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Employees Avoid Responsibility – How to Fix It


I sometimes meet with managers that have trouble getting their direct reports to accept responsibility for this or that task or objective. In cases such as these, I often find the manager's employees have become disengaged to such an extent that they no longer wish to cooperate with their peers. All too often, the manager has allowed this low performance and non-cooperative culture to develop over some considerable time.

I ask such managers to take a big-picture view and ask themselves what it is they do on a daily/weekly basis to engage their employees and cultivate a team-based approach to work. I prompt them with a bunch of questions, including the following:

 • Do you set challenging department goals that are mutually agreed with your staff?
 • Do you devise goals that require collaboration for success? -or only individual goals?
 • Do you track and report progress on your department's/team goals?
 • Do you meet weekly in a team meeting with all of your staff to share ideas and update progress?
 • Do you meet with each of your staff weekly for a one-on-one "What-Is-Going-On" meeting to discuss individual concerns and progress?
 • Do you show a personal interest in each and every staff member? Do you practice Management By Walking Around?
 • Do you provide both positive and negative feedback on a regular basis?
 • Do you reward positive behavior and team achievements?
 • Do you confront poor behavior in a non-emotive and direct way? -or do you blow up?
 • Are you open to criticism without becoming defensive? Do you actively seek feedback from others?
 • Do you compliment existing employees by asking them to buddy/mentor a new recruit?

If you are in a similar situation, ask yourself how you can apply some of these ideas to your case. Begin by clearly articulating the benefits of completing the task or achieving the objective (a) to your department and (b) to your employees. Benefits to your department may include less rework and customer complaints. Benefits to employees may be increased respect from peers and people in other departments. Once you have articulated the benefits, call a special meeting to discuss your new direction. You now have a base from which to work.

Secondly, find out why your employees do not want to perform the task or achieve the goal. Find the real reasons, not just the presenting reasons. You can do that at your regular weekly one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports. Find out the roadblocks and remove them. It may be that they are under resourced or feel unappreciated. Whatever the reasons, fix it. You may find our employee performance diagnostic tool helpful here.

Thirdly, reward those employees that act on their responsibilities and discipline those that do not. Their behaviors will not change if there are no or inconsequential outcomes. Perhaps set up an employee of the month award or give the best employees time off. The rewards do not need to be financial to be effective. For those that continue to refuse even after the roadblocks have been removed, start them on your company's disciplinary process. Ignoring obstructers will only serve to demoralize those that are putting in the effort.

I have touched on some of the questions raised in my list of questions above. Now go through the remainder and fill out further how you can more actively engage your employees in carrying out their responsibilities. Tell us about your staff challenges and how you overcame them. We would love to hear your stories.

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