5 Ways to Help Improve an Employee Alignment Problem

WheelsMy discussions with managers about employee motivation often center on getting employees to be more motivated for their work.  Managers then describe the reasons they need employees to be “more motivated.”   Usually it is to achieve the important goals (or tasks) for which they are responsible.

But discussing motivation in terms of how much someone has is not very useful, so I’ll ask if we can rephrase “more motivated” to something more specific.  In these cases, “more motivated” usually should mean that the manager wants an employee to voluntarily—and without manipulation or coercion from anyone else—align with what is expected of them.  From there the discussion would go to, “How can I help employees align?”

The answer to that question starts with who the employee is and what she or he wants for her or himself.  But for many managers, it’s easy to mistakenly think that alignment shouldn’t have to consider those things.  After all, isn’t an employee responsible for what an employee is responsible for?

But when employees are asked for their side of these motivation stories, they often report that alignment is hard for them because their personal goals and those the organization is asking them to be responsible for are out of alignment.  It is just like when a car is out of alignment.  They know it should go one way, but it pulls another.  When misalignment persists for a long time, managers start to think that the employee may not be a good fit for the organization, and the employee thinks the same thing.

But, what if the misalignment was not a bad thing?  What if the pull in a slightly different direction meant that the employee was hungry for new projects, a role, or a job in the company that lined up better with who they are and what they find personally interesting, fulfilling, and meaningful?  Many employees have told me that if they could design a job they really loved with their current employer, they would be much happier, “more motivated,” and more productive.  So, here are some initial steps you can take if you (or someone you care about) is struggling to fix an alignment problem:

– Examine:  What specific projects, tasks, goals, or situations do you (or they) really enjoy working on, especially when the work gets complicated and difficult?  Examine the aspects of the current work that you dislike and that you dread doing.

– Evaluate:  Take an inventory of your technical skills.  Where do you have proven expertise that others would readily recognize and value?  Which skills are you good at but don’t enjoy using?

– Decide:  Make a clear decision about whether you want to be a manager or an individual contributor.  Great managers want to be managers; they don’t resent the responsibilities that go with the territory.

– Explore:  What cross-functional projects or teams, roles, or jobs might allow you to do most of what you love and are masterful at most of the time?

– Investigate:  Begin to look for ways to truly create such a role, and be sure to share with others that you are looking into this so that you, they, and the company all benefit.

These steps are just the start of the process of creating alignment between work that brings you alive and the work the company needs done.  After all, the pull you feel can be a really good thing when you use it to serve everyone involved.

About the author:

The Motivation Guy  (also known as Dr. David Facer)  is one of the principal authors—together with Susan Fowler and Drea Zigarmi—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new Optimal Motivation process and workshop.

7 thoughts on “5 Ways to Help Improve an Employee Alignment Problem

  1. Hi,

    Good article, two things I would note which can help to improve the alignement:

    Increase the independence an employee can have related to his or her work.
    If they can make decisions then they can get closer to their work and can figure out the best way to proceed instead of being blocked everytime something unusual happens and feel that they are here only to do what they are told to do.

    Free up some time when an employee can do whatever he or she wants to do to make the things better.
    Instead of being in the drudgery all the time they can set their mind to something which can be a serious gap but since there is no “official time” to handle it it is not handled at all or they can figure out something which can improve a lot in midterm/longterm but since there is no urgent need it remains unstarted and never changed.


    • Hi Daniel–thanks for your thinking on creating some autonomy for problem solving–that is definitely one of the ways that managers invite employees into alignment as opposed to coercing them. I also appreciate your comment on creating a little space for employees to work on and solve a problem that might be a little bit outside of their everyday duties.

  2. Pingback: ‘Job crafting’: een manier om problemen met motivatie op te lossen - Innovatief Organiseren

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