In her new book, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … And What Does, author Susan Fowler reminds leaders that employees are always motivated—it’s just the quality of their motivation that’s a problem sometimes. Fowler shares how the repeated use of motivational carrots & sticks might get results in the short term, but often have negative consequences long-term.
That’s why she labels a motivational mindset created by the use of rewards and/or punishment as sub-optimal and why she encourages individuals and leaders to check-in on their own motivational mindset occasionally to make sure that they aren’t just going through the motions. Fowler knows from the research that sustained, healthy, long-term motivation comes from an aligned and integrated motivational outlook where work is connected to a higher purpose and people see how their role fits into the bigger picture.
How can you tell when it might be time for a motivational outlook check-up? Here are some of the common symptoms Fowler has seen. Consider a one-on-one conversation focused on motivation when normally productive employees are:
- Missing deadlines
- Performing below expectation on important goals or projects
- Not living up to their potential in a role
- Often in a bad mood that permeates the workplace
- Not taking initiative in circumstances where it is needed
- Displaying emotion that is out of character or seems disproportionate to the situation
- Undermining the positive energy of others
- Rejecting helpful feedback
- Getting defensive easily or often
- Seemingly out of alignment with the organization’s purpose and values
- Ignoring health and or safety issues
Any or all of these symptoms can indicate an employee with a sub-optimal motivational outlook. To reframe and potentially upshift motivation to something more optimal, Fowler recommends a conversation focused on the issue, but she cautions against three common mistakes managers make; trying to problem solve, impose your values, or expect an immediate shift.
To avoid these common mistakes, Fowler recommends the following:
Refrain from Problem Solving: This is a different type of conversation. As a leader, you will be sorely tempted to share your expertise, but do not confuse a conversation about internal motivation with a problem-solving session.
Don’t Impose Your Values: One of the biggest mistakes leaders make with motivational outlook conversations is assuming another person holds or appreciates the same values. Despite your good intentions, imposing your values on others tends to provoke an imposed motivational outlook—one of the sub-optimal outlooks you are trying to avoid.
Do Not Expect an Immediate Shift: Relax, practice mindfulness, and allow the conversation to take its course. Realize that a person may not shift during this first conversation—it will happen when the person is ready. Remember, the purpose of a motivational outlook conversation is to discuss and explore motivational options and then shift, if they choose to do so.
To learn more on improving motivation inside your organization, download a free chapter of Fowler’s book, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … And What Does. You can also check on your own motivational outlook through a mini-assessment. And don’t miss an opportunity to participate in a live webinar with Fowler on Wednesday, October 22. Susan will be presenting on Rethinking Five Beliefs that Erode Workplace Motivation. The event is free, courtesy of Cisco WebEx and The Ken Blanchard Companies.