The gentle art of nagging

Here’s one question we often hear from readers: How do I get my employees to follow instructions without having to keep nagging them?

Too much nagging, of course, can make staffers feel stupid. They may think you lack faith in them. But by keeping quiet, you’re left worried and uncertain as to whether important tasks will get done in a timely and effective manner.

Say you assume something that you asked an employee to do was done, and then you learn you were wrong. Once burned, you may resort to nagging in the future.

These strategies may help you give gentle reminders without triggering a revolt from resentful workers:

Ask first. When you first tell employees that you need them to do something, don’t just bark out orders and leave it at that. Ask for their input on how you should follow up. Example: If you want to ensure that a worker attends an upcoming meeting, say, “I’m about to give you all the details about an important meeting that I want you to attend. How would you like me to follow up in the days ahead to make sure you’re there?” Most employees will insist that follow-up isn’t needed; after all, who wants to admit that they may forget? In any case, by allowing them to decide whether you should nag or not, you place the responsibility to comply squarely on their shoulders.

Clip and send related materials. If you don’t want to nag, try the indirect approach. Photocopy a memo, report or newspaper article that relates to the task at hand and attach a handwritten “FYI” note. On the surface, you’re providing helpful tidbits of information that make your employees’ jobs easier. But at the same time, you’re implicitly reminding them that the work must get done.

Get advice. Rather than pester others, find out how they manage the same situation with their staff, spouse, children, etc. Say, “You know, I hate to be put in a position of having to nag. How do you handle it when you need to make sure others follow through?” They may have already devised some great techniques that will work just as effectively on them!