Through my corporate career, I have experienced both ends of the motivational spectrum. There were times where I was inspired to ‘go the extra mile’ and times where I was listless and utterly bored.
The volume of my workload didn’t seem to be a key factor in determining which of these positions I found myself in. I’ve often been busy and bored at the same time.
Those listless periods were the unhappiest of my entire career. Life quickly begins to feel challenging when you go home knowing you haven’t done anything meaningful, or novel, in the day.
Beyond the obvious relationship between enjoyment of a task and our performance of it, there is something else crucial for motivation.
When we perform tasks that we perceive as difficult or uncomfortable, we get an uplift, both in our self-worth and our sense of wellbeing. We need to feel stretched to experience personal growth and a deep understanding of achievement.
It follows that when an employee is not performing to their fullest potential, they are doing a level of psychological damage to themselves and impacting the results and reputation of the company. They may not be consciously aware of this damage, but there will be a felt experience (a gut feeling) that all is not well.
Typically, people will seek external causation for this. It’s my Line Manager, the product we sell, the type of customer, our colleagues, the office environment etc.
It’s easier to seek blame than it is to confront and deal with the impact of how we are showing up in the results we are getting.
My Leadership courses operate from a simple supposition.
It is not your responsibility as a leader to motivate people to perform.
It is YOUR job to put in place the environment within which people can motivate themselves.
Factors such as pay, conditions, office layout and free pizza have little impact on performance and attitude. A management theorist called Herzberg referred to these as hygiene factors. If they are not present or perceived to be fair, they are a source of dissatisfaction but, they are not a source of high performance.
For people to have a shot at delivering high performance (their fullest potential and richest experience), they need a framework to work within. They need
· a clear and detailed understanding of what good performance is and why it is good for both themselves and the company.
· to understand the scope of their decision-making authority and the lines they are required to stay within to pursue these outcomes.
· clarity of the gap between their current and required performance standard and a clear action step they can take to close the gap.
· support with the removal of obstacles to their performance.
· an ability to measure their performance in ways that allow them to understand and adjust their activity levels and approach to perform at the highest level.
If you have set all of this up and the minimum acceptable standard of performance is still not reached, it is YOUR responsibility to deal with it.
A point can be reached where you must concede that further training, coaching and support will not work.
You are trying to make a square peg fit a round hole, and putting off the difficult conversation or decision, at this point, serves no one.
The right thing for both employee and company is to part ways, even if it’s difficult or uncomfortable. It is the fairest thing you can do for the employee, the company, and the rest of the team.
It is at times like this that you earn your stripes as a Business Manager. You must do what is right (as opposed to what is comfortable) and do it in a way that respects the sovereignty of the human being and the commercial enterprise equally.
This is where your self-awareness, understanding of others and ability to take action in the face of uncertainty and discomfort are tested.
This is what is at the heart of powerful Management and Leadership. It is not complicated, even though most leadership training and tools seem to make it so. There are just four essential but straightforward ideas that need to be understood and embodied to show up as the best Leader you are capable of being.