Motivating Unmotivated People
People can find solutions to almost any problem, but they need to know the rules of the game.
- By John Strelecky
- Jun 01, 2004
IF you walk around a Walt Disney World resort or theme park, you are likely
to witness something that in most other settings would seem bizarre. Not the
presence of a large animated character, although you may witness that also.
Rather, at any given moment, a person in dress clothes will be walking from one
destination to another and will stop, pick up a piece of paper, a cup, or other
piece of trash someone dropped, and throw it in a trash can. Executives do it,
front line managers do it, hourly employees do it, everybody does it.
There is no special monetary compensation for this behavior. No point system
exists where $5 bonuses are given out for every 15 pieces of trash that someone
picks up. There is also no special monitoring system in place that watches for
people who don't do it and then issues penalty points or demerits. Yet, people
are motivated to do it anyway.
Now, picking up trash may not be your top concern, but are there other things
in your department, division, or company that you would like your employees to
do? Are you looking for ways to motivate your people?
The answer is not pixie dust or magic. The key is being very good at
employing five essential motivation steps. To some leaders, these steps can seem
intimidating. In particular, first-time managers who were promoted because of
their individual skills are often uncomfortable with these ideas. Many times,
they feel people should just do what needs to be done "because that is what they
get paid for." Or they believe the only way to motivate people is to give them
Successful motivators don't think that way. They know that by following the
five steps, people can be motivated far beyond what they get paid for and far
more effectively than when money is the only incentive.
Step 1: Clearly Articulate What Needs to Be Accomplished and Why
Often, the problem with getting people to accomplish things is not that
they are unmotivated, it is that they are uninformed. Leaders discuss goals with
their peers and superiors on a regular basis and are therefore intimately
familiar with them. Because of this familiarity, they mistakenly assume all of
their employees also know them. Usually this is not the case.
Take time to explain to all of your employees exactly what needs to be
accomplished and the reasons why. Don't forget the "Why?" Knowing that enables
people to make educated choices in their day-to-day decisions. For example, the
output from a team at a market research company whose goal is to launch three
new products will vary greatly, depending on whether they know the "Why?" is
because the company is losing market share to competitors with products that can
be downloaded from the Internet.
Goals always should include specific numeric objectives and timelines. A goal
of "Improve Customer Service" is nebulous, and people won't know how they are
doing in their efforts to achieve it. However, "Decrease customer wait times to
10 seconds by June 1st" is something people can visualize and work
Step 2: Involve People in Finding the Solutions
People are more
motivated to succeed at something if they personally choose to attempt it.
Therefore, managers should involve their people in choosing the goals the group
needs to accomplish. If this is not possible, then involving people in the
creation of how to achieve the goals is the next best thing. Their involvement
will generate buy-in and also opens up the opportunity for an optimal
Successful coaches use this technique on a regular basis. While it is true
they watch hours and hours of game films looking for weaknesses in their own
team as well as their competitors, they also involve their players in finding
the best way to win. They do it because no matter how much film they watch or
how close they are to the game, they aren't in the game. The perspectives of
players or employees who are in the midst of the action can be drastically
different from a coach or a manager who is near the action.
If those perspectives aren't incorporated into the solution, two things will
happen. First, those in the midst of the action will feel no one is listening to
them, and they will become unmotivated. Second, decisions will be made without
incorporating all of the relevant data. Both of these will negatively affect
progress toward the goals.
Step 3: Explain the Rules of the Game
Have you ever played a new
sport or game against people who are experienced players? In the early stages of
learning how to play, every few minutes you do something you think is correct,
only to be told it is illegal or against the rules. It can be exceptionally
This scenario often plays out in the workplace. Employees are given a task
but are not told all of the parameters or rules. Weeks into a project they
present their work to someone, only to be informed that they need to change
direction because of something they were never told about. This is particularly
demoralizing and should be avoided at all costs.
People can find solutions to almost any problem, but they need to know the
rules of the game.
Step 4: Link People's Personal Goals with the Organization's Goals
There is a reason that each employee goes to work. Successful motivators
know what that reason is for every person who works for them. Each day, they
help their employees fulfill those reasons.
Really successful motivators understand not only the reason, but also how the
reason ties into the person's bigger life goals. When necessary, they help their
people think about and articulate those bigger life goals. When a person no
longer thinks, "I work so that I can make money," and instead thinks, "I work so
that I can enable my daughter to attend a school that will give her a chance to
go do what she wants in life," there is a significant mental and motivational
shift that occurs.
Understanding that someone comes to work because she thrives on personal
interaction, is trying to gain experience so she can run her own corner deli, or
whatever is her personal goal, enables a manager to talk in that person's
language. It also enables the manager to assign responsibilities in that
person's area of interest and remind her that what she's doing is tied to her
Managers who enable people to fulfill their life goals through work never
have to worry about how to motivate their people. The act of fulfilling their
life goals is enough to keep them motivated. All the manager has to do is find
the links between those goals and the organization's needs, and then match the
Step 5: Move Negative People Off the Team
Nothing can halt progress
like someone who is discontent simply for the sake of being discontent. It is
demoralizing to others and it draws energy and time from the tasks being
attempted. That doesn't mean you don't want good "counter-point" people on your
Someone who says, "Look, I know what we are all trying to do, and I think
there is a better way" can be a valuable resource to help make sure the team is
on the right track. However, someone who just regularly says, "We'll never get
there" will just hold everyone back. Move him off the team and bring in someone
who will assist and support the group's efforts.
Whether you are trying to motivate people to help create a clean environment
for guests or something more pertinent to your organization, remember that
anyone can be a great motivator. All it takes is an understanding of the
appropriate steps to take and a willingness to do them.
This article contains the steps. The willingness is up to you.
This article originally appeared in the June 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.