How to Better Manage People with One Simple Test

Among the many frustrations that keep managers awake at night is the feeling that their employees are not performing their best in their respective jobs.  This suspicion can be the source of many performance related issues and can affect new managers and established ones alike.

Manage Employees Better

These concerns persist because of not fully knowing why some people work hard to be great employees and others do not.  Surprisingly, education, knowledge and experience have little to do with the factors that cause employees not to take full ownership for their jobs.

There is a test that will enable most managers to uncover and understand why this happens.  I call it the ‘Can Do’ vs. ‘Will Do’ test.  I used it for years in my various corporate sales and marketing roles and I educate my clients on it today.  It works for virtually any employee performance situation where the manager and the employee have some routine face-to-face or phone-to-phone connection.

Why the ‘Can-Do’ vs. ‘Will-Do’ Approach Gets to the Real Problem

Since most people are motivated by personal reward and acknowledgement of their contribution and abilities, these people ‘Can-Do’ and ‘Will- Do’ their jobs or any additional assignments they are given to achieve this level of performance recognition.  If they are not contributing fully and proactively, the initial issue is one of ‘Can-Do’ or ‘Will-Do’.

When assessing an employee’s capabilities or work performance, simply figuring out if there’s a ‘Can-Do’ or a ‘Will- Do’ problem immediately tells you what is driving their decision to perform. From there, you can focus on issues that get to the core of why they operate the way they do.

New managers are frequently caught off guard when they provide direction or instruct their people to do something and the employee fails to do it.  The immediate reaction from the manager is, “this person doesn’t like me.  They are not going to follow my lead or do what I ask.” So, the manager changes tactic and begins doing things to get his reports to like him/ her.

What they should be asking themselves is, “is this problem a result of ‘Can-Do’ or ‘Will-Do’?”  The same holds true for more established managers who have struggled with decision making, delegation, follow up, and holding people accountable.

How This Approach Works

If your employee wants to succeed but is unsure of how or what to do, this is a ‘Can-Do’ problem.  The employee might need more training or guidance until they are proficient enough to work independently.  I find this situation exists in companies with high turnover.  At some point, management is most concerned with filling openings and less concerned with insuring the proper training takes place right up front.  This also surfaces as a continual problem in organizations where roles are poorly defined and everyone gets asked to do a multitude of things.  In both cases, if employees don’t feel confident about what’s expected and can’t get help from team mates or others in their departments, they are likely to avoid making mistakes in hopes that they won’t be perceived poorly.  It’s a bad decision but a frequent one.

Now, if your employee knows what to do and understands the expectations in your company but still doesn’t do what’s asked or what’s part of their job, this is a ‘Will-Do’ problem.  They know what you asked them to do but they don’t like doing it or don’t feel it’s their responsibility, so they blow it off and deliver an excuse after the fact.  These employees know what they are doing and are waiting to see if you (the manager) will do anything about it!

When either of these circumstances arises, ineffective managers tend to respond the same way.  They admonish the employee for not doing what was expected and repeat the instructions again- sometimes with more emotion and volume.

Take These Steps to Assess and Eliminate the Problem

If you want to eliminate the problem from the ranks of your team, there’s a better way to address this situation.  Follow these steps and see what happens.

1.  Take the employee aside and ask them if they understood the assignment.  Depending on how frequently the employee dodges their duties, you may want to have them play back what they heard you tell them.

2.  Let them know that you fully believed they were capable and understood      the directions so why did they choose to neglect, avoid, dismiss, etc. (you pick the term) their responsibilities.  The most impactful word in this sentence is ‘choose’ because you want them to understand that they made a choice deciding not to do what was expected.  Then, shut up!  Use silence to emphasize the importance of their response.  If they try to get beyond this by saying, “I don’t know”, reword the question and deliver it to them again.  You may need to help them with their answers by asking additional questions; did they have questions, did they know what to do, etc.  You must understand fully why they decided not to perform.

3.  Once you get satisfactory answers, determine if the real problem was ‘Can-Do’ or ‘Will-Do’.  If for any reason, they felt they couldn’t do the assignment, this is a ‘Can-Do’ issue and your course of action would be training or closer guidance on future duties.  The goal is to get them to a point of confidence in performing at the expected level and asking questions when they are unsure.

If it was a matter of them deciding that they didn’t really need to do what you asked because it wasn’t their responsibility or they simply believed that not doing it would result in no consequences, you have a ‘Will-Do’ problem.  These performance issues are a direct result of negative mindset (I’m above that or they’ve mentally checked out).  Whereas the ‘Can-Do’ employee should receive support, encouragement and feedback to make the necessary performance improvements, the ‘Will-Do’ employee needs to rethink the importance of being responsible and being a team player as a condition of continuing to work for your company.  You also need to rethink the consequences of having employees who blatantly disregard your authority.  Today, it’s this person.  Next week it could be others.

4.  Gain agreement with each type of employee about what they need to do to succeed and when better performance needs to show up.  This is also where most mediocre managers fail.  Follow up is critical to changing unwanted behavior.  No follow up teaches the employee that regardless of what you say, you don’t really care what they do.  Proactive follow up sets the pace for what you expect and what you will inspect.

5.  Make a habit of assessing, meeting, communicating, and holding folks accountable.  If you do it enough, the message gets around to everyone.  If you don’t, THAT message also gets around to everyone.



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