Getting Compliance When Employees Simply Do Not Want To

As advocates of employee engagement, we’re always talking about employees who give their hearts, hands, and minds to their organization and to the job at hand. But in reality, not all employees come along willingly, and even for those who do, not all manager requests are met with such enthusiasm and engagement.
What about those times when managers must make requests from an employee, and the requests are more about compliance than engagement? Compliance involves the act of conforming— doing something that we wouldn’t necessarily choose to do.  While countless books laud the concept of engagement, and some go as far as to imply that we must establish workplaces where all employees act out of choice (they do it simply because they want to!), the reality is that we all have a list of “have-tos” that, if given a choice, we’d toss off of our task lists.
A series of studies by Rule, Bisanz, and Kohn (a team of social psychologists) resulted in a hierarchy of strategies most often used to get compliance, ranked from most to least preferable:

  1. A simple request: “Would you please…”
  2. Personal expertise or relationship: “I know it’s not what you want, but I really need you to do this because…”
  3. Bargaining: “If you do this, I will…”
  4. Invoking a social norm or moral principle: “It’s the right thing to do,” or “We can’t let others down…”
  5. A compliment, “It may not be your favorite, but you really are the best we have at this…”
  6. Negative, deceptive, or threatening force: “Look, if you don’t get it done, you may not have a job to come back to…”

Again, the idea here is that employees are far more likely to be engaged when they choose, versus being required to do something.  However, getting back to reality, we recognize this is not always possible.  But even in matters of compliance an employee may still have a choice about how it gets done, as long as the end result is appropriately achieved.  An employee acting out of choice—even in matters of compliance—is far more likely to be engaged than an individual that sees only a list of “have-tos.”
(Hierarchy adapted from “The Psychology of Executive Coaching,” by Bruce Peltier)
What is your strategy for gaining compliance from employees without hindering engagement? How do you maintain an element of choice in matters of compliance?
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