Category Archives: Motivation

Showing Up on Time?

“What did you learn?” I asked. Martin had finished a couple of days speaking with his team about their individual values.

“I gotta tell you,” Martin started, “I have never had this kind of conversation with my team before. I rounded them up the next morning and before we started the shift, I just floated a couple of questions.

  • When we work well together, what is it that we do to make that happen?
  • What could we do more of, to be more effective as a team?

“All of the things they talked about were heavy with value words. Not only do I have more insight into what makes my team tick, they have a better insight. They have never talked about this stuff before.”

“And, how is this going to help you, as a manager?” I asked.

“Easy,” Martin replied. “Something as simple as everyone showing up on time. No one really understood how important it was to show up at 8:00am. Up until now.”

Values in Other People

“So, let’s get back to the conversation part,” Martin insisted. “How do you get people to talk about values in a way that is helpful?”

“It is really very easy,” I said. “You simply ask them.

“I know you have tried this before and you got the lizard eye stare, but try the question differently, not about them, but about the environment around them. Often people cannot talk about themselves, but they easily see things around them. Here is how the question goes.

  • What do you value in a team member?

“When they respond to that question, they are really talking about themselves. Here are some more.”

  • What are the positive things your team members do to make this a better place to work?
  • Think about your best manager. What are the characteristics about that person that set him apart from other managers?
  • When you have a really tough problem to solve, what are the things that are really helpful to the process?

Martin was getting the picture. He excused himself from the room. He had some questions to ask his team members.

A Rose by Any Other Color

Martin was waiting in the conference room when I arrived. He had a single sheet of paper in front of him.

“That was easier than I thought,” he started. “I simply observed the way my team members dress, and it was curious how quickly I noticed the difference between my top performers and the rest of my team.”

“Observing physical characteristics can give you important clues about a person’s value system. People communicate a great deal about themselves without speaking a single word.” Now it was Martin’s turn to nod his head.

“Does this have anything to do with habits?” he asked.

“What are you thinking?” I replied. I could see the wheels turning.

“Well, the fact that my top performers dress differently, I mean neater, cleaner, more polished, is not because they consciously thought about it. It seems that is just who they are. And it comes out in their work product. A person who takes pride in their personal appearance, also takes pride in their work product.”

“Why do you think that happens?”

Martin paused. “I am beginning to see a clearer connection between values and behavior. Even if people don’t think about it, consciously, that’s why they do what they do.”

“So, how important is it, for a manager, to understand the value system of team members?”

A Book by Any Other Cover

“So, how do you find out what they want?” asked Martin. “You know, sometimes I talk to them about stuff like this. Sometimes, I ask them what their goals are. And sometimes, they don’t have a clue.

“I know it’s important to get some alignment between what I want (or what the company wants) and what they want. But sometimes, I don’t think they know.”

“You are right,” I agreed. “Often, people don’t know what they want. Think about this, though. People want what they value.

“How important is it for you, as a manager, to find out what your individual team members value?

Martin pondered a moment. “I am with you. It is important,” he replied. “But how do you find out about a person’s values when sometimes they don’t even know themselves?”

“Let’s start with the easy stuff,” I suggested. “What clues can you tell about a person simply from their appearance?”

“You mean, in terms of values?” Martin asked. He paused. “Well, you can tell some things about a person by the way they dress. Attention to detail, neatness, or sloppiness.”

“I have an exercise for you, Martin. Remember, a person’s dress is only a clue, not absolute certainty. Nonetheless, I want you to make a list of your top three team members, and simply by the way they dress, write down some words that describe their positive attributes. I will meet you here tomorrow to talk about some other ways to determine values in other people.”

How To Find Out

Martin held his head in his hand. He squinted and looked at the ceiling. “Do you mean that all my attempts at motivation have been like hitting my head against a brick wall?” he asked.

I raised my eyebrows and shook my head affirmative. “People will only comply with what you want to do. They will commit to what they want to do. All you have to do is figure out the alignment between what you want and what they want.”

“So, I know what I want. How do I find out what they want?”

“Most times,” I replied, “all you have to do is ask. I know it sounds simple, but most managers never ask.”

It’s Not What You Want That Matters

“You cannot motivate anyone to do anything,” I observed. Martin was stumped.

“But I thought that was part of my job,” he protested.

