Questions to help you mind your business... Question #6

Question #6: : Why can’t employees just do what I tell them? 


This is the sixth in a series of thoughts and opinions by Graham Edwards and Renée Cormier — click here to read the backstory and inspiration (if only for the entertainment). It should be noted that neither of us have seen or discussed our answers before they are posted, which in our mind makes this all the more interesting.

In this blog series we will attempt to answer ten different questions business owners may need answered, using our individual and unique perspectives and approaches. It is our hope that this series will inspire both action and interaction. Please feel free to comment and ask more questions.

Graham —

When we first came up with this question I didn’t like it at all; in fact I thought it was a silly question. As I sat down to craft some sort of answer I actually came to the realization that it is a brilliant question because it scratches at effective leadership.

With that said (and with explanation), the answer to this question is, “It’s the employee’s way of helping you become a more effective leader.” And here’s the explanation —

If at anytime you find yourself thinking (or even worse saying out loud), “Why can’t employees just do what I tell them?” you are an autocratic leader at one level or another, and your employees may be just trying to tell you — and not necessarily in a conscious way.

 au·to·crat·ic [ˌôdəˈkradik] ADJECTIVE — of or relating to a ruler who has absolute power ; taking no account of other people's wishes or opinions; domineering

With this type of leadership style (and with time) you find an employee will stop asking questions, stop engaging, stop bringing ideas to the table, stop offering a difference of opinion to make things better, stop striving for excellence, stop going above and beyond, and either stay because they really have no choice or look for a new career opportunity — and not surprisingly, don’t really do what is asked of them. These are the components that make up dysfunctional teams, disgruntle employees, and at the very best create mediocre business situations — just ask around or check out the countless research on the topic.

This is the colour commentary of an ineffective Leader.

Don’t get me wrong, the final decision and responsibility has to fall to a defined leader (or owner) to ensure things get done (so they in effect always get “two votes”), but this does not suggests that a Leader doesn’t have to listen effectively, communicate ideas and circumstances transparently, accept better ideas, engage, openly request feedback, and always promote the word “we”.

With all of this said, there will always be employees who (for many reasons) are not meeting the expectations of their role — and although it is the responsibility of every employee to own their career, it is the responsibility of the leader to ensure all employees are meeting expectations. For an employee who is falling short of expectations it is important to 1) offer timely communication regarding the issue and 2) review corrective action with the employee (my experience is many issues are usually corrected with a discussion). If an issue is not corrected quickly, it is crucially important (also in a timely manner) to develop formal and measureable development plans to either move the employee “up or out” of the organization.

An employee should never be surprised when asked to leave a company for performance reasons.

“Why can’t employees just do what I tell them?” is a leadership question that asks if you are working to be the best leader you can be — as well as asks how you are going about developing your employees to be the best they can be (even if the result is letting them do it with another company).

I suppose it would have been easier to ask, “Are you being the most effective leader you possibly can?”


Renée — 

Generally speaking, there are two main reasons why your employees don’t take direction from you. They either don’t understand exactly what you want, or they don’t have any respect for you (or both).  You need to realize, however, that both of these reasons are directly connected to your leadership skills. Leadership is about a lot more than being able to give direction and delegate tasks. Who you are as a person, the way you interact with others, the values you hold, your attention to detail and your dependability all affect the way your employees interact with you. Read on to discover what you can do to get your employees to fall in line and do what you want them to do.

Present clear cut objectives: If people know exactly what you want, then there will be no mistaking the expected outcomes. No one can read your mind. Whatever you can do to make it simple for people to understand exactly what you are looking for is always good. Provide a timeline and be willing to discuss various approaches. Less experienced employees need more attention than seasoned employees. Don’t stifle creativity by being a micromanager, but be prepared to have discussions that cover the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of any task, if necessary.

Explain why your objectives are important: Employees tend to be more eager to help when they understand why they must do something. In the world of work, things that are understood to be important tend to get done correctly. Retailers are great at never explaining why their employees must follow certain procedures. If you’ve ever gone into a store and watched the cashier ring in one item under the SKU of another, then you have witnessed what happens when leaders don’t explain why things are important. This seemingly insignificant act, done frequently enough will screw up your inventory and sales numbers, but how is a cashier to know that if you don’t explain it?  The other downside of not explaining the rationale behind your requests is that you limit your employees’ ability to help customers or other employees.

