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The Leader Toolbox: Managing Employee Noncompliance

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

Part II

Employees become non-compliant for several reasons. Sometimes it’s due to mismatched or unclear expectations. An appropriate onboarding process can mitigate those expectations (see The Leader Toolbox: Managing Employee Noncompliance, Part I). Employee non-compliance can come from frustration, boredom, or offense due to poor management practices. While many managers believe it’s best to treat all employees equally, employees vary in their levels of competence and commitment to the job; thus, they should be managed differently depending on where they fall on the Skill-Will model below.


Employees who are both competent and committed fall into the Delegate category. These are highly experienced and highly motivated individuals who are usually the company’s high achievers. They are self-driven and need very little assistance to do their job well. Attempts to control them may create non-compliance where there is none. Managers should give these individuals autonomy and, as the name suggests, delegate, delegate, delegate! Their work is their sustenance. The greater the importance of the work, the more they will thrive. If appropriately managed, high-skill/high-will employees will be the driving force behind the team’s success.

Low Skill/High Will

Employees who are motivated yet lack competence are those in the Guide category. These employees are hungry for growth but may lack the experience to be completely autonomous. Managers should feed their need for development by coaching and mentoring them. Managers who coach their employees are more likely to ask questions than give orders. They develop employees through purposeful conversations aimed to clarify employee goals, solidify expectations, evaluate performance, and attain commitment to growth. Occasionally, low-skill/high-will employees can become frustrated with the slow pace of their skill development. By coaching these individuals, managers can mitigate against any frustrations by communicating their investment in that employee’s development and managing expectations realistically. Managers can also kill two birds with one stone by pairing low-skill/high-will employees with a mentor from the high-skill/high-will group. A mentorship can be mutually beneficial for both parties. It would allow the mentors to derive even more fulfillment from their job while allowing the mentees to learn from a model employee.


Highly skilled workers who lack drive are those in the Excite category. These can be challenging employees to manage. They often have been around for years (even decades) and have dug themselves into a deep trench of comfort and complacency. At some point, they grew bored with their role and shifted their priorities away from job-related growth. Managers should strive to discover what motivates them. They chose their career path for a reason. At one time, there was something that excited them about it. Managers who discover what that was through meaningful conversation can use it to possibly reignite their passion. Unfortunately, due to their longevity in the organization, sometimes these employees will be downright defiant because they have been able to do so in the past without repercussion. Managers must identify and address undesirable behaviors immediately, as every inappropriate behavior that is ignored serves as reinforcement for that behavior to happen again.


Employees in the Direct category are those with minimal competence and minimal commitment. Managers should avoid hiring these employees in the first place. As Jim Collins- author of Good to Great- said, great organizations prioritize getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off. Low-skill/low-will employees should be kicked off the bus. However, if, for whatever reason, getting rid of low-skill/low-will employees is unfeasible, there are ways to deal with them. Managers with low-skill/low-will employees must make their work tasks as concrete and explicit as possible. SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound) are preferred for these employees. Ongoing corrective feedback should be implemented as well. When employees make mistakes, managers should address those mistakes immediately in an objective, non-emotional manner. If coaching is done appropriately, the manager-employee dynamic will be a collaborative one in which both are seeking a mutual goal (e.g., improving the employee’s performance).

Motivation is Key

Rarely do employees wake up and decide to be non-compliant. There is almost always a reason that can be addressed through optimal management practices. Human beings naturally crave competence, the sense they are improving or growing in an area. The workplace is an ideal environment for scratching that competence itch. However, if employees cannot experience growth in their job, then their only reason for being there becomes the paycheck. Money is a secondary motivator. In other words, people pursue money to fulfill other needs (e.g., food, housing, entertainment). When someone works only for a paycheck, they will only do what’s necessary. This attitude is a recipe for stagnation, disengagement, and non-compliance. However, suppose a manager can set expectations appropriately through deliberate onboarding and manage employees based on their developmental level. In that case, they can create a foundation for long-term, sustained engagement that will result in increased employee performance and increased employee job satisfaction- something that benefits everyone.

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