Why People Don’t Do What You Want Them To

I love the work of Robert “Bob” Mager with his framework for preparing learning objectives, and criterion-referenced instruction (CRI), and for his work on dealing with performance problems.

If you haven’t already read his book “Analyzing Performance Problems” and the included process flow, you should. It is a valuable tool to invest in for figuring out why people aren’t doing what you think they should be doing.

According to Mager, there are potentially seven reasons why people drop the ball on performance results. I continue to see these seven reasons highlighted in my work with employee recognition, let alone why things don’t get done at home, or even within my community and church responsibilities.

Let’s take a closer look at these seven reasons.

1. No Expectations: Nothing will ever get started if you don’t set clear expectations for what you want done, when you want it done by, and with general guidelines for how to do it and where to go if they need help.

I have seen it where managers were not giving employees the kind of recognition company engagement surveys said employees lacked. No one had told the managers what employees wanted nor had senior managers set the standard for recognition giving to happen.

It can sound crazy to have to give people permission to do what seems like common sense. But as Mark Twain wisely penned, “Common sense isn’t so common.”

2. No Feedback: Both positive and constructive feedback is essential to knowing if you are on the right track. Feedback given the right way can help a person with proper growth and development for their career. You will never know if you are reaching the desired expectations or how you could improve if you don’t receive candid feedback on your performance. Proper feedback is both motivational by giving you reinforcement for work well done and beneficial by giving needed course corrections along the way.

3. No Resources: If you don’t have the right tools or perhaps the manpower to ensure a task is done correctly, nothing is going to change.

I was trying to chisel out the hole in the door jam of our home’s front door where the strike plate for the door lock would go. Except, the chisel wasn’t cutting in too well. I called a carpenter friend of mine explaining I didn’t want doing the job but just to give me some tips on what I needed to do. He looked at my dull chisel point and told me that it wouldn’t even cut butter. He sharpened the chisel and showed me some methods to chisel correctly and I had the job done in no time. It wasn’t just about having the right tool but making sure it was functioning at optimum levels too.

4. No Training: All of us need to know how to do specific tasks or actions the right way, or to receive knowledge and instruction to help us with our work. This will likely require us to learn through various methods on how to do something. Whether it is in class instruction, online learning or reading books and manuals, if we don’t know how to do something the right way we will be paralyzed to move ahead. For example, managers who are poor givers of recognition often require education on the behavioral skills needed to be effective givers of recognition to employees.

5. Punish the Right: Have you ever had it where a manager asks who completed a specific assignment give to each person in the room? You feel good to be able to report and share how you had finished the task but find out that everyone else has not and they start saying negative comment like “browner” or “mister goody two-shoes” or other smart remarks.

Getting negative put down responses from your peers becomes a disincentive to report performance completed, and can cause a person to not finish future assignments in a timely manner.

6. Reward the Wrong: It was with a power company where I heard my favorite example of “rewarding the wrong” things. They wanted to have zero accidents. When dealing with electrical power, little things can add up to fatalities and no one wants to visit employees’ family members with bad news. The company established a reward system where departments that submitted reports with zero accidents rewarded all employees with a $50 gift card for each specific time period.

Guess what happened? The focus on receiving the reward caused all levels of employees to ignore reporting minor little accidents so they could send in “zero accident reports”. By doing this everyone received his or her free bonus of a $50 gift card for an empty report even though small safety infractions had occurred.

7. Ignore Either: And the worst of any consequential feedback is to receive nothing at all – no praise, any criticism or correction of any kind.

The scary part about why people don’t always do what we want them to is it is most often the manager who didn’t bother to prevent these seven reasons from happening.

That’s right, the responsibility most often falls back to the manager, supervisor or person extending the assignment.

What can we do to counter these seven areas that so often get in the way of great performance?

Consider the following quick perspectives on how to address these principles.

  1. First, clarify the expectations of the task.
  2. Second, provide people with the right kind of feedback.
  3. Third, provide the necessary resources to complete the task.
  4. Fourth, provide accessibility to appropriate training.
  5. Fifth, remove unwarranted punishment
  6. Sixth, remove inappropriate rewards.
  7. And finally, deliver appropriate consequences as necessary.

It would appear that great performance is in our hands after all.

Question: How have you seen these seven factors contribute to poor performance?

Previously Published in Training Magazine – March & April, 2016

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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