You have been through this before. An employee seems to know what to do. You have communicated the procedure, and probably explained the steps. And…it isn’t done. Or it isn’t done right.

You could tear your hair out! Ranting and raving, getting mad and frustrated or just doing it yourself are all ineffective. So why, oh why don’t people follow procedures?

Part A – Are you the problem?

Well first you need to check your own capacity to communicate something clearly. If you haven’t followed ALL these necessary steps, the problem is not your employee, it is your approach. Copy and refer back to this list until you can do it automatically.

  • Clarify the procedure in your own head
  • Speak it out to yourself
  • Write it out and have a copy/virtual version easily available in several places
  • Make sure you explain the procedure in a place and at a time the employee/s can actually focus on it and listen to it. If the area is noisy, you need to find a quieter place
  • Check that you and the employee(s) have made eye contact and that their body language shows they are attentive to you
  • Explain why this procedure is important, ask the employee to imagine who it affects if there is a mistake or an issue
  • Explain what the procedure is
  • CHECK FOR UNDERSTANDING using either “show me”, “tell me”, or “teach this to someone” to find out if they actually do understand it. (Do NOT ask “Do you understand?” because the answer is always “yes” even if they don’t understand)
  • Get the employee to explain or come up with the “how” of the procedure so you can listen for any missing information
  • Let the employee know you will be around at certain times for check in, help and to see how things are going
  • Monitor soon afterwards, correct if necessary, acknowledge
  • Monitor again, acknowledge
  • Let some time pass and monitor a 3rd time, acknowledge
  • Ask the employee to check in with you at an appointed date and time to let you know how things are going
Part B: Is the system the problem?

If you have done all of the “am I the problem” section and the procedure is still not being followed it could be one of these system issues:

  1. No evidence that the procedures help them do the job better, faster, easier. (From their prospective not management).
  2. The procedures directly conflict with other expectations which are more demanding of attention. Example: a checklist process that takes 1 hour to complete, and a requirement that requests will be answered in 30 minutes.
  3. No clear and justified repercussions for not following the procedures. Example: non-compliant documents are issued over and over, but there is no follow up.
  4. The procedure is painful to follow. Your checklist may be amazing to you. Just it’s hidden in a submenu and requires a password and doesn’t fit within the normal flow of how someone else other than you would use it.

Ideally procedures make things better. But they have to be created or contributed to by the people who use them, and the environment has to support the change. Click To Tweet Finally, ongoing monitoring and adjustments are necessary to keep the procedure relevant.

Remember: Procedures will always fail if the people who use them had no input anywhere into their creation or modification, when procedures add more work and when nothing in the environment makes the procedural change easy and sustainable.

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Part C: Is the employee’s life or communication pattern the problem?

You don’t need to be told that people are complex and have their own personal reasons for things not going right. Here are a few:

  1. They don’t like, trust or believe you no matter what you do
  2. Past company issues are still in their minds even if other people have moved on and the original problem was solved
  3. They have home, health, financial or addictions issues that are stopping them from focusing on the job
  4. They have not developed a sense of accountability to the team or the workplace and need to be taught how to do this
  5. They feel criticized and judged by you(whether or not it is true) so they make more and more mistakes

In each of the above, a conversation with the employee in a safe, one on one to find out what is bothering them usually helps solve the issue. After that they need to be reminded that things are different and they have to stop telling themselves the old story. And it goes without saying that if you aren’t consistent or trustworthy, or if you are actually judging and criticizing them, the situation will not improve. Assuming all these things are in place, if the employee is not a good fit for the job, your next step should be obvious.

Part D: A solution walk through!

Checklists and reminders are helpful, but sometimes you need a situation to see how it could work in a specific context. Here is one that came up for me recently from a coaching client.

Situation: Employee consistently brings the wrong dental cassette to the dentist. There are only two cassettes, one for fillings and one for cleanings. It really isn’t that hard. Let’s examine all the possible reasons why the procedure is not being followed.

