How do you get employees to do what you want?

March 11, 2011
Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, contributing editor, says workers need guidance, support and feedback to tell them what you want.

Getting people to do what you need them to do is pretty simple in theory. It boils down to three simple parts — guidance, support, and feedback. People need to know what you need them to do. This is guidance. Supervisors and managers must provide them with what they need in order for them to do what you need them to do. This is support. And supervisors and managers must hold people accountable and provide feedback, positive and corrective as appropriate, so people know how they’re doing relative to what you need from them. In this column, I’ll focus on the first part, guidance. In subsequent articles, I’ll address the others.

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There are various categories of guidance, such as laws and regulations, strategic guidance, function guidance, and task guidance. Laws and regulations are all non-negotiable guidance. Strategic guidance includes the high-level mission statements, vision statements and guiding principles that senior leaders and their consultant gurus spend a lot of time on. Strategic guidance is how the senior leadership would like and hope people will act in absence of other more specific guidance.

Function guidance includes the standing instructions on what people are to do within their functional roles, such as accounting, engineering and operations. Administrative guidance includes information such as vacations, breaks and lunches. Task guidance is specific instructions, such as how to change filters on a HEPA filter system or how to make adjustments to feed rates.

When there is an absence of information on how someone should perform or react to a situation, it is not the fault of the person. It is the fault of the leader or leadership team for failing to put a team member in a position to succeed.


There is, of course, a practical limit to the level of detail that should be provided. Oftentimes, a seasoned person — the old hand — will not be supportive of task guidance because that person feels he or she has been doing that job long enough to know what to do and how to do it. A common response may be something like “I don’t need some #&(&%!@ piece of paper to tell me how to do my job!” The answer to this objection is to explain that you’re not trying to micromanage the craftsman. Your intent is to capture knowledge and experience to establish a standard for all people doing that activity. Nobody works or lives forever, but the expertise you pass down can.

The seasoned people all should have input. One right way of doing things can then be established. What if you have two or more old hands who do it differently, and each is sure that his or her way is the best way? The answer is that you first look for the similarities, then test each of the differences and have the old hands develop a consensus solution. Commit to trying it for a while and make adjustments as needed.

When you establish one right way of doing something you get several benefits. First, people know what to do and how to do it. Second, you drive toward consistent activities that make it possible to train new people on the best way to perform the task. Third, you can begin to refine the way you are performing the task. When you establish control and stability of your processes and tasks you can then use proactive improvement tools to identify and resolve problems to improve safety, regulatory compliance, production capacity and operating costs.

Measures of performance are a form of guidance, as well. When you develop measures and inform people how they will be measured, you are providing key information. In deploying these measures, it is important to provide attainable goals. For instance, you would not hold people accountable for 100% schedule compliance when experiencing 40% unplanned work; it would not be reasonable in the near term.

When you create guidance, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Search through your network of people and see if someone has already developed good instructions. Oftentimes there were good instructions, already existing, that have simply gone unnoticed or ignored. Dust them off or update them. If something is similar and can be modified to make it work, then do that.

The most important thing is not how much time you spend on developing the information people need. The most important thing is having the information available to people when they need it.

Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, is president of Alidade MER. Contact him at [email protected] and (321) 773-3356.

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