I urge you: Stop trying to motivate people! It’s frustrating for everyone involved and it just doesn’t work.

An important truth has emerged from the compelling science of motivation: Motivating people does not work because people are already motivated. People are always motivated. The question is not if a person is motivated, but why.

For example, imagine you have given the same requirement to three sales people: enter sales activity into Salesforce every week. It’s a mistake to assume they are motivated if they do it and not motivated if they don’t do it (or don’t do it well). Each of them is motivated, but with a different quality of motivation based on their reasons for using Salesforce, or not. Through a motivation conversation with each of them, you might discover:

  • Jake inputs into Salesforce every week, but the quality of what he enters is subpar because he resents every moment of it — the only reason he’s doing it is to get you off his back.
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SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership — tracks feedback from more than 190,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our e-newsletter.

Which is harder: improving a slacker’s performance or getting a high-performer promoted?

  • Getting a slacker to improve is more difficult: 70%
  • Finding a way to get a high-performer promoted is harder: 30%

Slackers Rule. Finding that slacker’s motivation is a tricky task. They have the skills but they’re simply unwilling to apply them. It’s inherently a motivation challenge and your job as their leader is to find a way to light their fire. First, talk with them. Get them to explain why they’re not excited by their work. You’d be amazed at what they’ll share. Consider changing their role, changing incentives, or eliminating dissatisfiers that prevent them from applying themselves. If you can unlock their motivation, you should see instant productivity improvements. (read more…)

I recently watched a high school state track and field championship. At the beginning of the evening, the excitement among the athletes was palpable. Each athlete and team had such determination and grit — but, of course, not all of them were going to win their races or the meet.

At the end of the evening, I watched as one coach brought his female and male athletes together. Some had won their events, others had placed, and others did not. The young women and men did not win their overall championships, though they came in second and third, respectively.

It was clear they had wanted to do better. The coach rallied his team in the middle of the track, with their arms linked around one another, and talked about their journey through the season. He celebrated their accomplishments as individuals and as a team. After tears, hugs and laughter, the team walked away from this impressive display of coaching excited to train over the summer and head into the next season. (read more…)

Lisa was super-friendly and always eager to serve me. She was one of the main reasons I parked my car every week at the off-airport parking facility where she worked. Arriving at Acme Executive Parking, I would pull into the facility and Lisa would be the driver who always rode with me to the terminal. After I got out and retrieved my luggage, she would give me a ticket and then drive my slick-looking sports car back to the lot to park.

As a full-service parking facility, Acme could also wash my car, gas it up or change my oil while I was away. When I landed at the end of the week, I called the phone number on the ticket and someone (usually Lisa) would come to the terminal in my car to transport me back to the parking facility to settle my debt. Since I parked there 40 out of 52 weeks and frequently had other services done to my car, I was what you might call a premium customer. (read more…)

Engagement. Commitment. Morale. Satisfaction. Meaning. Happiness.

A lot of terms get kicked around in the human resources field and the so-called “employee engagement” industry to describe the worker attitudes they are trying to attain. Which of these terms is the right objective has lately become a debate.

“The idea of trying to make people happy at work is terrible,” Gallup CEO Jim Clifton told Fast Company last fall. “Measuring workers’ satisfaction or happiness levels is just not enough to retain star performers and build a successful business,” he wrote on his company’s website. Businesses need their employees “engaged,” he argues.

Pick any two of the terms above, and it’s possible to find a consultant who is against one and in favor of the other, although the main debate has centered on “engagement” versus “happiness.” The arguments will continue fruitlessly until there is, first, better agreement on the meanings of the terms and, second, a better appreciation of the bargain employees make with their employers. (read more…)