Tag Archives: motivation

It’s Not About the Button

Vicki was stumped.

“Your team member is in the break room, having a soda, thinking about a problem in his work area that needs to be solved,” I repeated. “Would you call that work?”

“I want to say no,” Vicki struggled. “He is not at his work station working, so he can’t be working. I know, he is not being productive, so even though he is thinking, he is not being productive, so he is not working.”

“And if he does not solve this problem he is thinking about, his productivity will stop,” I continued.

“You want me to say yes, he is working, but it feels like no,” Vicki insisted.

“Vicki, do you pay your machine operator to move a piece of metal into position and to press a button to cut the metal? Because, if that was it, you could hire a robot. Or do you pay your machinist for his judgment of how raw materials are organized to enter the work area, the cleanliness of the scrap produced by the machine, the attention paid to the preventive maintenance to keep the machine operating?”

Vicki finally responded in a long slow sentence. “I pay him for his ability to solve problems and make decisions, not to push the button.”

Arms Folded Behind My Head

“Perhaps we should define the word, work. That might help us better understand why people need to work. What is work?” I asked.

“This is going to be a trick question,” Vicki replied.

I nodded. I had known Vicki for a couple of years. She was used to my trick questions. “It’s only a trick question because you really have to think about the answer,” I agreed.

“If you caught me at my office,” I continued, “leaning back in my chair, arms folded behind my head, feet up on the desk, how would you describe my activity at that moment?”

Vicki grinned, “I could say that you were goofing off, but I know better. You would be thinking.”

“And what would I be thinking about?”

“I don’t know, your next project, how to solve a problem, perhaps thinking about a decision that needed to be made?” she floated.

“Yes, so would you call that work?” I stopped as Vicki nodded in agreement. “And if one of your technicians goes outside to the picnic area for a break, and he isn’t goofing off, what would he be doing?”

I could see Vicki looking for the trick in the question. “Okay, if he is not goofing off, then he is probably thinking.”

“And what is he thinking about?” I asked.

“Well, he is probably thinking about his next project, how to solve a problem.”

“Yes, and so, would you call that work?”

The Need to Work

“They work because they have to,” Vicki repeated.

“Let me change a word,” I replied. “They work because they need to.”

“Well, yeah, same thing.”

“Only if we can talk about the need. What is the need that requires people to work?”

“They have to work, I mean, they need to work because they need the money to survive, to pay their mortgage, make their car payment.”

I shook my head from side to side. “It’s a noble attempt, but there is a deeper need. If you only see the benefit of work as a paycheck, as a Manager, you will be led down the wrong path. For a Manager, that path is miserable and unproductive. As a Manager, that path will cause you to create systems that breed unproductive behavior. So let’s try again. What is the need that requires people to work?”

Play Cards and Take Naps

“I work because I have to work,” Vicki finally stammered.

“I will accept that,” I replied, “but not for the reasons you think.” A few seconds passed. “Are you happy with your work?”

“Well, yes. I mean, there are days when it’s frustrating, but mostly, I like the work.”

“And your team, do they like the work?”

Vicki winced. “Oh, I don’t know. It’s okay, I guess, but it’s hard work and if it were me, I don’t think I would like it.”

“Then why do they come to work every day?”

“Because they have to.”

“So, your team doesn’t like the work and the only reason they show up is because they have to? And do you think, if you left them alone all day, that instead of working, your team would sit around, play cards and take naps?”

Not About the Pizza

“Your observation was that your production team seemed disconnected,” I said. “In spite of your pep talks, they shuffle.”

Suzette nodded. “I thought it was me, that I wasn’t doing a good job of motivating the team.”

“Motivation, engagement, is not about pep talks,” I smiled. “Motivation is not about pizza, or bonuses. Motivation is knowing that what I do is part of something bigger. It’s knowing where I fit in a larger picture. Don’t talk about it. Show the team, so they can see it.”

All Together Now

“I am not sure how I can show the impact of our product on the customer?” Suzette continued to protest. “The production team is on the factory floor.”

“Two choices,” I replied. “Bring the factory floor to the customer or bring the customer to the factory floor.”

Suzette was quiet. Thinking.

“Our best customers have never seen our factory. All they know is what the sales team tells them. Are you suggesting that I invite a customer to visit the factory?”

I nodded. “Oh, not just one customer and not just once. What would be the impact on the team to bring them together? And what would be the impact on the customer?”

The Pep Talk

“Don’t they see it?” Suzette complained.  “We make a really great product for our customers.  Our customers are thankful, give us positive testimonials. As the manager, I get a strong sense of the impact of what we do. But the production team seems bored, just going through the motions. Two quit only last week. I try to give them pep talks in our team huddle every morning, but they break the huddle and shuffle back to their work station.”

“You have your answer,” I replied.

“What do you mean?” she drew back.

“Your question. You asked a question. ‘Don’t they see it?’ Obviously, they don’t.” I chuckled.

“Well, of course they don’t see it,” Suzette was emphatic. “I was talking about my pep talk. How can I change my pep talk?”

“You could drop it,” I suggested. “Drop the pep talk. What you say has no impact. It’s what they see. How can you show them?”

They Need the Money

“Why do people work?” Pablo asked.

It was an innocent question, but Pablo always has an agenda. “Okay. I’ll bite,” I replied. “I was going to say they work for the money, but I know you too well.”

Pablo laughed. “You are correct. People work because they need the money. But, if that is all they work for, then you will be hard pressed to keep them when a competitor comes knocking on their door, and offers a dollar more.”

I stared at Pablo with a half smile.

“Would it surprise you,” he continued, “to find out that people need to work, more than they need the money? Don’t get me wrong, they need the money. But, they also need the work. To lead a happy, fulfilled life, people need to work, to make a contribution to a group which they hold in high regard. And, it takes somewhere between 35-40 hours per week to create that internal feeling of significance. If you can create a safe place, where they can do their best work, and that work is valued by their most important group, now you get the beginnings of engagement.”

I Can’t Wait

I can’t wait to wake up in the morning, leap out of bed and head into work.**

  • What has to be waiting for you, at work, for that to happen?
  • What connections have to be there to create that mental state?
  • What importance is linked to the contribution you make, at work?

For a manager, it is not about motivating your team, it’s about team engagement, in the work that we do each day.
**Inspired by Dr. Bill Kent, HornerXpress, National Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award Winner

Too Much Appreciation

Pablo smiled. “Have you ever asked anyone if, at work, they receive too much appreciation?”

“That’s funny,” I said. “No, I have never asked, but I am sure the answer is a light-hearted NO.”

“This is not about gratitude, though gratitude is a worthwhile expression,” Pablo started. “It is more than just saying thank you. Gratitude is acknowledgement. Gratitude says, I see you, here, in front of me. And, you are valuable to my experience. Your presence is a contribution to me. Never underestimate the value of appreciation.”