Sometimes when managing staff you come across tasks that just don’t happen.  You keep asking but they get squeezed out or rushed through so you don’t get the result you need.  When this type of problem persists it often needs some careful thought about how to deal with the employee concerned.

Take an example.  Perhaps a situation where Jamie is expected to make phone calls to customers to check whether some support problems have been resolved.  It is on Jamie’s job description to do it, but he consistently doesn’t get around to it.  This situation comes up regularly and you keep asking him about it and yet it still hasn’t been done.

Why not?

You sit down with Jamie and ask him about it and he comes up with some of the following reasons:

  • He thinks it is fine only to call them back if they complain again
  • He didn’t realise that you want it to be a top priority
  • He has tried to call but not managed to speak with them yet
  • The customer may be ignoring him.

And then there’s some reasons he won’t tell you:

  • He secretly hates making phone calls
  • He doesn’t know what to say when speaking with them
  • He knows that what they say will reflect badly on him
  • He was hoping you’d forget about it.

Before you can know what to do about the situation you have to understand the root cause.  You need to form an opinion about which is the bigger issue: whether Jamie doesn’t have the skills to do this job, or whether he doesn’t want to do it.

So firstly - does Jamie have the capability to do this job?

  • Has he misunderstood its importance?
  • Will a little training help to overcome his nerves?
  • Can he muster the gravitas to make the customer want to answer his call?

In other words: is it a skills issue? And can you train him up to do it?

Or secondly - does he not want to do it?

  • Does he feel it doesn’t matter if he avoids it?
  • Will he hate the consequences too much?
  • Can you persuade him that it is the right thing to do?

In other words: is it an attitude issue? And can you change his attitude?

So you talk about it with him and decide in your mind if it is a “can’t do” or a “won’t do” issue.  Once you have established the root cause, you can work with him to fill the skills gap, or you can talk with him about your reasons for wanting him to do it and see if you can persuade him that it is the right thing course of action.

If neither work then you either need to rethink his job responsibilities or if that’s not possible you have to look at performance managing him out of the company.


If you’d like to learn more about managing people, try coming on our Managing and Appraising Performance course.