Be tolerant of mistakes: Throwing a hissy fit every time somebody screws up only inhibits creativity and proactivity. Mistakes are learning opportunities. If you demand perfection, you will cultivate a culture of fear, insecurity and disengagement.

Follow up: Any new initiative should be put into a project planner and followed up with regular meetings to discuss progress, problems, solutions, etc. Nobody will do anything consistently if it appears you don’t have a timeline, or a reporting system for progress. My beBee post, Work the Plan: Secrets to Successful Business Execution shows a sample of a simple project planner done in Excel and can also give you some additional advice around how to get things done.

Provide feedback: Employees who receive no feedback from their boss perform as poorly as those who only receive negative feedback. In my leadership training days, I used to play a training game where I formed three groups who each had to toss an object onto a line. Each team had a leader with a different direction for feedback. One team was to only receive praise from the leader, no matter what. The second team received only negative feedback from the leader, no matter what, and the third team got no feedback at all; only silence from their leader. Invariably, the team with the best results was the one that received only positive feedback. Such is the power of words to motivate. Remember that.

Don’t play favourites: In grade school, the teacher’s pet got beaten up by the other kids and the kids all hated their teacher because she payed favourites. In the work place, there is nothing more divisive than paying favourites and nothing will bring on passive aggressive behaviour (such as not following direction) the way playing favourites does. If you are playing favourites, then you need to have an ego check. Treat your employees equally. Give bonuses to top performers, not your company ass kissers.

Keep your promises: Nothing causes your employees to really get angry like being lied to or mislead. Angry employees don’t do what you want them to do. They won’t respect you, they will resent you and they will undermine your business. They may even start quitting, and who needs that grief?

Be a strong leader: Don’t keep changing your mind about things. Be consistently available to your employees, care about them as people and be clear in your communication. If you set and achieve goals for yourself, so will your team. Your people will naturally respond to the example you set. If you are strong and stable, they will get things done. If you are an emotional mess, unreliable and unpredictable, then they will be very unsettled and disorganized.

Be respectful: It’s a simple human relations principle that everyone should follow. Don’t tolerate disrespectful behaviour and don’t model it. John C. Maxwell is one of my all-time favourite authors of leadership books. Check out Leadership Gold and his other books on leadership.

Become known for your exemplary character: Leaders who show up for work stinking of last night’s booze don’t get respect. Neither do leaders who cheat on their spouse, make inappropriate remarks about others, engage in unscrupulous business practices, and so on, and so on… You get the drill. Your employees will talk about all the crap you did long after they have left your company. I have witnessed this many times. People love to talk, and they will.

Get employees to contribute ideas to help solve problems: Treat your employees as colleagues rather than underlings. They are your greatest resource and it is your strong leadership that will bring the best out in them.

All of this seems so elementary to me, but I know that many people in leadership positions don’t have a clue how to get employees to respond positively to their requests. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. The results you are getting are directly related to the quality of your leadership. It may hurt to hear it, but it is all about you!

Thanks to the social media platform beBee, Renée Cormier & Graham Edwards developed a business relationship and friendship that typically involves regular meetings, goal setting sessions, etc. Our meetings often provide the fuel for plans around business strategy, blog ideas and more.

Renee & Graham Blog Plate.jpg

Questions to Help You Mind Your Business... Question #5

Question #5:  How can I maximize the value of my employees?


This is the fifth in a series of thoughts and opinions by Graham Edwards and Renée Cormier — click here to read the backstory and inspiration (if only for the entertainment). It should be noted that neither of us have seen or discussed our answers before they are posted, which in our mind makes this all the more interesting.

In this blog series we will attempt to answer ten different questions business owners may need answered, using our individual and unique perspectives and approaches. It is our hope that this series will inspire both action and interaction. Please feel free to comment and ask more questions.

