Managing public servants - They just say no!

 Hi everyone


I'm a junior manager in a government department, and have inherited 16 great people, only thing is, they are very lazy and if I ask them to do something, Some just straight out say no.

The public service is a great place to work, I'm in social welfare and these guys are putting up with a lot of rubbish, I don't want to over load them, but I can't keep doing it all for them either!

Does anyone have any suggestions on how I could change the teams attitude towards doing their job not only efficiently, but if I give them assignments to do they they actually do them.

All 16 of them range the full spectrum of the disc model, so its a little tricky, additionally, I cant expand on the projects (in this forum) on what they do, but any advise on this would be really appreciated,


Iain Bayly

Go Back and Listen To the Manager Tools Basics Podcasts

You change behaviour first and that changes attitudes - never the other way around.  I suggest going back and listening to the Manager Tools Basics podcasts which go through this in detail.

Good Luck.

The three types of power

I don't know if there's been a whole podcast about the topic, but something that Mark and Mike refer to regularly is the three types of "power" that you can use to make something happen.  They refer to it as role power, relationship power, and expertise power.

Role power is your ability to make life easier or harder for people.  It is what the organisation gives you in exchange for your assumption of a particular role within the hierarchy.  You get what you're given, and you can't easily change what you've got.  It is what almost all (poor) managers rely on as their only means of getting things done.  It is, at best, a very blunt weapon, and it becomes less effective with repeated use.  Keep it in reserve for those times you *really* need it.  In your position, you probably have very little role power anyway.  I'd guess you probably can't fire anyone, or even give them a really damaging annual review.

Expertise power is where people respect your opinion in a specific area, and are willing to do what you say because they know you know what you're talking about.  Very effective when you have it, very hard to change quickly.

That leaves us with relationship power.  It's how you can get your friends to help you move house, or get someone to loan you $50.  People do things for *you*, because they have a relationship with *you*.  You can build relationships fairly quickly (over a few months), and relationship power can get people to do amazing things, so it is a great thing to focus on to help you achieve results.

How do you build relationships?  If you're like me, a lot of your best friends are people you repeatedly got horribly drunk with when you were young and irresponsible.  That's not such a winning strategy at work (fortunately, my liver tells me).  The way that Manager Tools suggests building relationships at work is to have regular conversations about issues of interest to the other person.  You can apply this across the organisation by just going to someone and asking them about stuff, but for your directs, the Manager Tools one-on-one is the gold standard.  Weekly, scheduled, and (mostly) about the direct and their needs, not about you and yours.

Over time (within a few months), you should see the number of times that your directs just tell you flat out "no" should decrease significantly.  If it doesn't, consider whether or not you're really building relationships in your one-on-ones or if you're just subjecting them to another half hour of your presence.

Another area which you can work on immediately (but becomes more effective with relationships) is the way in which you ask.  There are a million ineffective ways in which you could ask for something to be done, but one single thing that makes a difference to how well things get done is to give the person the bigger picture.  Knowing that what you're doing has a positive impact on others is a strong motivator.  Explain why you're asking for something to be done, and how it works with other things that are going on.  So, instead of saying, "Joe, could you write up your report on the Smith case?", you could say, "Joe, I'm preparing the report on the random cases audit that's being done, and the Smith case, which you're handling, is one of the ones that's been chosen.  I've got to get the consolidated report to Mary (your boss) by 4pm Thursday, so are you able to have your report done by 10am Thursday so I've got enough time to incorporate it before the deadline?"  I'd be amazed if you didn't get a more positive response (even if it's just a less emphatic pushback) from the second form of your request.

Finally, if you want to push things a little, just ask "why?"  While people's internal motivations aren't something that we strictly care about, for someone who is just used to getting their way without any pushback, just asking "why?" over and over can have some interesting results.  It is a bit of a nuclear option, though -- it can build resentment very quickly, especially if done poorly -- so keep it in reserve as an option of last resort.  Basically, you just keep asking "Why?" to whatever excuse is given, until you get something that you can address specifically.