Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To Do

In a research study conducted with more than 35,000 managers, the number one reason cited for inadequate employee performance was “Lack of motivation.”

Number two was “Bad attitude.”

Number three was “Capacity / Personal limitations.”

(You’ll note that all three point to problems with the employee, not the manager.)

Let’s undress each of these excuses. Because that’s exactly what they are.

Lack of motivation.

We’ll start with a few simple questions:

  • Do you even know what motivation is?
  • Do you think your definition would align with the definitions used by other managers?
  • Or does motivation fit into the category of “I know it when I see it?”

Motivation is a psychological concept that defines the reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way. One of the problems with focusing too much on motivation in the workplace is you’re a manager, not a psychologist.

We’ve asked managers to define the term. Hundreds of managers, going back to the early 2000s. And we’ve yet to get the same definition twice.

And motivations change. They shift as employee needs change, and as their perceptions change.

Management needs to be a system of reliable interventions to get productive things done through others. How reliable can we expect to be if our approach to management is largely based on discerning, then changing, other people’s motivation?

Research shows that about 50% of performance problems can be attributed to a lack of feedback. Most employees don’t know how well or badly they are doing. And if they think they are “doing okay,” they have no reason to change what they are doing.

Most of what are presented as “motivational” problems are actually feedback problems.

Lousy attitude.

Again, answer a few questions.

  • Are there things you do well that you don’t particularly like?
  • Are there things you used to like, but no longer enjoy doing?
  • Are there things you used to hate having to do, but have learned to like?

Of course there are. What it means is there is no permanent link between a specific attitude and a specific action. Attitudes change. And you’ve probably observed in your personal life that they sometimes change quickly, frequently, and unpredictably.

More important, how can you know other people’s attitudes?

  • You can make assumptions based on your observations. But you never get feedback on how accurate your previous assumptions were, so you have no basis from which to improve. And in what other business endeavor is guessing a valid approach?
  • They might tell us. Yes, but they may not really know. And if they do, they may not tell us the truth.
  • You could universalize from your own limited experience. This is almost always a bad business strategy. If you’re a high achiever, you might forget that most employees are not. And simply telling them to model other high achievers is not management.
  • Other people tell us. Sure. But aren’t those others using these same three (faulty) methods?

Our advice is to get out of the mind reading business altogether. If effective people management is important in your role, it is damn risky to base your approach on mysticism.

Personal limitations.

Once you conclude that an employee’s nonperformance results from his or her inherent imitations, you stop being a manager and become a spectator.

And who’s gonna pay you for that?

Research demonstrates that it is extremely rare that performance problems stem from shortcomings in a worker’s capacity.

Far more often the problems result from one or more of the following:

  • They don’t know what to do.
  • They don’t know how to do it.
  • They don’t know why they should do it.
  • They don’t think your way will work.
  • They think their way is better.
  • They think something else is more important.
  • There are obstacles beyond their control.

That’s only about half of the reasons we’ve uncovered for lousy performance. And every one of them can be resolved by the active intervention of an attentive manager.

Coaching for Profit specializes in identifying these obstacles, and teaching managers how to intervene on effectively on every one of them.

That’s what they’re paying you for.

Give us a call, and let’s start turning the spectators on your team into proactive and highly effective managers. The difference is transformative.