Motivation and De-Motivation

We recently encountered two agencies for whom we conducted Agency Analyses. The Agency Analysis is like getting a full check-up for your business. We look at all processes, systems, procedures, quality of business, contracts and employees. The level of employees differed so dramatically from one agency to the next that we found ourselves analyzing the reasons for one agency with such positive, pro-active and motivated employees while the other agency’s employees were all negative, reactive and defensive and very unmotivated.

We have often told our clients to find “motivated people” and that motivation is an internal characteristic akin to positive mental attitude (PMA). Some people seem to radiate PMA while others are often fatalistic in their views. After analyzing the management and employees of these two vastly different agencies, we have come to realize that while PMA is inherent and internal to positive people, motivation is also affected by how people are treated and managed.

Motivated people can be hired and the motivation can be squeezed right out of them depending on their negative treatment by the business managers and owners (or by being functionally ignored by them). Conversely, some unmotivated people with the right PMA characteristics can become motivated by the positive treatment they receive from their managers.

No employee is hired with the intention of doing the minimum necessary to get along. Even relatively unmotivated employees see a new employment situation as another opportunity to ‘turn a new leaf’ and have a better relationship with their new employer than they had with their old employer.

If you have or are able to hire employees with strong personal motivation, the future of that PMA will depend on how you communicate with them during their initial phases of employment and thereafter. We tend to pay a great deal of attention to prospective employees during the interview and screening process. As the prospective employees do with us, we, as employers, put on our “game face’ and put our best foot forward. We show them our best side. Unfortunately, we also tend to drop that positive attitude upon their hire. At that point we show them are “real” working face, whether positive or negative. We assume the new employee can learn ‘on the job. We provide them our time and training only when we are “available” but we expect them to run at full speed very quickly and are disappointed if they cannot.

During your “courtship” with a new employee you showed him/her your most attentive and best face. They saw all of the personality that makes you such a good relationship builder with your clients. But what happens after the hire?

You turn your attention back to the clients or other priorities now that the “hole” has been plugged in your staff. You “expect” the new employee to take charge of his/her job and learn it fast enough to help you drive your business forward. You fail to teach, reinforce and, most of all, communicate your favorable response to the new employee’s presence during the first six months of employment, when every new employee is evaluating whether or not they made a good move or a mistake coming to your business.

Quite likely, the new employee is eager to please, to learn and to start helping you as quickly as possible. That attitude quickly diminishes as (s)he becomes a part of the surroundings and is treated as transparent by the very owners and managers who heaped attention on him/her during the interview and screening process. Worst of all, once they become familiar to the management, their managers begin to criticize the employee the same way they do all other employees when they do something wrong.

At first, the employee will feel a little hurt and will try to communicate with the owner or manager to find out why their attitudes seem to have changed. Then, when they realize that the owners treat everyone similarly, they feel that they have made a mistake, but can’t change it (or at least can’t change it so soon after coming into the company). Finally, they come to the realization that their efforts are not going to be duly recognized and that minimization of job effort will get them just as far as maximization.

Now you have a de-motivated employee.

Motivation is both an internally and externally controlled characteristic. You can’t make a person “want” to work or do the right thing when they don’t internally have those motivating factors. Yet we can re-motivate de-motivated employees by changing those management activities that de-motivated them in the first place.

COMMUNICATE with your staff. Just talking to them makes you seem more human. We all have good and bad days but we try to be as consistent as possible with our employees. Do NOT complement them for things that you (and they) know haven’t been done to your satisfaction. But DO keep your communications open and train or coach or counsel the employees to lead them to the factors that will cause positive results for you and for the clients. You can criticize incorrect results without criticizing the employee, himself.

PUBLIC PRAISE, PRIVATE CRITICISM is the general rule of management. Every time we publicly criticize and privately praise, we are de-motivating our employees.

DON’T ASSUME ANYTHING. Even if you hire experienced employees, they don’t know your particular way of doing things. Don’t assume that they will be able to operate without a level of comfort through steady communications with you or with their manager.

If you find yourself with a less than motivated employee try a communications exercise to see if (s)he can be rehabilitated or is inherently unmotivated. Sit with the employee and determine whether or not (s)he feels appreciated for what they do and, if not, how they feel that appreciation would best be shown. Set money aside. It is NEVER a motivator, just a measure of comfort levels achieved. Another dollar per hour will not make a motivated employee out of an unmotivated employee. What you are looking for is their feelings about whether management treatment of employees is fair and equitable and whether they have reasonable access to you or to their manager. You may be surprised by what you hear. A Development Plan over the next six months including training and career development is often a key to re-motivating employees.