Results by John Austin, PhD

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I often ask… “What is your biggest question or challenge
when it comes to
people at work?”

Most answers are something like this one, “I want to know how to get people to do what they are supposed to do.” That could mean anything from showing up on time to work to meeting deadlines for an ERP implementation, reducing injuries, or improving production, and anything in between.

Whatever the specifics are for you, in this article I’m going to provide you with some actionable tips on how to improve results from your team at work and reduce your frustrations.

ASIDE: If you’ve got other concerns or frustrations that this post doesn’t address, reply to this message to tell me topics you’d like to know more about when it comes to managing or leading people at work and I’ll try to write something science-based for you too.

It seems clear among most people I work with that basic supervision has become a challenge to implement in today’s world. There are lots of reasons, but our anonymous polls of thousands of people at work each year show these are among the top barriers.

People we’ve polled say they:

  • feel expected to do more than they have time for at work
  • are asked to do too many things that don’t add value to the business
  • have too many low-value meetings
  • have too many emails – often requiring responses at night, holidays, and weekends
  • don’t hear from their direct supervisor unless something is wrong
  • don’t get enough proactive coaching and support
  • don’t get enough recognition

Now, most people will not bring up this kind of stuff publicly. People don’t want to be overly negative, or appear to be complainers. But if you ask them using anonymous live polling, you can get people to be super honest, even in front of their peers. (Write me if you’d like more information on the live poling systems we use. There are many different systems available.)

Organizations usually have lots of technology designed to enable managers to get more done with fewer human resources, but because they are so busy with other distractions, technology is not enough and basic elements of management and supervision often get neglected.

When we are too busy, we rely more and more on telling people what must be done and less on following up to verify, support, and coach it’s completion. There is lots of science that suggests:

  • telling is usually less effective than asking
  • giving people some choice in how they complete a task produces superior motivation and results
  • communicating by email is not very effective
  • creating the awareness or expectation that a task must be done, without measuring it’s completion is usually an ineffective strategy. Yet, it’s the most widely used strategy in business today.

The lost art of monitoring.

There are probably 1000s of studies or more on effective supervision skills. These are relevant to anyone who manages others at work, at any level of the business, and in any industry. Below I’ve abstracted a couple of basic well-accepted tenets for you.

According to the science, effective supervision involves 2 parts:

1) clearly communicating and agreeing on expectations (who is supposed to engage in what behavior or produce which result, in what timeline, and how will we know if we succeeded), and then…

2) supervising the actions to see that they occur in line with expectations.

Setting and agreeing on expectations is basically planning – it’s talk designed to improve the chances of you getting what you want.

Basic behavioral supervision involves two parts:
Monitoring and Consequences

1. Monitoring

Monitoring is about checking to see if actions are occurring in line with expectations.

  • If you’ve missed the expectations phase, monitoring is much more difficult. However, if you’re good at monitoring and consequences, you can clarify expectations over time.
  • Monitoring involves observing the behavior of the person performing the work, so this means you must be fluent at observing behavior. This is a skill which requires development for most of us.
  • If the job of the performer is difficult or impossible to directly observe, there are other ways to get at the information. Behavioral scientist Judi Komaki calls this “bridging”. You can ask the person about the task and see what they say. You can ask them to send you some evidence of it, so you can see the results. You can look at results and see if they are moving in the right direction.
  • For competent performers, you can ask for results and only discuss how they achieved them if they are not hitting the results target, or if you’re concerned with how they are achieving the results.
  • Monitoring without being threatening to the performer is difficult, and requires some consideration for how they will feel about your requests. The performer feeling uncomfortable is no reason not to monitor, but it could be reason for you to consider your style.

2. Consequences.

Consequences involves your reaction to the behavior you observe.

  • If the behavior is in line with the expectations you’ve agreed on, then there should be some positive reaction from you. ‘Something good’ should happen to the person doing the work.
  • If the behavior is not in line with the expectations you’ve agreed on, then you should help the person doing the work to course-correct. Sometimes this requires more planning, and sometimes this is as simple as a short discussion or minor tweak.


There is lots of nuance involved in monitoring and in delivering positive consequences. There are lots of books and videos on it, we teach courses on it, lots of others do too. Write to me if you’d like more resources to learn about these techniques.

If I had to pick one, the trickiest part of the whole equation is in delivering consequences.

Here’s why:

  • Most people err on the side of over-delivering negative or threatening consequences. These consequences work more quickly so the manager learns to rely on them more than he or she should.
  • Most people do not deliver enough positive consequences. One size does not fit all – positive consequences need to be thoughtful and genuine. This means each person requires a different type and frequency of it.
  • In order to deliver effective corrective feedback, you need to have a pretty good relationship, with high levels of psychological safety. This requires time – see my earlier comments about how busy people report they are.
  • None of this is a one-time thing; it’s required for every manager and supervisor, for everyone on your team, all of the time.

Don’t get discouraged, if you’re not doing all of these things you’re in good company. Furthermore, it’s possible to change. I would say all of my clients change in important ways, it just requires a little time, a good strategy, and some focus. In many cases, a small tweak to your style can produce massively improved results.

If you’d like to see some of the books we use to teach people these concepts, take a look here.

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