Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
The person who took minutes at our board meetings has moved on, and I'm leaving her position vacant for budget reasons. I want our bookkeeper to take this duty on, because she has already shown she's trustworthy with sensitive information, and I feel she's the best person on our staff for this. However, when I asked her to take on the duty, she said she doesn't want to. She seemed very nervous about it because she's never taken minutes before.
I wouldn't be able to give her a raise for this--it's just an extra duty I need her to do and I know that she has the time to do it. I really want her to do this, and am fighting the urge to say, "I'm the boss and what I say goes!" (I don't want to be that kind of boss, but on the other hand, I don't ever recall telling any of my previous bosses 'no' when they asked something of me.)
So, do you have any suggestions on how to get an employee to take on a duty they're reluctant to take on, without resorting to "because I said so" tactics? I don't know what I'll do if I ask again and she still doesn't want to do it.
Not wanting to do it because she's nervous about it is actually easier to deal with than if she didn't want to do it because she just didn't want to do that particular project.
In this case, I'd address her worries head-on. Ask her what, specifically, concerns her about the task, and then speak directly to that. If she's nervous about being around the board members, assure her she'll get used to them quickly and that they're a friendly, informal group (or whatever), and maybe that it will be useful for her to have those contacts. If she's concerned about being responsible for something so high-profile to the board, in case she makes mistakes, assure her you know she'll do well at it and that you'll talk through with her what's expected in detail before she does it (as well as show her previous notes, discuss what does and doesn't need to be recorded, and so forth). Tell her it's normal to have a learning curve and you don't expect her to be perfect right off the bat.
If she still resists, tell her, "You're really the best person on staff to take this on right now, so I'd like you to try it and see how it goes."
If she still resists after that, say, "I hear you, but we don't have other viable options right now. So I do need you to take it on, but I'll help you through it." (And then make sure you do.)
Then, after she does it, thank her and tell her you appreciate her taking it on despite her reservations. And if you can point to anything especially well done in the way she approached the job, tell her that too.
Now, if her objections were of a different sort--if she just didn't want to do it--you'd handle that by addressing that directly too: explaining why you needed her to and why other options weren't feasible, and then using the same language above.
In situations like this, you also want to be open to hearing what a person's objections really are. Sometimes they might be legitimate. For example, the board meetings might be held at at a time when she has family commitments at home, or she might know from experience that she can't write quickly enough to be a reliable note-taker, or she might anticipate this interfering with the rest of her job, or she might feel that the request is wildly outside of her job description (and I do mean wildly--not like asking a bookkeeper to take notes, but more like asking a bookkeeper to pave a driveway). In a case like that, you'd want to hear the person out and think about whether there's merit to their case, and whether a different alternative would make more sense. So you don't want to just instantly dismiss someone's concerns--you want to genuinely consider what they're saying, even if you ultimately conclude that you need to stick with your first request.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.