Tag Archives: performance

Motivation from the Inside Out: Tap Into People’s Inner Drive

In the last post, I talked about the nature of extrinsic rewards—motivating people from the outside in. While some extrinsic rewards are necessary (fair salary and benefits), managers should be wary of using carrots and sticks to move their employees to action. If you want truly motivated people, you’ll need to go deeper. You’ll need to consider intrinsic factors, the things that motivate people from the inside out. But since motivation is an internal thing, as manager, you can’t really motivate your employees. What you can do, though, is create the kind of environment where people want to motivate themselves. And that is no small task.

Motivation? Think emotion

It is impossible to discuss motivation without talking about emotion. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Emotions have no place at work. Well, neuroscience begs to differ with you. Our feelings affect every aspect of our lives, work included. We can’t help it—our brains were made that way. Consider how this amazing organ has been built over time. The brain developed from the base up. The first to develop was the primitive, reptilian brain. Next to develop was the limbic region, the emotional area of the brain. Newest on the scene is the neo-cortex, the executive (rational decision-making) part of the brain. The older emotional brain landscape is more deep-seated, which helps to explain why, even though we try to be rational, we often act based on emotion.

Paul Herr, in his book, Primal Management, say that business people are somewhat justified in their views on emotions, because we tend to think in extremes. Let’s face it. We’ve all seen someone “lose it” and it’s no fun to watch (or to experience). We’re not talking about the extreme, though. We’re talking instead of the “subtle background feelings that ensure our survival by getting us out of bed in the morning and by imperceptibly influencing every decision and every move we make during the course of our workday.”

So, we are emotional creatures. We are also hungry.

Herr says that, just as humans have biologic appetites (nutrition, energy conservation, protection of the body, breathing, reproduction), we also have social appetites. We are hard-wired to work as part of a tribe, to master skills, to achieve what we set out to do, to create and innovate, and to feel safe and secure. When these appetites are not satisfied, employees will naturally disengage.

So, as manager, how can you satisfy these appetites? How can you create the right atmosphere in which people are driven to do their best work?

Motivational Drivers

I’ve identified nine drivers, which I believe are key factors in helping people feel more motivated at work. If you’ve got an employee who is not motivated, ask yourself these questions and be brutally honest in your answers. You may be able to pinpoint which drivers are missing.

Fit: Is this person in the right role according to his or her strengths and the specifications of the job? If not, how can I help the person find a better fit?

Expectations: Does this employee know what is expected of him or her? If not, how can I clarify those expectations?

Requirements: Does this employee have what’s needed to work productively (training, equipment, appropriate work space)? If not, how can I provide it?

Work Style: How does this person work (outgoing vs. reserved; task-oriented vs. people-oriented)? How can I respond to these behaviors?

Strengths: What strengths does this employee have? How can I continually build on these strengths?

Competency: Is this employee getting better at what he or she does? If not, what can I do to develop this person more fully?

Feedback: Do I routinely give effective feedback (positive and constructive) on performance? If not, how can I improve in this area?

Connection: Does this person feel connected to me and my team? If not, how can I help him or her feel more closely linked?

Contribution: Does this employee know how he or she contributes to the success of the organization? If not, how can I let this person know?

It’s unrealistic to expect you to put all nine drivers in place for everyone, but you’d be surprised, I think, to see what happens when one or two are put into motion. At the very least, I urge you to consider these motivational strategies:

  • Don’t bog people down with unnecessary policies and procedures.
  • Quit micromanaging.
  • Connect people to one another.
  • Communicate!

Here’s the link to Paul Herr’s book.

Until next time . . .

Your Baby is Ugly! Overcoming the Fear of Feedback, Part II

My last post dealt with receiving constructive feedback. Now let’s switch sides and deal with it from the giver’s perspective.

Do you know which form of feedback is most prevalent in many organizations today?


We’re very good about saying nothing when someone messes up. And when we remain silent, the message we’re sending is loud and clear: Your behavior is fine just the way it is.

It’s not that we don’t know what to say or how to say it. If you Google “feedback,” all that you need to know will come pouring out of your computer. (Alas, in a moment, I’m going to add to the deluge!)

We know what we should do, but we still don’t do it. Why? I think it’s partly because we don’t want to inflict pain on others. (Remember, the message you are sending is that “your baby is ugly.”) But I also think it’s because managers are unskilled in this area. They just haven’t had enough practice to get better at it.

Giving feedback is a communication skill that can be developed through practice. First, my own two cents on feedback and then some ways in which you can start building your skills.

Definition: Constructive Feedback is information about a person’s performance or behavior intentionally delivered to that person to facilitate change or improvement.

Goal: To help the person understand and accept the impact of his or her behavior on self or others. It is not to change the person’s behavior or to give advice. Any behavior change is up to the recipient. In other words, feedback cannot be forced upon the person, it must be voluntarily accepted.

