How to get that challenging employee to do what I want.

A question from Madeline, who says she’s a fan!

I have a subordinate that just avoids wanting to make revisions to our HR presentation, and does it in a passive way leaving it to the last minute and then just passing the buck back to me. I don’t want to threaten to fire her for what could be seen as minor problem, nor do I want to spend my time micromanaging her?

I can certainly appreciate this. My very first substantial management problem was I had a secretary- in the days when secretaries were secretaries (type and file)- and she refused to file. She was a great lady and a real asset to the team except no one knew where anything was and Alana refused to be responsible for this and for the putting it right. And no matter how much logic and cajoling and encouraging, and discussing_ i could not enable Alana to see her self as a filing star.

I can agree that the greatest management challenge everyone faces is motivating people to do what they’d rather not do. So how can leaders persuade others without alienating them?

I certainly aren’t an expert on this, and I ended up firing Alana for not filing- she went to join an Ad Agency as a junior creative she never wanted to be a secretary- but i checked with some of my friends and they suggested consulting-  “Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything — Fast!,” by Michael Pantalon, for its helpful advice.

He suggests, and you could try, instead of asking the typical rational but ineffective questions we use to encourage, try the following two seemingly irrational questions:

Q1. How ready are you to make the revisions to the HR presentation, on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means not ready at all and 10 means totally ready?

On the rare chance that she says, ’1,’ surprise her by saying, (your second question); ‘What would turn it into a 2?’  In telling you what it would take for her to become a 2, she reveals what she needs to do before she is able to make the revisions to the campaign. That is what you can motivate her to do first.

If she picks a number higher than 2, the the first question ask,

Q2.  ‘Why didn’t you pick a lower (yes, lower) number?’


Lets go back to Question 1, it seems irrational, because you’re asking her, ‘How ready are you…?’ of a person who just said, ‘No,’ which we can assume means not at all ready. However, it appears that most resistant people have some level of motivation that they keep from us.

If you ask the typical logical questions they continue to keep their motivation hidden. But if you ask them the ’1-10′ question, they’re much more likely to reveal their motivation by saying a 2 or a 3, which is far better — you’ve now moved from a ‘No’ to your request to at least a ‘Maybe’ to it.

Question 2 seems really irrational, perhaps even absurd… However, by asking it, you’re asking her to defend why your directive to revise the campaign is even the slightest bit important to her… rather than to defend her excuses why she won’t do it (e.g., too busy).

The answers she gives lead her to rehearse the positive and intrinsic reasons for doing what you asked, which, in turn, will dramatically increase the chances that she gets the project done. You can then follow up on the reasons she gave to the motivation questions, support her on this and get her to motivate herself.

I hope this innovative approach works for your madeline, and please let us know how the discussion went.