When employees do the same things over and over and over again ….

Grace has turned around and is headed back from the way we just came. I am always so sure that one of these times she is going to really enjoy snowshoeing with me. So why am I surprised when she continues to say, “Nope. Not having any fun out here. It’s cold and hard to walk. Haven’t we been through this before?”

Ever manage a person who does the same thing over and over and over again? That ‘thing’ could be good or could be bad. As managers, it is obviously great if an employee is consistently doing excellent work. But what if an employee is continually struggling with a task, or resists it completely?

Well, my bets are that the manager is asking the same thing of the person, in the same way, over and over and over again. See the problem?

And often the manager starts to ask even more aggressively or forcefully, applying more pressure to perform. That’s especially true if we believe that person has the capability and/or the capacity for the work.

Grace pointed this out to me a few days ago when I, once again, tried to get her to go snowshoeing with me. I love being out there walking around in the crisp air, weaving around in the tunneling system I created. And I’m absolutely, positively certain, that Grace will appreciate the fact that I’ve invested my time and energy to make these paths for her, just so she’ll have a nice place to stretch her legs amid the expanse of snow that is too deep for her to walk through.

Yet, this year is no different from previous years. Her response to me is the same. Maybe it’s the cold air that she doesn’t like. Or because her paws sink down (after all, she doesn’t have the benefit of wearing snowshoes to help her like I do), or maybe she’s not comfortable with the walls of snow on either side of her. Or it could be some other reason that doesn’t even dawn on me. Whatever the reason, she follows slowly, reluctantly, frequently stopping, and eventually turning around. From the first moment that she knows what’s on my mind, she gives me plenty of signals — signals I block out because I’m so set with how I think she should behave. Instead of listening, I remain set in my own way, because I’m quite certain that she’ll change her mind, miraculously starting to find this as fun as I do. 

I’m here to tell you that if something isn’t working, doing the same thing over and over and over again to fix it won’t get you the results you need.

Here are some easy steps I recommend to get your started on a new path:

  • Be aware that you both are in a rut. Initiate a conversation about the situation and work to identify what the cause is. Could things be improved with learning a new skill? Or is it just something that is not a good fit given the person’s interest and career goals? Assessments are a great way to uncover root causes objectively.
  • Arrive at consensus about how to “fix” the problem. Options include keeping the responsibility with the person and working to improve it, or removing it from the employee’s plate all together. You’ll need to take into consideration how important the task is to the overall job requirement, and how realistic it is to offload in order to make the best choice. These are tough decisions, but need to happen one way or the other.
  • Discuss what each of you will do to alter current behaviors. Be creative in how you could mix it up. Have some fun. Involve others in the idea-generation. Often people outside the situation can see it more clearly. If you remove the stigma that someone is at fault or doing something wrong, as opposed to finding a better solution, it opens up the possibilities for resolution.
  • Establish a timeline to check-in and reassess progress. That could be every day or every week. But don’t wait too long. Change takes a concerted effort and it needs a spotlight on it to ensure it’s top of mind for all those involved.

Recognize that some things may never change, so better to deal with it, rather than to continue to be frustrated when it doesn’t.

Next time, I’ll be letting Grace hangout in her sunbeam while I’m tunneling around. That will result in more satisfaction for us both. It means that I can finally let go of my own expectations of what she should like to do and recognize the issue from her perspective.

Can you think of a situation you can improve? Share your story here with a comment so everyone can benefit. Let’s brainstorm together. 


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