The Feedback Conversation: Here’s a 4-step process to help you structure your feedback conversation.

  1. Ask the person if it’s okay to give feedback. Remember that the purpose of constructive feedback is to help the person adjust behavior. If the person isn’t ready to hear the feedback, chances are, he or she won’t be ready to change. Asking also shows that you respect the person. “Can I share something with you? or; “Can I give you some feedback?” And what if the person says “no”? Well, maybe now really isn’t a good time to hear what you have to say. The person may be stressed or not feeling well and wouldn’t be receptive to what you have to say in any case. So, if the person says “no,” respect that. Say, “Okay, let’s talk later then.” Try again later, and if you still get a “no,” schedule a time to talk. Say, “I respect that now isn’t a good time. You tell me when we can meet.”
  2. Describe the specific behavior that you’ve observed or experienced, keeping all judgment out of it. Tell only what you saw or heard. “You’ve been late three times in the last two weeks.” One of the most challenging aspects of giving any kind of feedback is in describing the actual behavior without judging it. When you judge behavior you are putting your own label on it. Saying, “You seem really lazy” is a judgment call. Saying, “You’ve been late three times . . .” is a statement of fact.
  3. Impact: Say how the person’s behavior has affected you, the team, the organization, or even the person him/herself. “When you come in late, others have to cover for you in the call center and you miss the morning staff meetings.”
  4. Next Steps: Ask the person how he or she can fix the problem. Don’t offer a solution. If the person is stuck, offer to talk again later. Offer help only when warranted. “What can you do differently?” or (maybe); “What can you do about this and how can I help?”

Building Your Skills: Think about this. How did you learn how to print your name? To play the guitar? To dance? You practiced. You worked through drills and exercises. You got frustrated, you made mistakes. But you got better at it, right? You can get better at giving feedback too. Here’s how:

Do it early. Address the issue as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the person’s performance has slipped well below standard before speaking up. Providing immediate feedback:

  • Allows the person to quickly change course (delayed feedback may result in dealing with ingrained behaviors, which are much tougher to tackle).
  • Is more accurate, since you are both likely to remember the circumstance.
  • Reduces anxiety because you’re addressing the problem before it has gotten out of hand.

Do it often. Feedback should be a daily occurrence, a part of your normal routine. Your first conversations may not go so well, but don’t let that stop you. Keep at it until it becomes second nature to you. If you need to rehearse the conversation with someone you trust beforehand, do that.

Feedback really is the “breakfast of champions.” Don’t skip it.

Until next time . . .

Going Deeper: Analyzing Non-Performance

Let’s say that Kronin is one of your employees whose performance has slipped badly in the last few months. He shows up late and leaves early. He calls in sick. He knows his way around the Internet better than he knows his way through his daily To do list.

Be honest. When you think of Kronin, what do you say to yourself (or others) about him? What names do you call him?


That’s what I called Kronin when he was my employee. I called him that—and worse.

The problem is that, once you slap a label on someone, you start treating him or her that way. You may not do it consciously, but you do. And that label is sticky. It’s very hard to remove.

Instead of trying to find out why Kronin is underperforming, we ignore him, hoping he’ll request a transfer or maybe even quit. We bad-mouth him to others. When we’re feeling managerial, we might give him a bit of feedback, which seems to help for a while, but soon he reverts back to being Slackerloserlazyjerk. We throw up our hands and throw in the towel.

There is a better way.

Here is a five-step process to help you work through a performance issue:

What’s the difference between the desired performance (based on performance objectives) and the actual? If you’ve set SMART objectives (see blog post 12/15/09), you should have a clear picture of where Kronin has gone off track.

What are the possible causes for the discrepancy? Carefully consider all possibilities.

  • Is it a lack of skills or knowledge? Are you sure Kronin knows how to do his job?
  • Is it a lack of motivation? As manager, am I misreading what motivates Kronin? Motivation is a big topic, one that will be covered in future posts, but for now, ask yourself: Is he cast in the right role? Does he know how he contributes to the organization? Does he have the equipment and supplies to do his job right? Does he know what’s expected of him in clear and measurable terms? How does he like to work? (outgoing vs. reserved, task-oriented vs. people-oriented) Is he able to do what he’s good at?
  • Is it a lack of talent? Does Kronin lack the innate ability to do the job?
  • Is there something about the environment that inhibits performance? Is there something about the organization (structure, culture, mood, politics) that’s getting in Kronin’s way?
  • Is there something about me, as manager, that is getting in the way? What have I done to cause Kronin’s poor performance? This is the hardest question of all. It’s scary to face ourselves in the mirror, yet often (as was the case with me), that’s where the answer lies. In my case, I had to admit that, because I had written Kronin off as a Slackerloserlazyjerk, I stopped managing him. I never stopped to consider what motivated him to work to his potential. I didn’t have a clue as to his strengths and talents. What little feedback I’d given him was poorly done. I had to admit that it was easier to write him off than to do something about it.

