What to Do When Employees Aren't Performing

Just because you have minions, doesn’t mean they’ll do your bidding. Get-It-Done Guy explains what to do when delegation fails.
Stever Robbins
6-minute read
Episode #537

Doing stuff! I just love doing stuff! No…I don’t. I really hate doing stuff. In fact, I’d rather be reclining in a velvet divan while my admirers carry me to and fro. “Over there! Near the cherry tree! Ashley, did you bring the peeled grapes? Be a good minion and feed them to me? Yay, say I!” With my luck, Ashley would just stand there, examining their nails, while the grapes sit nearby, unpeeled. #FirstWorldProblems

In my pursuit of the glorious aspirational life of leisure, I talked about how to delegate your work to minions (episode 340). And then in episode 386, I discussed how to get over your natural fear of delegation. Today, we’re going to delve deeper.

Minions Are Unreliable

As much as you love peeled grapes, you’d rather not share them with your minions, right? I mean, minions can’t appreciate them. And besides, you’re better than they are. You are the one invited to Davos. They act out. They don’t do the tasks you’ve delegated. At least, I’m pretty sure they’re acting out. What other reasons could they have for not getting things done?

Er…well, maybe your specifications were unclear. Or they don’t know how to do the thing. Or their dog ate their homework. 

Upon reflection, may be many reasons they didn’t deliver. So what’s a world-dominator like yourself to do?

Ask Direct Questions

Sit down with your minion, and ask: "What’s going on? What support do you need to peel the grapes?"

As they answer, listen carefully for the how-to, want-to, chance-to that we talked about in episode 270, on Joe Yeager’s three questions to help you set goals. The lack of any one of the three is enough to keep them from delivering your peeled grapes.

People Often Say “I Didn't Have a Chance To”

Minions are often happy to report when they don’t have a chance to do the work. They’re busy. There were emergencies. Their alarm didn’t go off. It wasn’t their fault. 

Or they didn’t have a chance because they’re missing the tools. Ashley complains that I didn’t provide a grape-peeler for their use. And they expect that to be a legitimate excuse? They should have just used a…used a…Ok, fine. I should have provided a grape peeler. 

If the problem is "I didn't have the chance to," it means they lacked opportunity.

People Sometimes Say “I Don’t Know How”

They may hesitate more to admit they didn’t know how to do the work. Some people can say “I don’t know how.” Others, however, were trained in middle school never to admit they don’t know. And if they said they didn’t know, the teacher would make them read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in front of class. They would become a social pariah. The other kids would ridicule them. The other teachers would…let’s just say some things make a big impression when you’re young. My therapist and I are working on it.

So minions will admit if they don’t know how to do something. But sometimes they won’t, if they believe ignorance equals death.

If the problem is "I didn't know how to," then they need instruction.

People Never Say “I Don’t Want To”

And in business, people never admit they don’t want to do the work. We pretend we love what we do (even though 64% of the workforce is not “actively engaged,” according to Gallup). We pretend we love our co-workers. We put on our cheery face and go to work, grateful for the opportunity to contribute to Such. An. Amazing. Workplace! YAY, US!!! 

In reality, if we don’t conform to the dictates of our corporate overlords, we will be punished and probably fired. So when someone is asked, “Why didn’t you peel the grapes?” you can be sure that if the problem is lack of motivation, they won’t admit that out loud.

If the problem is "I didn't want to," then they need motivation.

Now, how do we go about fixing each of these delegation fails?


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.