More on why employees don’t do what they’re supposed to do

Last May I wrote about a book I discovered that for me unlocked all the mysteries of worker non-performance, and how these myriad reasons were connected to the training industry and current training practices.  You can find that post here. I based the post on the first chapter of Ferdinand Fournies’ excellent book “Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To Do.”

If you’re a sales manager and your team seems to have challenges in doing the things you want them to do, this book is a must read.  In my post last year I covered the first of these obstacles, “They don’t know WHY they should do it,” and I gave you some examples and remedies.

Starting today, I’ll share some other reasons with you, skipping over Chapter Two, which is “They don’t know how to do it,” because when your team doesn’t know how to do something, that is a very good reason to train them, which is what I do. 

Instead, I’ll focus on the other less obvious reasons that are not addressed by training, the first of which is discussed in Chapter Three and is simply, “They don’t know what they are supposed to do.”  Now you may think this is absurd.  Of course people know what they are supposed to do, but let’s look at some examples.

First, go look at the job descriptions of any given job in your company. Let’s suppose we have a sales position, and tasks for the incumbent include “prospecting.” If you were to sit down with a dozen employees at random and ask them exactly what activities are included in the task “prospecting,” you would be surprised at the variations.

When I am prospecting, do I call people on the phone, ask customers for referrals, make on-site visits to local businesses?  What are the actual, discrete tasks associated with prospecting?  When clients give me vague descriptions of job goals I always ask these questions because they help clients think through what they really want the salespeople to do.

If I tell my team that the work day starts at 8:30 and from now on I want everyone to be punctual, what does that mean?  Should they be at their desks working at 8:30?  Walking in the door at 8:30?  Getting a cup of coffee in the cafeteria at 8:30? The concept “punctual” needs to be defined by behaviors.

Another obstacle occurs when managers use tired metaphors to describe performance.  Starting tomorrow, I want everyone to hit the ground running.  Good.  What on earth does that mean?  What does it mean when I tell my people that in order to achieve our sales goals everyone must have “a greater sense of urgency.”  I know just what urgency is, and I can even sense it, but what on earth am I supposed to do?

Next sales meeting, when you challenge your team to a higher level of achievement, check yourself for vagueness.  Qualify every mandate with behavioral descriptors, so you get in the habit of saying, “and when I say ‘make more calls,’ here’s what I mean by more calls.”

If this sounds like a good idea, then go ahead and implement it ASAP.  Whoops!  Did you ask yourself what ASAP means?  Good.  That means you got something from today’s post!

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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