Talent Development 2 Leaders: Stop Trying to Motivate Your Employees

July 1, 2020

As a training and development professional, how many times a week do you hear leaders say, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” Believe it or not, that phrase often leads to lower rather than higher motivation.

Seeking to motivate people is the most common thought pattern leaders use every day, so what’s wrong with it?

Trying to motivate people shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved.

Leaders who think this way put the cart before the horse and do not make the necessary mind shift to do the things that actually do improve motivation.

So, what is the cart and what is the horse? The cart is the culture of the organization that either enables or extinguishes motivation. The horse is how satisfied people feel at any particular moment.

. Why do leaders reverse the conventional order; try to motivate people by making them feel good?

1. Poor understanding of motivation

The notion that by adding perks or benefits we somehow make people more motivated is flawed. Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors” is a good way to sweeten things (reduce dissatisfaction), but a poor way to increase motivation.

Why? – because goodies like parties, bonuses, hat days, games, , etc. often help people become happier at work, but they do little to impact the reasons they are motivated to do their best work.

2. Taking the easy way out

Many leaders believe that by heaping nice things on top of people it will feel like a better culture. The only way to improve the culture is to build trust.

By focusing on a better culture, managers enable people to motivate themselves.


3. Using the wrong approach –

It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation, it is fear.

You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.

4. Focusing on perks –

Individuals will gladly accept any kind of perk the boss is willing to hand out, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, not the size of the reward.

Putting the horse in front of the cart means working on the culture to build trust first.

Improving the motivating factors, such as authority, reinforcement, growth, and responsibility creates the right environment. Motivation within people will happen, and it will endure.

Why do I make this distinction? I believe motivation comes from within each of us. As a manager or leader, I do not believe you or anyone else can motivate other people.

What you can do is create a process or culture whereby employees will decide to become motivated to perform at peak levels. An example is when you set a vision and goals then allow people to use their initiative to get the job done as they see fit.

How can we tell when a leader has the wrong understanding about motivation? A clear signal is when the word “motivate” is used as a verb – for example, “Let’s see if we can motivate the team by having a picnic.”

If leaders seek to change other people’s attitude about work with perks, they are going to be disappointed frequently. To motivate is not something you “do to other people,” rather it is something that is always within people that only they choose to let come out.

Using the word “motivation” as a noun usually shows a better understanding – “Let’s increase the motivation in our workforce by giving the team more autonomy.

An organization where all people are pursuing a common vision in a healthy environment of trust has a sustainable competitive advantage due to high employee motivation. The way to create this is to build a culture of TRUST and affection within the organization.

You accomplish this through consistency and by letting people know it is safe to voice their opinion without fear of reprisal. You work to inspire people with a vision of a better existence for them and by really hearing their input. Doing this helps employees become motivated because:

• They feel a part of a winning team and do not want to let the team down. Being a winner is fun.
• They feel both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards when they are doing their best work, and that is what drives their behaviors.
• They appreciate their co-workers and seek ways to help them physically and emotionally.
• They understand the goals of the organization and are personally committed to help as much as they can in the pursuit of the goals.
• They truly enjoy the social interactions with peers. They feel that going to work is a little like going bowling, except they are distributing computers instead of rolling a ball at wooden pins.
• They deeply respect their leaders and want them to be successful.
• They feel like they are part owners of the company and want it to succeed. By doing so, they bring success to themselves and their friends at work.
• They feel recognized for their many contributions and feel wonderful about that. If there is a picnic or a cash bonus, that is just the icing on the cake: not the full meal.

For an organization, “culture” means how people interact, what they believe, and how they create. If you could peel off the roof of an organization, you would see the manifestations of the culture in the physical world.

The actual culture is more esoteric because it resides in the hearts and minds of the society. It is the impetus for observable behaviors.

Achieving a state where all people are fully engaged is a large undertaking. It requires tremendous focus and leadership to achieve. It cannot be something you do on Tuesday afternoons or when you have special meetings.

Describe it as a new way of life rather than a program. You should see evidence of this in every nook and cranny of the organization.

Do not put the cart in front of the horse by attempting to motivate people with special events or gifts. Instead, increase the motivating factors and build a culture of trust. The end result is that many people will choose to be highly motivated, and the organization will prosper.




Bob Whipple is known internationally as “The Trust Ambassador.”  He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a leadership Development organization.


Successful Supervisor Part 52 – Successful Mentoring

November 11, 2017

Mentoring is one of the most powerful ways organizations can improve. When you see organizations that thrive, you often see a culture that encourages and rewards employees for mentoring others.

Over several decades I have seen numerous “mentoring programs,” and most of them don’t last very long or have much success. I have also seen groups that thrive on mentoring, such that it is sustained and grows with time.

This brief article is about the contrast between those two visible extremes.

Why Mentoring Programs Fail

The core reason mentoring programs fail is imbedded in the word “program.” When we think of a mentoring effort as a mechanical process that brings mentors together with protégés, we get off on the wrong foot. Even with the use of sophisticated computer algorithms, the ability to match people up perfectly has a dismal record of success. Here are some reasons why:

1. Chemistry Missing

Great mentoring relationships grow organically. One person admires another, usually more senior, person and they become friends. They usually do not even use the word “mentor.” It is the quality of the relationship that adds value in both directions that keeps the momentum going.

