Stop demotivating your people

man holding head in hands

Motivating people is a waste of time and space.

Instead, help everyone remember why they’re doing what they’re doing, why they should be confident and to focus on the things they can control.

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Things that make no sense

You can poison your body with alcohol, nicotine, drugs and junk food. You can spend your money on gambling and you can spend your time watching trashy TV, soaps and game shows. There are some things that make no apparent sense yet people still do them with amazing regularity. Life, after all, is a game of choices. Some things are also done through ignorance or because that was the current thinking – like putting asbestos in buildings or using mercury in your hair to get rid of head lice.

In businesses you can also see lots of things that are done regularly, which are irrational or mindless, some, of which make no sense whatsoever and some of which are a tiny bit stupid. For example you could make sure that you focus most of your energy and processes on individual performance even when most of your results require great teamwork. Or you could spend no time or energy whatsoever proactively building individual or team confidence even though you know it’s one of the most vital success factors. But you wouldn’t do that, would you?

It gets worse

Of course we know that you’d never do things like that – so let’s pretend you have a friend who does. After all they’re not too hard to find. But at least if your friend was doing either or both of the two examples above they wouldn’t actually be making performance worse – they’d simply be ensuring that they fail to fulfil the potential at their fingertips. The people and leaders who really deserve a mention are the ones who are actively damaging the motivation of the people they lead. Of course they’re not evil or deranged – at least we don’t think so. We choose to believe that they are well intentioned but potentially dangerous.

Whatever your role, we want to make sure that you don’t become complicit in leadership practices that diminish motivation. It’s a bit of a “no brainer” (though not without irony given that it’s the failure to engage one’s brain in certain aspects of leadership that causes some motivational issues in the first place).

Here’s a list of things your friend might be doing:

  • Attaching money to results not performance
  • Telling people that their performance is ‘satisfactory’ when actually it’s been great, simply to fit a financial model and pay structure!
  • Appointing a Head of Engagement. What?!!!
  • Having a Training Department and eroding personal responsibility and control for development
  • Having a talent development programme and not putting EVERYONE on it
  • Obsessing exclusively on results and financial reporting
  • Incessantly setting inflexible annual goals
  • Focusing on company performance and individual performance and rewarding Divisional Heads for hitting targets thus fuelling silo thinking rather than connective thinking
  • Sharing thinking about challenges and changes on a “need to know basis”
  • Treating adults with information in the same way we might shelter a small child from the news that an elderly relative is not well
  • Doing things themself because it’s quicker and easier than asking, or allowing, and therefore trusting others
  • Continually telling people what they should improve
  • Managing people. When was the last time you felt the need to be managed by someone other than yourself??
  • Managing other people’s performance rather than letting them and manage it and helping them to do that

Asking helpful questions

We could go on and explain in detail how each item on this list has a negative motivational effect on employees’ connectedness, confidence and sense of control. However we’d find it terribly depressing. We’d much rather spend our time discussing what and how you can avoid doing these things and what you would be better off doing instead: encouraging connectedness, fuelling confidence and building a sense of control.

If you ever find yourself asking, “How can I motivate my people?” we think you’re asking the wrong question. We think you should ask, “what can I do to help my people be motivated and what can I do to stop demotivating them?” These might lead you towards answers that, in time, will have a dramatic impact on the motivation of people in your business. After all, motivation is a fundamental factor that determines effort, persistence and eventually, results. It’s something that often needs to be nurtured, built, improved and sustained.

We believe that most people start a job motivated and really great leaders do a fantastic job of inspiring and crucially, not demotivating people in the businesses that they lead. We believe in Jim Collins’ notion that great leaders are superb at not demotivating the people they lead and they’re superb at not doing this by ensuring that individuals get plenty of time to work on their motivation and that those individuals know that their motivation is ultimately their responsibility. These leaders do this by helping people to stay connected to the business’s purpose and values and by valuing the contribution that their people make. They do it by helping their people to feel confident, through a focus on their peoples’ strengths, through helping people to be and feel prepared and by making sure they have the tools and resources they need. And they do it by helping their people to take and keep responsibility for what they are doing and how. They help people feel a sense of choice over what they’re doing, what they’re thinking and how they’re behaving.

When it comes to motivation, we recommend that you aim for everyone to be continually and explicitly building the 3Cs (connectedness, confidence and a sense of control) in themself and others (and certainly not inadvertently undermining them).