How to Move Employees to Compliance (without Driving Yourself Crazy)


Before becoming a manager, you were likely the star player on your team—that’s what caught someone’s eye to target you for promotion. You’re driven and ambitious and always get the job done. But now that you’re leading a team, you realize not everyone shares your drive. Forget about committed—half your team is barely compliant! They aren’t doing their jobs as expected, and it’s driving you crazy!

You are not alone!

Working with managers in our Gillespie Nimble program, I often hear about this issue. Just this week I talked to two new managers, Jack and Jill (names changed, of course), who were at their wits’ end. Jack has a team member who quits a task if she encounters any roadblock. Unfortunately, she also fails to notify anyone that she didn’t complete the task or that she had a problem! Jill has a team member who fails to complete “simple” tasks, like answering email or putting together new client packets, and who is often just a little late or leaves just a little early.

In our Gillespie Nimble Build Trusting Relationships course, we talk about moving employees from compliance to commitment. In other words, the employee is doing her job, but you want to increase her loyalty and commitment so that she’ll go beyond just completing the tasks assigned to her. What we’re talking about with Jack and Jill, however, are employees who aren’t yet compliant—they aren’t doing their jobs, or they aren’t doing them well.

What keeps them from compliance?

When talking to managers about these issues, they often blame non-compliance on the “work ethic of this new generation,” “laziness,” or a “lack of pride in a job well done.” However, the concern is bigger than any of those blanket—and possibly biased—explanations. Often the reason for non-compliance is a lack of managerial standards. Managers have expectations like, “He should answer client emails” and “She should figure out a solution,” but they often lack standards. The difference between expectations and standards may represent the difference between a compliant team and chaos.

We often expect others to be like us. If we’re driven critical thinkers, we expect others to have drive and critical thinking skills. But that’s not always (or even typically) the case. Standards give your employees guidance so they know how you want them to perform.

Here’s the difference between the two:


Two tasks you MUST do to have compliant employees:

1.       Set standards. Clear and complete standards guide your employees. They know exactly what they’re supposed to do, with nothing left to their interpretation. Standards also give you something to measure. If someone underperforms, but all you have to measure against is the expectation “employees should use critical thinking skills,” with such a nebulous expectation, how will you guide the underperformer? However, you will know how to provide guidance to an underperformer if you implement the following standard:

When you encounter an issue, compare it with the following four issues. Find the most similar and apply the listed solution. If the problem persists, escalate the issue to …

2.       Apply consequences. Once you’ve created standards and shared them with your team, you need to establish consequences for failing to adhere to the standards. Consequences are just the natural result of employees’ actions—in this case, failing to follow a standard. We should treat the result as an opportunity to guide employees rather than as a punitive measure. The first consequence might be a conversation to figure out where the employee struggled and then address the underlying issue. As time goes on, notice and remark on progress—lots of positive feedback will encourage employees to continue good behaviors. If the employee consistently underperforms, consequences need to shift to address the underperformance. These consequences will look different in every organization, so discuss the situation with your manager or HR for clarity.

The process of getting your employees to compliance doesn’t have to drive you crazy. If you’re struggling to move your staff to compliance or are ready to work on encouraging commitment, Gillespie Nimble might be right for you!