What actions can I take to eliminate the discrepancy?

  • If it’s a lack of knowledge or skills, provide training. That’s a fairly easy fix, yes?
  • If it’s a lack of motivation, determine appropriate drivers (see above).
  • If it’s a lack of talent, determine course of action (devise a support system; find a complementary partner; seek an alternative role).

How will the solutions be put into action? Work with Kronin to create a specific action plan to improve performance.

When will I meet with the person to reassess performance? Don’t skip this step. Set a date to meet with Kronin to discuss progress and stick to it.

Don’t be too hasty to write someone off. When faced with a non-performer, move beyond the label and dig deep to analyze the problem. The answers may surprise you.

I found this short clip on the Web about what to do with the “slacker” in your midst. Enjoy.


The next post deals with the art of giving feedback. Yikes!

Until next time . . .

Where Are You Going? How Are You Going To Get There?

When you become manager, the way you think about work takes on a whole new dimension. The questions you might ask yourself are: What work needs to get done? Who’s going to do it? Do I delegate? (If so, what gets handed off and to whom?) How do I tell people how they’re doing? What do I do when someone isn’t performing to standard?

Attending to task needs is about achieving individual, group, and organizational objectives. Task needs include:

  • Setting performance objectives
  • Matching the person with the job
  • Delegating effectively
  • Analyzing performance issues
  • Providing feedback

This post begins at the beginning, with setting performance objectives. But first, let’s step back and look at the bigger picture. Many organizations have instituted a formal performance management system, which typically looks something like this:

1.  Managers and employees work together to set performance
objectives for the coming year.

2.  Managers talk to employees about their performance.
3.  At mid-year, performance objectives are rewritten to account for
changes  in the business.
4.  More performance discussions take place between managers and
5.  Managers and employees sign off on the annual performance appraisal.

The system looks great on paper, but it can break down at any step in the process. Here are some tips to ensure that step 1, at least, does not fail.

Think about this for a moment: Without specific, measurable performance objectives, how will you know where you’re going and how will you get there? How will your employees know if they are on track or off? As manager, it is your responsibility to set the stage for the coming performance year by writing meaningful objectives.

When done right, performance objectives:

  • Define performance accountabilities.
  • Motivate employees by providing challenges and opportunities for growth and development.
  • Provide a means for manager and employee to measure performance progress.
  • Allow the employee to see how he or she contributes to the organization.

Writing meaningful objectives isn’t as easy as it looks, though. Have you heard of SMART objectives? The acronym has been around for a long time and many managers are familiar with it, yet they still don’t use it. When you prepare your business (or personal) objectives, work on tightening them up. Write them using SMART criteria:

S = Specific: Objective must be concrete, detailed, and well-defined

M = Measurable: Objective must be quantified (frequency, percentages, dollars, numbers). The following are examples of non-measurable actions:
Communicate with project leader in a timely manner.
Complete as soon as possible.
Remember, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

A = Achievable: Objective should stretch your employees but not so far that they become frustrated and unmotivated.

R = Relevant: Objective must mesh with organizational goals and employees must have the necessary knowledge, authority, resources, and skills to carry out the task.

T = Time-bound: Objective must have a finish and/or start date.

Writing SMART Objectives:

SMART objectives are typically written as follows:
Action Verb + Specific Accomplishment + Measurement + Target Date

Example: Increase sales in XYZ department by 4% by year end, 2010.

Take a look at the difference between “fuzzy” objectives and SMART objectives:

Fuzzy Objective: Contribute to a team environment.
SMART Objective: Chair (specific) project team meeting each Tuesday, beginning on 3/2/10.

Fuzzy Objective: Improve customer service.
SMART Objective: Increase customer satisfaction rating to 90% by year end, 2010.

Can you see the difference in terms of measuring outcomes? If you stay in the “fuzzy” realm, you have nothing to grab onto. You have no basis for a meaningful discussion about performance. Just about the only thing you can count on is that you and your employee will argue about the work. The conversation will go something like this.

Manager: “Did not!”
Employee: “Did too!”

Writing powerful objectives should be done in partnership with your employees. Ask them what their goals and aspirations are and then work together to craft objectives using the SMART criteria.

Of course, all of this does take time and effort, but when it’s done, you’ve created a solid basis for managing performance in the coming year. Taking the time to do this up front will save you time (and frustration) in the long run. As Peter Block said in his book, Flawless Consulting:

“Well begun is half done.”

Future posts will deal with all the other aspects of attending to the task needs. Stay tuned.