“You can think that all you want, but it is not possible,” I continued. I could see in Martin’s eyes that he was conflicted between what he thought and his real experience trying to motivate his team members.

“Well, you may be right,” he finally replied. “Sometimes it seems easy to get people to do what I want, but other times, it seems impossible.”

“When it seems easy, what do you think is going on?” I asked.

“When it seems easy, it’s like they already wanted to do it in the first place.” Martin paused. “It seems impossible when they didn’t ever want to do it.”

“So, it doesn’t seem to matter what you want, as the manager, or how badly you want it. The only thing that seems to matter is whether your team members want to do it?”

The lights were circling in Martin’s head. The whole time, as a manager, he looked at motivation as getting people to do something he wanted. His mind was beginning to change.

Limitations of Performance-Reward

“There is nothing wrong with Performance-Reward (Work=Paycheck),” I said. “It is the contract that we make with employees. They show up each day and do their best in exchange for the agreed-upon compensation.”

Helen looked down, picturing something.

“I know you see yourself as a Motivator,” I continued. “And, here is why Motivation is so important for managers.

“I asked you before, if I was getting the Performance I wanted, as a Manager, why did I give two hoots whether it was Motivation or Manipulation (Performance-Reward). Here is why.

Performance-Reward requires you, the Manager, to be present, either physically present or present-by-threat, meaning, you will be back to check on things. So, Performance-Reward requires the proximity of the Manager.

“Second, the duration of the behavior is short, happens only to the specification required to get the reward. And if something happens to threaten that reward, diminish that reward, delay that reward, the performance stops.

“And that’s why Motivation is so important. As a Manager, we need sustained performance even when we are not around. We need more than Performance-Reward.”

Is Manipulation a Bad Thing?

“I just don’t like to think of myself as a Manipulator,” Helen said. “I want to believe that, as a Manager, I am perceived as a Motivator.”

“Great cover-up, isn’t it?” I smiled. “Listen, Helen, I am not suggesting that you do things, as a Manager, through deceit and trickery. What I am saying is, don’t fool yourself (11th commandment). Most of what we do is Performance-Reward or Underperformance-Reprimand, external inducements to get desired behavior.

“So, tell me, Helen, is manipulation necessarily a bad thing?”

Helen paused. “I just don’t like it. It doesn’t sound good.”

“Have you ever been working on a project, where you needed everyone to stay an extra half hour, to staple and bind all the reports, or to get a truck loaded with an emergency shipment to a customer; a situation where you needed just that extra bit of effort? So you tell everyone that you are ordering in a pizza, if they would just stay on for the half hour?”

“Well, sure, it happens, but what’s wrong with that?” Helen replied, then chuckled. “It’s a good thing my team likes pizza.”

“Exactly, just understand it is Performance-Reward. It is NOT Motivation.”

Reward or Reprimand?

Helen’s face dropped. Her smile extinguished.

My words, “Sounds like manipulation to me,” rang in her ears.

“But, but, what do you mean?” she gasped, not in desperation, but surprise.

“I mean, most of the things we do as Managers, fall in line with manipulation. We create expectations of performance, we get the performance, the team member gets a reward.

“Or more clearly, we create expectations, if we don’t get the performance, the team member gets reprimanded. Either way you look at it, most of what we do as Managers, is manipulation.”

I Certainly Don’t Manipulate

“Well, I certainly don’t manipulate my team members,” Helen insisted. “I like to think that I motivate them to get the work done.”

“Tell me, how do you do that?” I asked.

“Well, I think it begins on their first day at work. Our orientation does a really good job of explaining to them our philosophy as a company, our mission in the marketplace, where we standout against our competitors. Then, everyone, no matter what their role, goes through a pretty intensive training program, to make sure they have the skills they need to be successful. In my opinion, it’s pretty motivational.”

“How so?” I probe.

“Once they come out of training, they have to pass some competency tests, to make sure they actually have the skills they need. If they do that, they immediately get a pay rate increase, from training pay to Pay Band I. Our training pay is just above minimum wage. Pay Band I is calculated based on their actual role, their job description. It’s beginner’s pay, but it’s a step up, so immediately, they are rewarded for their efforts.”

“So, if they successfully complete their training program, they receive a reward in the form of a pay increase?”

“Yes,” Helen replied, smiling and nodding.

“Sounds like manipulation to me,” I observed.