Graham — I am really excited about this question (and the next two for that matter) because it’s about people. Nothing, absolutely nothing gets done without them, and this makes employees crucially important for anything and everything. I imagine there are a number of “tech people” who can easily present an argument and philosophy regarding artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics and all they accomplish — it’s a Pandora’s box that we are all starting to wrestle with and although I stand by my statement, I suppose only time will tell.

Value [ˈvalyo͞o] is defined as the importance, worth, or usefulness of something— what we are simply talking about is how to maximize this with regards to your employees or anyone helping move the business forward.

The starting point for me (in-line with the vision, mission, and objectives of the business) is to articulate the objectives and expectations for you, your employee(s), the team, and the way everyone operates. This is something that should be written down, reinforced in all team meetings, and always be part of any performance or development review. An example: 

 Objectives — a) achieve financial plan of $500,000 for the year b) implement new customer database by Oct 1, 2017 c) identify and develop one competency by year end d) develop five new relationships each week.

Expectations — a) achieve plan this year b) open and safe dialogue and communication c) take ownership for your personal development d) a reasonable* customer always comes first e) have fun* f) openly share new thoughts and ideas g) manage money as if it was your own.

The goal of this is to create a framework that offers employees the latitude and scope to do what they need to do; it is a formula for success, creativity, problem solving and personal growth. I have always taken the position that if a person has put the “reasonable” customer first, been ethical, moral and hasn’t done anything illegal, then there is no mistake that is too egregious. It is important to learn from mistakes and use them for ongoing development (and lessons learned) to be sure, but you never want to create an environment where an employee is afraid to make a mistake — an environment where mistakes aren’t tolerated will not create a place to maximize an employee’s value. One last point on this, if you have an employee who makes a BIG mistake because of incompetency then that’s on you, not them. You were the one who hired them and you are the one who manages them — you have to ask yourself who actually made the mistake.

Once you have created an environment where employees can demonstrate their value, let them do it —

  • Ensure there are regular operating mechanisms (one-on-one’s, team meetings, town halls, etc.) for open communication, feedback, and discussion.
  • Celebrate and recognize what people have done, with particular focus on the initiative and the bravery it took to try something new, or make “the decision”.
  • Good or not so good, it is important to give timely feedback and keep an objective eye as you deconstruct the situation.
  • Roll up your sleeves and get involved in the day to day — leave your office, participate in the daily work, sit in on meetings, go see a customer (or simply talk to one), ask how “we can make the business better”, and get to know the people you work with.
  • If something is your fault, step up and own it — and make sure everyone knows you own it and what you have learned.

In the end, all of this is just the “mechanics” for creating the environment to maximize the value of your employees (and others around you). One last idea for you to consider when maximizing the value of an employee is to be a role model for all to emulate — in other words, to maximize an employee’s value all you have to do is maximize your leadership.

And with that, I will leave you to your Internet searches on the topic and one of the blogs I’ve written on Leadership.



* In my experience there is a need to put some definition around these two words so there is a working definition for “reasonable and fun”; if only so people don’t default to their own definitions.

Renée — I think the value of your employees is most easily maximized and measured through productivity and the things that feed into it. The key is to do your level best to create an engaged culture because productivity, or the lack thereof, is actually a leadership issue and not an employee issue. Sorry to tell you this, but you really didn’t hire a bunch of losers. Your troubles are all about your leadership and the leadership of every single team leader in your company.

Gallup conducts annual studies of employee engagement in companies all across the USA (and the world). Unfailingly, the overall results are that American companies suffer billions of dollars in losses every year because more than 2/3 of their workforce is disengaged. The results are even worse globally.  The facts show that because of the way many employers treat their employees, the majority of the workforce is just putting in time at a job that is “just a job” to them. Companies that boast higher levels of engagement are the ones who treat employees like the valuable resource they are. Your products or services are never more important than the people who support them. Your business will never be all it can be, if you don’t nurture your relationship with your employees.

Are your employees sufficiently challenged, appreciated, developed and respected? Below is a list of seven things you can do to maximize the value of your employees and boost your bottom line.

Provide Training: Investing in training your employees to do their jobs better, or to do jobs they are more suited for is a very worthwhile endeavor. Employees who receive training are more productive than those who don’t. I like this famous Zig Ziglar quote about the value of training employees. He is bang on!

