A Mini Case Study on Motivation

Asian Female Scientist With Laboratory Test Tube of Green SolutiCan you determine at least three important take-aways in this story from a plant manager in India who recently learned the skill of conducting Motivational Outlook Conversations?

On his first day back after his training, the plant manager noticed a Technical Service Executive in the lab having a discussion with an external contractor. While she was wearing safety glasses, the contractor was not. The manager has a no tolerance policy as far as safety is concerned and his normal response would be to call the technician to his office and in his words, “read her the riot act.”

According to the manager’s self-assessment: “I am known to blow a fuse (or two) when safety rules are flouted, however, I managed to keep my cool and decided to test my training.”

He asked the technician to his office and could see that she was worried about his reaction. But instead of leading with his dismay and disappointment, he started by explaining that he had just received some training on motivation. He shared key concepts with her. He then asked her if she thought that the rule to wear safety glasses, even when there was no experiment on, was “stupid” as there is no danger to the eyes. Did she feel imposed upon to wear safety glasses as she had no choice?

Since the technician was invited to have a discussion rather than “dressing down,” she was open and candid. She explained that she had a two-year old child and she was extremely concerned about lab safety as she wanted to reach home safe every evening. To the manager’s great surprise, she also shared that in certain areas, she would prefer even more, not less, stringent safety measures. For example, she suggested that safety shoes should be required for lab experiments that are conducted at elevated temperatures.

But when it came to wearing safety glasses when no experiments were being conducted, she just could not understand the rationale and did, indeed, resent the imposed rule. As a result, she didn’t feel compelled to enforce it, especially with an external contractor. The manager said he understood her feelings and went on to provide the rationale that the intention was that wearing glasses would become a force of habit, just like wearing a safety belt in the car.

The manager said he saw the light dawn in her eyes.

When it comes to your leadership and the motivation of those you lead, consider:

1. Self-regulation is a requirement if you want to lead differently—and better. Challenging your natural tendencies and patterns of behavior provides you with more options on how to lead. The new choices you make can be rewarding and productive for you, but especially for those you lead. As the plant manager reported: “I am sure if I had just followed my normal instincts and given her a piece of my mind, I would have been met with a hangdog look, profuse apologies, and a promise not to ever do this again. And it probably would have happened again. She would have gone away from my office with feelings of resentment and being imposed upon and I would also have had a disturbed day due to all the negative energy.”

2. Admit when you are trying something new. Be honest about expanding your leadership skills. People will appreciate your sincere and authentic efforts. Says the plant manager: “Suffice it to say that in my view, my little experiment was a success. I have since shared what I learned with many of my team members and plan to have more Motivational Outlook Conversations with them in the coming weeks.”

3. Remember that as a manager you cannot motivate anyone. What you can do is create an environment where an individual is more likely to be optimally motivated. Ask (and genuinely care about) how a person is feeling, help them recognize their own sense of well-being regarding a particular issue, and provide them with rationale without trying to “sell” it.

Other take-aways? Please share!

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About the author:

Susan Fowler is one of the principal authors—together  with David Facer and Drea Zigarmi—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new Optimal Motivation process and workshop.  Their posts appear on the first and third Monday of each month.

9 thoughts on “A Mini Case Study on Motivation

  1. I’d add “Remember to listen to your team as they have a desire to be heard.” It’s motivating to know that you’ve been heard out by management and your thoughts were considered.

  2. Wow this article hits home in so many ways. The thing I struggle most with is my natural tendencies to react without thinking as a manager. I was told in an impromptu conversation that I am not aware of the way I speak to people which is often very hostile. My boss gave me the best advice saying ‘write as if you were writing to your second favourite person in the world’, not the first because you may be too casual in your response. Self-regulation is indeed a requirement and we as managers cannot plead ignorance.

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