When the match is cooked up by some outside process other than genuine admiration and chemistry, the taproot of stability rarely has a chance to grow.

2. Time Commitment Too Structured and Demanding

If a mechanical process is used, there are often periodic meetings with some form of documentation of what was discussed. In the frenetic pace of business and the chaos in which most executives live, the ability to carve out a specific hour on every Tuesday is unrealistic.

The intention may be there, and the meetings may actually happen for a few weeks, but unless the relationship is extremely valuable, the meeting schedule will start to slip out, and a few months down the road it becomes a rare exception that the “normal” meeting occurs.

Contrast that with a more informal mentoring relationship that has no fixed schedule. The two people meet only when there is a reason and then it is a drop in or call in situation rather than a scheduled commitment.

3. Value Mostly One Way

To endure, the value gained from the relationship needs to be bilateral. The protégé gains specific knowledge and seasoning that is shared, but the mentor also gains from the ability to see the organization from a different vantage point.

Being able to experience what is going on through the eyes of another (often younger) person is a huge advantage for busy executives. Managers often become insulated from the actual environment as perceived by the numerous people in the organization.

4. Lack of Trust

All mentor relationships are based on trust. Each individual needs to be sure the information passed back and forth will only go outside the confides of the two individuals if permission is given by the other person. If a violation of the trust is verified or even just suspected, the mentor relationship is in serious jeopardy.

This challenge is particularly acute for the mentor, because information may become known independent of the mentor, yet the protégé may suspect it was leaked.

For the mentor, it is important to be keenly alert to changes in body language that might reveal a weakening of the relationship that was not caused by that person.

A Better Way

To gain the most from mentoring, make the concept ubiquitous in the culture. Do not seek to pair certain people up, rather let them select each other via natural processes.

Avoid having a documented “Mentoring Program,” but foster an environment that encourages people to pair up as they wish. Let them choose how often and under what circumstances to meet. Let them select the best methods of communication, so the system is not a burden on either party.

For example, I had a great relationship with a boss for over two decades. He liked to communicate mostly using voice mail, so the majority of our discussions were in that mode rather than in scheduled meetings. The asynchronous nature of the communication allowed us to be unfettered, yet very closely connected. He could deal with hundreds of other managers across the organization, yet I was always available.

I recall this person sending a voice mail at about 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning. His comment was, “I always like interfacing with you, Bob, because whenever I pick up the phone, you are always right there.” He and I never used the word “mentor” to describe the relationship; that really helped make it successful.

For the protégé, the challenge is to be accessible in the right way at the right frequency, yet avoid being a pest. It is a fine line, and body language is the most sensitive way to pick up signals that you are coming on too strong.

A mentor would likely never say, “You are taking up too much of my time,” but an astute observer would be able to detect the input through dozens of body language signals.

Make sure you have at least one mentor in your life, and also make sure to guide some other people on their journey. These relationships add significantly to the quality of one’s life and work.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Competition Friend or Foe

July 12, 2012

Is competition between individuals or teams at work good or bad? The answer is “yes.” When taken to extremes, it is easy to see that cut-throat competition where one group works to succeed at the expense of another group will lead to poor performance or even sabotage. If you doubt that, just start watching The Apprentice on TV. I have not watched it in a few years, but it used to be based on taking 1000 bright business students and creating 999 losers and one winner.

On the other extreme, we know that pit crews are amazingly competitive in a good way. They will work for days to shave a few tenths of a second on a pit stop. They are seeking perfection, and the friendly competition between teams creates an atmosphere that breeds excellence.

How can you know if you are creating the kind of competition that is healthy? Here are some signs that you have crossed the line from useful competition to the detrimental variety.

1. Teams plan activities that advantage their group but disadvantage another group.

2. People manipulate numbers in order to win out over the competition.

3. People try to raid personnel from a different team.

4. Gossip or rumors about another team take on a hurtful tone.

5. The formation of cliques becomes an egregious activity.

6. Team celebrations become disruptive or dangerous.

7. Teams fail to share resources that were intended to be used by multiple teams.

8. Teams demonstrate a lack of trust.

9. Team members refuse to be cross trained.

10. Teams hold information back or become secretive on some issues.

Monitor your teams at work, and look for the signs of unhealthy competition. In general, some friendly competition is a good thing, but when it is carried to an extreme, really bad things can begin to happen. If the competition is fostering some of the symptoms above, here are seven remedies that can help.

1. Clarify the goals. Remind people in different groups that they are all part of a larger effort.

2. Reinforce people who demonstrate healthy competition, and counsel people who are on the other extreme.

3. Cross-pollinate members of the teams so it becomes harder to draw on historical loyalties.

4. Hold team building activities for the larger team and intermingle the groups to build chemistry.

5. Be sure stated goals do not encourage silo thinking by ensuring alignment with the larger organization.

6. Celebrate success of teams in the larger environment to create a winning culture.

7. Remove team members who exhibit poor attitudes toward other teams.

Many organizations use contests or other overt methods of encouraging team competition. These can be helpful or hurtful depending on how they are administered. Make sure the competition in your organization is enhancing overall performance rather than fostering bad blood between groups. Use the tips above to keep competition healthy.