The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is not training employees and keeping them. -  Zig Ziglar

Invite feedback for process improvement: Toyota is famous for its A-3 form, named after the size of paper used to print it up. The form provides a way for employees to contribute to process improvement. Toyota management pays employees if their contributions are adopted. Toyota doesn’t make a habit of just collecting feedback in a box and ignoring it. They actually meet and review the contributions and implement whatever makes the most sense. Leveraging the genius of your employees allows your business to become more efficient.  Since efficiency saves time and money, it is worth focussing on. Beware of the pitfall of just asking for input and never using any ideas. Employees will stop caring and allow you to lose tons of money if they don’t feel like their opinions matter. You can download a template of the A-3 form here.

Respect time off: Some employers are just terrible when it comes to respecting the private time of employees. Calling them for information when they are off sick, expecting them to sacrifice family for their job, bothering them while on vacation, not giving adequate time off and expecting people to work through lunch shows a complete lack of respect. No good ever comes of that. Stress leave, quitting, resentment and fatigue all cost your business money. Let people rest and tend to their personal lives.

Trust the law of reciprocity: The law of reciprocity dictates that you get what you give. Don’t be afraid to be generous with your time, money and resources. The majority of your employees will be more than happy to give you all they’ve got if you willingly do the same. We help people who help us. We give to people who give to us, and we respect people who show respect for us. It may seem counter intuitive to run your business that way if you never have before. Try it for a year and watch magical things happen.

Keep everyone in the loop: Meetings, memos, newsletters, goal setting and regular performance reviews are the best way to keep the lines of communication flowing. Nobody can know how they are doing or what you need from them if you don’t have communication systems in place. Keep your communications positive by focussing on what people are doing right. You’ll get more of the good stuff if you do that.

 Encourage team work: Collaborative work environments are more productive than any other. Our technology driven culture makes it even easier to get people together to contribute information and be proactive in the work we do. You can still go old school and choose to do your team work in a board room but if you really want to be efficient consider the technology that exists to help you. You can access social media or even purchase a customized program to facilitate the flow of information across all departments of your organization. Companies like Corporate IQ develop customized data communications solutions which gather information from all areas of a company to create among other things, actionable items, notifications and alerts that support efficiency and productivity. Their product saves a ton of time and allows you to take a proactive approach to problems and avoid being reactive all the time.

Cultivate an environment of mutual respect: I am an advocate of zero tolerance for bullying and harassment in the workplace. Absolutely no one in any organization should be permitted to behave with disrespect for any person’s beliefs, life choices, intelligence, gender, heritage, physical capabilities or professional capabilities. Business leaders need to understand that transgressors are a liability to the business. This means you have to be prepared to fire your star sales rep or your VP of whatever if they fall into bullying or harassing another employee. Trust me when I tell you that you will do just fine without them.

I view my role more as trying to set up an environment where the personalities, creativity and individuality of all the different employees come out and can shine. - Tony Hsieh

 Ultimately it is your leadership skills that will allow you to maximize the value of your employees. I am a big fan of continuous learning and suggest that no matter how refined your leadership skills are, that you never stop striving to be the best you can be. That example will serve to inspire many.

Thanks to the social media platform beBee, Renée Cormier & Graham Edwards developed a business relationship and friendship that typically involves regular meetings, goal setting sessions, etc. Our meetings often provide the fuel for plans around business strategy, blog ideas and more.

Renee & Graham Blog Plate.jpg


Moments — build and develop...

"I need you to hire 15 people and fill this room."

"How long do I have?"

"Three months."


Three months later bums were in seats; then 24 months later (after some course corrections) viability was proven  — the team, as well as its expanded future iterations, became part of the sales channel strategy.

I only think of this because recently I came upon the Inside Sales Development Program manual I created as part of the ongoing development of the Inside Sales channel — I smiled as I thumbed through the manual not only because of the memories but also because of the reminder that once you have built something there is an ongoing need to keep developing it.

Constant development begets constant building.

Ironically, this development program was never used by its intended audience but did become the core for another initiative and team I helped built — and with it, I became a better strategic thinker, tactical executer, and people leader.

Build and develop... build and develop...

There is no other way.