How to get employees to do their job? That’s the biggest question I get when training managers. One new manager told me about a difficult situation he was facing. He was dealing with a challenge common to many managers – a long-term employee with a negative attitude. This is a tough situation. After digging in for a few more details, I discovered that the manager had a can’t do and won’t do person on his hands. In other words, this 20-year employee didn’t have the skill to do the job and had a bad attitude about it. Ouch. That’s a double-whammy and a tough challenge for a manager with only a month under his belt to deal with. productivity

The first question I always ask when a manager asks me how to get employees to do their job is ‘Do you have clear performance expectations’. The answer is almost always ‘no.’ This new manager was no exception. Not having clear expectations is the most common mistake managers make and the number one reason why people don’t do what they’re supposed to do. They simply don’t know what’s expected.

The next question I asked was ‘What have you tried so far?’  It turns out he had been spending a lot of time telling the employee what he should be doing.

He was making another mistake common to new managers – solving the employee’s problem for him. Managers do this for many reasons, one is that they feel it’s their job. That’s a natural reaction but it isn’t helpful. Solving other people’s problems doesn’t create a culture of accountability. Giving the employee freedom to solve their own problems is better because people always put more energy into their own ideas. It’s basic human nature.

The good news for this new manager was that he was enthusiastic, he was willing to try a different approach, and he was attending training to build develop his skills – an opportunity that most managers don’t get. So, I suggested the following formula for how to get employees to do their job…

Define performance expectations

Many managers think they have clearly defined expectations in place but it turns out they are mistaking the vague job description for clear job expectations. Getting employees to do what they are supposed to do requires clearly defined performance expectations in three key areas: quality, quantity, and time. Each of these key areas should have one quantifiable performance measure. Get a copy of Communicate Like a Boss for detailed instructions on how to define expectations.

Identify gaps in performance

Get the facts through reports, audits, and finished products. Show the employee what their actual performance is compared to expected performance. One of the top reasons managers avoid addressing poor performance is the fear of conflict which equates to argument. It’s nearly impossible to argue with a black and white fact. If you have previously communicated the clear job expectations the employee already knows exactly where they’re at so it won’t be a surprise.

Ask the employee what they plan on doing to close the gap

Don’t allow excuses or stories. Simply ask the employee what they can do to close the gap. If it’s a skill issue, maybe they need training. In the case of the new manager above, the employee had already received training multiple times so naturally he was a skeptical about asking the employee this question for fear he would want more training. I suggested that if the employee said he needed more training, the manager ask the employee why he thought the previous training didn’t stick and how it would be different this time. Again, it goes back to asking questions and putting the ownership back on the employee. Whatever the reason, make it clear that they need to get up to speed and you are there to provide the resources they need in order to succeed. Most reasonable people will get on board when you follow this process.

To help keep your stress levels down, assume that most people want to excel at their jobs and want to know what they need to do to perform well. When people aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing it almost always comes to down to miscommunication which can be easily corrected.

This formula for how to get employees to do their job works 95% of the time. Why not 100% of the time? Because once in awhile you will run into someone who absolutely cannot or will not get on board. Luckily these people don’t pop up too often but in case you run into one, get ready to take formal disciplinary action. Not doing what you get paid to do just isn’t an option.

Being a manager can be very rewarding and it can be very stressful when these challenges come up. You can reduce your stress and confidently handle the tough conversations when you follow this formula. Visit for more practical step-by-step resources to help you take control and get better results.

Liz Uram helps leaders get better results with less stress through clear communication. Download your free copy of the C.O.R.E. Feedback Formula here.

How To Get Employees To Do Their Job