Do you have an employee who’s motivation needs some maximising?

Friday 12 May, 2017

In every business/organisation you are going to encounter the employee who is generally underperforming.

You’ve tried everything that you can think of to help this person become motivated or the person used to be highly motivated but are now not. So what can you do about it?

I’ve met a number of managers/business owners who say, cut your losses, sack the person. That’s one answer I suppose but there is an alternative. Explore the reasons for underperformance and use science to help address these. If it doesn’t work then you can always go back to just sacking them!

So what does the science of human behaviour tell us about what the challenge might be and what might work.

Well the answer falls into two brackets:

  1. The employee who performed well before.
  2. The employee who has never performed well.

The biggest cause of underperformance for the first group is distraction. They need to be encouraged to focus. Beware the myth of multi-tasking. We simply cant do it. You end up serial tasking and doing everything a little less well than you would if you gave your undivided attention.

The second group generally struggle with one of three things. They don’t have the skill to do what is required of them. The answer to this is straight forward, up skill them or allocate them to another role. The other two challenges are less straight forward. Lack of clarity, they are unsure of what is expected or don’t feel connected to the business’s mission, purpose or vision. The good news is the answer to both of these is the same.

performance meeting

A quick background to what we know about what motivates people, in or out of the workplace.

Self-Determination Theory(SDT) is one of the most comprehensive models of human motivation. It was developed by two psychologists in the USA but is now used across the planet. When people discuss motivation, they often talk about intrinsic or extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is doing something simply because you have an internal desire to do it. Extrinsic motivation is the old carrot or stick concept. It is external to the person. There has been an enormous amount of research into which of these two works best in driving human behaviour. The evidence is clear that both create change but intrinsic motivation leads to longer lasting change. SDT is a framework for leveraging that intrinsic motivation.

SDT describes the three basic psychological needs that humans have:

  • Autonomy - the need to feel in control.
  • Competence - the need to feel effective.
  • Relatedness - humans are hard wired to feel the need to be connected to others.

If you consciously address these three areas you maximise human motivation. But how? 

Coach your under performers. As you coach them use this framework:

  • Autonomy - Let the employee take ownership of the problem. This is best done using a model such as GROW (Google search GROW coaching model). This will assist them to find and buy into their own solutions.
  • Competence - Focus on their strengths. Encourage them to use their strengths to address the areas where they are not strong. For example, you might say use your ability to be persistent to tackle your need to learn x, y or z.
  • Relatedness - This will come naturally if you coach people well. Coaching includes skills such as active listening which increases the sense of rapport.

So where to begin. If you currently have an underperforming employee or team member. Have a conversation with them about the area in which they are underperforming. Ask them to rate their work in that area on a scale of 1-10. Let’s say they rate themselves as an 8 out of 10, whereas you think the performance is more like a 2, rather than argue about the score, first ask them to explain why 8, what made them come to that conclusion. Then you extend the scale, what is now needed is a 15 out of 20. This may seem silly but it allows people to save face.

The next step is to use the coaching structure described above to discuss how you can work together to achieve the higher level of performance. Give it a try!


Alex Couley

About the contributor:

Alex is a coach, author, public speaker and is recognised as an international figure in leadership development, leadership/business coaching and positive psychology. Furthermore he is a Director and founder of the International Centre for Leadership Coaching. A organisation that specialises in assisting leaders and managers to utilise coaching skills to enhance their leadership abilities. In this role he has trained hundreds of managers/leaders in the practical implementation of coaching and how to embed a coaching culture.

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