In my last article, I delved into why staff don’t bother to do what you ask and the problem of apathy. Instead of relying on motivation or money we instead need to focus on hitting the effort sweet spot, making work intrinsically rewarding and acknowledging their efforts.
Today I want to cover the other two reasons your staff doesn’t do what you ask: decision paralysis and anxiety.
What to do when staff are overwhelmed
If your staff seem like bunnies in the headlights who can’t make a decision, it’s probably because they feel overwhelmed. I call this ‘decision paralysis’ and it often happens when priorities are in conflict and everything seems equally urgent and important.
Your role is to help them clarify both their objective and their first step towards it. Keep it simple — they just need to start — and help them disentangle what is urgent vs. what is important.
What to do when staff are scared
The final barrier to getting staff to do stuff is the silent killer of staff performance: anxiety. In this case, your staff may know what to do and why, but they are worried about proceeding. They may feel there is too much pressure to perform (for example, the situation is high stakes or high profile), they are out of their depth (for example, a competency issue) or that to proceed means breaking the cultural dynamic (in other words, tall poppy syndrome).
Your role is to give them the following.
1. Nothing to fear if they do what you want
Encourage a ‘growth mindset’ culture where trying and learning is rewarded. Let them know their job is secure and you have their back. Let them feel safe calling out when they are out of depth, and note relating stories about when you felt this way will make it permissible.
2. Something to fear if they don’t
Send the message through your actions that people who don’t put in will be left behind and miss out realising their own potential. Reward teams for the behaviour you want to see and have them acknowledge teammates that make a difference so you create a culture where those who don’t contribute will feel like they are letting others down.
Is managing staff sometimes exhausting? Yes. Thankless? Often. But it is also one of the best things you can do. It is my ardent belief most people turn up to work wanting to do a good job — your task is to let them.