combination, of these will absorb almost anyone’s mind. Yes, there are some that can “compartmentalize” their problems, but that is not the majority. The point here is that the people could do the job if not for this distraction. If they are willing to talk (and you have to approach your HR folks with how you might want to do this) you need to find out how you can help them. Not to oversimplify it, but when you work with them to get professional help, they should respond and be back on your team in a reasonable amount of time.
- When an employee does not know what to do, there are only two reasons for this: A. They forgot or B. Their supervisor didn’t tell them. I put the responsibility for both of these faults squarely on the shoulders of the supervisor. If the supervisor does not tell the employee what to do then the employee is off the hook and if the supervisor thinks the employee might forget, then give the taskings in writing. If the employee continually forgets we might have to give him/her a bit of organizational training to help them out because you are a supervisor and cannot and should not follow your employees around like a baby-sitter. The take-a-ways here, tell them what to do, and if they need it, get them some help with organization.
- Then there is the person who doesn’t know how to do something because of training. Hooray!! This is the one we want. This one we can do something about and I mean, “Right now.” We just need to get them some training. But hold on. Before we just hand them over to “Bob” to show them how to do something, let’s make sure they get “training” and not some “show and tell” from the guy in the next cubicle. In our haste to get somebody competent, we might want to short circuit the system for the sake of speed and that could lead to problems. Real training means they are not only taught the process and why something is done, but also given a few different acceptable techniques on how to accomplish it. A professional trainer (either within your company or third party) does all this. This is real honest training that will give your employee the best chance of learning how to accomplish whatever it is you need them to know. Do this and you will more than likely never have this problem with this person again. You are done.
So, if you ask someone to do something and they say, “I don’t know how to do this,” smile and say, “No problem. We can take care of this.” And be happy they were honest and trusted you to help them. It says a lot about you and your leadership style. When your people stop bringing problems to you – your leadership days are over.