Motivating the Unmotivated

I read a post recently from teknophyl entitled "Motivating the Unmotivated". He asked me to read it and give him some feedback. I started a reply in the comments and realized this one was going to take some time.

I encourage you to read his blog entry. I am willing to bet it will resonate with most of you, either as a participant in a similar series of events, or at least as a witness.

The blog entry ends with a question - "what do you do to motivate the person who is seemingly unwilling to be motivated?"

People are complicated

I haven't found anything that works every time. People are complex and difficult to understand. That includes you. And that includes me.

I have a history of failed well intended attempts to motivate people toward goals. But I also have a history of successful attempts to facilitate people's forward progress toward goals.

Dont' Motivate, Facilitate

Motivational techniques employed in the typical worker/manager relationship are often nothing more than coercion hiding behind a more palatable name. The distinction between motivation and coercion is small, but significant. Motivation is providing someone with a compelling enough reason to take action. Coercion is compelling one to action through force, authority, or exploitation. In either case, we are attempting to incite someone to clear a hurdle in order to achieve a desired goal. When we facilitate, we remove the hurdle and clear the path to the goal.

Seek first to understand

What we perceive as lack of motivation is often fear or lack of confidence. A lack of confidence may be in themselves, leadership, or procedures.

Find out what their perspective is. How do they see the situation? How do they see you? What do they fear? What are their concerns? What are their beliefs? Your goal here is not to help them see the flaws in their world view. Your goal here is to understand and accept that their perception, no matter how incongruent with your own, is their reality. It is their truth.

This is not a comfortable task, but it is not all that difficult. You may need the help of a third party, especially if there is interpersonal tension. In order to truly express their concerns, thoughts, and fears, they need to know there are no repercussions for being honest and open. Allow them to express themselves without countering, defending, or attempting to persuade. Listen intently and with an open mind.

Acknowledge their views

Tell them what you heard without judgement or bias. Avoid rephrasing their concerns from your perspective. I've seen people do this exercise and then say things like, "So I heard you say that you don't care to be professional and you don't think you should have to adhere to dress code like the rest of us." when what the person said was, "I am more comfortable in tennis shoes and don't see how footwear matters in the bigger picture." You also need not articulate a punch list of their prior statements. The objective is not to "prove" you listen. The objective is to listen.

Provide them the opportunity to clarify and elaborate. You want to understand their perspective. You want them to know you understand. Rather than tell them, "I understand", allow them to tell you, "Yes, you understand".

Assure them of change

Interpersonal Issues

If you wish to alter the behavior of another, start by altering your own behavior. Let's say that your fellow employee feels you are too critical of their work, they feel you see them as inferior as a result, and they resent that feeling. But you don't feel you are too critical. Rather than attempt to alter their perspective, assure them you will try to be less critical and then genuinely try to do so.

I'll give you a tip here - when making an effort to adjust your behavior, refrain from prefacing your new behavior with statements that point it out. For example, "I know you want me to try to be less critical, so ..." Simply adopt the new behavior.

Organizational Issues

Perhaps they feel they are not empowered to do what is being asked of them. Process requirements or dependence on others outside of the department impede their ability to do their work effectively. Assure them you will work to change those things you feel you can. Statements like, "I'll get Anita to whip her crew into shape or she'll have to deal with my wrath." are obviously grandstanding and represent you as someone who coerces. This devalues the very process you've just gone through. Let them know, "I'll ask Anita if we can get our groups together to discuss each other's needs and come up with something that works for all of us."

Don't make promises you can't keep

Some of what people want cannot or should not be achieved. I do encourage you to question every policy that impedes a team's ability to work more effectively. But sometimes there are valid reasons, be they for safety or legal compliance. If the policy is not based on safety or legal compliance, it is quite likely a placebo for communication.

If what the team or individual desires is not possible, be clear about it. Don't make empty promises. Be forthright and honest.

Ask them to change

Most of us are aware that relationships are multi-dimensional. Knowing we are heard, understood, and supported makes it much easier for us to consent to a little change ourselves. Asking quid pro quo is by no means out of the question. You've agreed to be less critical; ask them to honor core team hours.

Keep it balanced

Whatever they ask of you, you should expect of them. Whatever you ask of them, they should expect of you. Of course there are exceptions; roles, gender, responsibilities all come into play. Often, expectations are identical; honor core hours, don't be late to stand-up. Be cognizant of the amount of commitment each party is making and make a sincere effort to keep it in balance.

Keep your promises

This is critical.

Follow through. Remove the hurdles.

People are skeptical when told "things are going to change around here." Make sure change happens. And make sure it happens quickly. One small change can bring hope and inspiration.

A lack of action breeds contempt and cynicism. Not only have we failed to make things better, but we've made them worse.

Involve people in the removal of the hurdles. Empower people to clear their own blocks. Encourage them to set up the meetings and be there to support them.