1: Start with the personal

Personal things in the employee’s life could be interfering with focusing on the job. First find out what those things could be by asking some probing but considerate questions like, “Is something bothering you?, “What is going on in your life that might interfere with your job right now?” Once the employee has shared something, ask, “What do you think could be done to fix this problem?” or “What have you already done to fix this problem?” Then say, “Is there something I can do to make things easier for you to focus on your job at work?” Really listen attentively and don’t jump to judgments or solutions. People often auto-correct the problem once they have named it to someone because naming promotes accountability. Click To Tweet

If this does not fix the problem, you need to move to further diagnosis. Here are other possibilities.

2: Demonstration required

Demonstrate exactly what materials need to be set up for each dental job and have a checklist in which the correct cassette is part of the list.

3: Employee doesn’t believe in the process or understand why it matters

Remind the employee that this is a filling or cleaning context. Then ask for the cassette that goes with the process. Be patient. Losing your temper will not help.

4: Missing a sense of ownership

Ask the employee what would help her remember to get the right cassette, for example are the cassettes different colours? Does she need to tell herself which cassette to get as she is walking to get it? Are the cassettes close or far from the place they need to be before they are used?

5: Thinking there are no consequences

Example of how to escalate the issue:

First time it is brought up: It wastes both our time and is irritating when you don’t bring the correct cassette. I want to see the correct cassette for the job every day for this entire week.

Escalate after one week: You were able to do this job correctly for 3 days, what happened to cause you to make mistakes the other two days? I expect you to correct this problem. I am considering this a first warning and will be documenting it.

Last chance: We are now at the end of week three and you have continued to make this mistake. If it happens again you will lose one hour of pay. More than twice and I will have to let you go.

6: Employee wants to innovate or to be “free” to use own judgement

I understand that you are a creative person and need some opportunities to make decisions at work. Let me explain where you have some freedom and where you do not…

7: Employee is not trained

Let’s go through the procedure of getting ready for a patient. Walk me through what supplies you need to prepare and how you know what to do.

8: Employee can’t see the big picture

Every small avoidable mistake that happens upsets me, which puts me in a bad mood for the patient and makes you feel bad. All these bad feelings increase the amount of mistakes everyone in the office makes. I need you to focus on…so we don’t end up in this situation to begin with. Tell me what is getting in the way of you focusing so we can move past this.

9: Employee is disengaged

I can’t think of any reason for mixing up the cassettes other than that you have lost your desire to work here or you don’t feel excited about your work. What would help you feel more engaged and passionate?

10: The process is complicated or hard to locate

What suggestions do you have for simplifying this process so we can have the right cassette for the right job 100% of the time?

11: Employee wants to respond to an individual customer request and deviates from the process as a result

I know you are just trying to be responsive to the customer, but you don’t have the authority to make that decision. If you are unclear about the procedure, you need to check with me first.

In conclusion, if an employee is not following a procedure, it could be:

  1. That you are not setting it up correctly
  2. That the system doesn’t work
  3. That the employee has an issue
  4. That you haven’t diagnosed the problem correctly

The four sections of this article will help you get a grasp on solidifying your capacity to explain, implement and have employees master procedures, but of course it is just the beginning.

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Click here to get onto our masterclass invitation list!


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10 reasons why employees don’t follow organizational processes

About Marie:

Marie Gervais, PhD., CEO of Shift Management Inc., provides managerial training and workforce interpersonal development to business and industry through online courses and web coaching. She helps individuals and organizations build talent and skills for leadership, communication, and conflict resolution particularly at the supervisory and middle management level. Her work has gained a reputation for excellence in integration and inclusion of the diverse workforce. With her team at Shift Management, Dr Gervais helps clients reach their business goals through team building coaching and industry-specific training development for interpersonal leadership skills. Her impactful digital and multi-media resources have been successfully implemented with many different populations and contexts. The results prove that a learning workplace is a happy and profitable one!

Check out Marie’s podcast Culture and Leadership Connections on Apple Podcasts and on the Shift website to hear stories of leadership and all things cultural. Consider the signature Supervisory Leadership Certificate Course for upskilling your workforce at:

Contact information:

780 993 1062