How can you teach employees to think and act on their own?

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Question: “How do you train employees who can’t (or won’t) think and act on their own?”  —Frustrated they don't 'get it'

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy September 26, 2011 at 1:16 pm

I think in a lot of cases people think the less they know, the less they’ll be responsible for doing. I’ve worked with a few very intelligent people who tried to get out of work this way.

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Mark September 25, 2011 at 12:20 pm

You made VERY good points. With some people who have never had an office job before, you really do have to watch exactly what you say. We’ve had a similar experience as your Fed Ex story, and the person did have a good point. We did say to Fed Ex ALL of a certain item out, so the person was entirely justified for having done what was obvious to us. We’ve had several people who have never used a fax machine in their life, so when told to fax something, they thought they just put it in the slot like a copier. They didn’t dial any numbers! They never knew that faxes go over a phone line, so the thought never occurred to them that they need to key in the recipients phone number. Again, what’s obvious to an experienced office person is not even remotely obvious to a newbie.

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Mark September 25, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Could the person be getting mixed signals? We had a couple people here who would say something to the effect of, “We’re told to think for ourselves and be proactive and make judgment calls without having to go to supervisors, but when we do and it’s a decision supervisor don’t like, we get in trouble. Then you wonder why we don’t want to make decisions on our own.” They had good points. Not saying you are doing it, but it happened here, a person can’t tell others to make their own decisions and complain that they made the wrong ones.

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Sue September 20, 2011 at 10:28 am

I once hired an assistant who had great GPA from a top college but I was so frustrated trying to train her. I had to explain every single detail, sort of like Amelia Bedelia. She’d led a sheltered life, no tv, very religious. It didn’t help that she was replacing Super Assistant who was leaving for grad school…Super Assistant tried to train her too, but ran into same challenges I did. I had to teach/train her not only in all our regular procedures, but also teach her things that neither of us knew she didn’t know. (She once sent a fed express package to an office that was literally across the street instead of walking it over because “You said to fed ex them to ALL the board members.”)

I was so frustrated then and still ashamed now at how impatient I was with her. She was young, and probably too afraid/insecure to ask me things she should have because she sensed my frustration about all the other things she couldn’t remember/understand. Looking back, I should’ve 1) put more stuff in writing w/ a check list for her to refer back to and 2) suggested she ask a peer when she had questions about some of our SOPs, needed help with the fax/copy machine, etc.

Susan, I wish I’d had the foresight to use the words of your former boss. (“Before you come to me with any issue, think of several possible solutions. Always keep in mind that to solve a problem, the solution must be cost effective for the company as well the customer.”)

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DeeCee September 20, 2011 at 10:00 am

People will be more involved if they feel they have a vested interest in the outcome. If they “own” their decisions, or have the authority to choose; if they get feedback; if you ask them about their thoughts & ideas (not just tell them what to do); then you might get some positive input from them. People need to know they are making a difference, they need to feel that their opinion matters, and they need to feel comfortable with making decisions.
For some people, this shouldn’t be a difficult leap. For others, depending on their prior experiences, this will be more difficult. Give them time and let them know they can do this. Perhaps some assertive training classes would help.
There will always be some people who just aren’t interested, but most of them probably want to do well, and just need direction and mentoring.

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Barbara September 19, 2011 at 5:19 pm

In some cases it is a choice. I believe many people do not act on their own for the simple reason they don’t want the responsibily of follow thru.

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Sherry September 19, 2011 at 4:18 pm

I believe that people need to be challenged to grow. And to start thinking for themselves they need to be encouraged. This comes from praise. When they are praised it gives them confidence and then encourages them to do more. You need to follow up with his type of person a lot at the beginning by making sure they are doing the job correctly and also with praise. Once they start to get on the right track then continuing to challenge them and make them accountable for their actions is the best way to train them and get them to think on their own. It’s all about them having the confidence and desire.

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Susan September 16, 2011 at 3:58 pm

In the late 80′s I worked for a Mutual Fund company in the service department. When I finally got promoted to the problem solving area, my boss told me 1 thing that I have never forgotten, she said, “Before you come to me with any issue, think of several possible solutions. Always keep in mind that to solve a problem, the solution must be cost effective for the company as well the customer.” I was never really a self starter but her answer made me one.

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Gina September 16, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I agree that there are self-starters and they are not, but I’m a self-starter and start things I know my boss will appreciate or that there is a need for. However I hesitate on some things if I’ve gotten questioned in the past or told to run that by him.
I’d have to say if the employee is not a self-started and the boss realizes this then the boss needs to tell them what needs to be done.
I work with something that in my mine hesitates on a lot of stuff and I don’t think my boss sees it, so it annoys me. But they are always willing to help out so I believe that’s why my boss really hasn’t seen the hesitation.
They also seem to be a I don’t have time for this project so I’m not going to do it or they’re waiting to get told to do (not sure). That is also annoying.

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Susan September 16, 2011 at 2:54 pm

A lot of time people hesitate to take action because they are afraid of getting in trouble because of making a wrong decision. Maybe it would be helpful to remind the employee that they have the authority to make this type of decision on their own and that you trust them.

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Debbie September 16, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I believe people are either self-starters or they are not. Sometimes they can be taught small things but most people who are not self-starters will never act on their own; they will wait to be told exactly what to do. With that said however, some people are not willing to take the lead and be proactive just because they can’t be bothered. I would just be very direct about telling the employee what needs to be done. It probably won’t cut down your frustration.

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