Motivation: Cause or Effect?

Communication breakdowns, apathy, inefficiency, and even conflict – not even the most successful companies are immune to the impacts of low morale. When motivation is low, teams often veer off the strategic path and struggle to perform at their normal caliber.

Cause Effect Motivation

Confusion or mistrust lead to disruption, and the idea of “excellence” disappears further and further into the distance.

There is no golden bullet for dealing with lack of drive, but there’s good news – it’s almost always fixable. Here is what we have learned over the years about turning a lack of motivation around for a high-performing, successful, and cohesive team.

1. Get Some Fresh Eyes

When it comes to low morale, the people who are directly involved will usually have the hardest time getting the bigger picture. Don’t get me wrong – co-workers offer the most insightful information on the heart of a morale issue – but they already have a lot on their plates.

With all the hustle and bustle of their everyday roles, front line staff rarely have the time to get an overview of how performance looks across the board. We are often called in by leaders who need a fresh perspective on the situation – from a trained professional vantage point – to deal with things holistically.

As objective observers, we’re often able to help overwhelmed team leaders and managers by looking at departments, teams, and functions with a birds-eye view. Questions we like to ask include:

– Besides customers, who is this lack of morale affecting?
– Are a few bad apples infecting the basket, or are they simply in the wrong basket?
– Do people focus on their task or on performing better as a team?
– Is low morale the cause or is it an effect?
– Are the right conditions in place for all to perform at their best?
– If not, what do people need? What do we need as an organization?
– How, and where, can we possibly align those two things?

2. Don’t Confuse Performance with Potential

It’s critical to understand the difference between (poor) performance and (low) motivation – underachieving co-workers may be keen as mustard but held back by a need for development and attention. Add a general feeling of general inertia to the mix, and it can be hard for leaders to tell what action needs to be taken.

In my professional experience, Leaders often pay less attention to those who are ‘marked’ as potentials while their attention shifts to low performers. In my professional experience, a leader must look closer at all of their employees’ performance and their potential – separately, and side by side. On top of that, they need to look at the dynamics in their team.

For example:

– Jeffrey is performing at a sub-par level. His manager is sure he can do better, and Jeffrey usually has amazing numbers and people skills, making him a great candidate for team leader next quarter. At the same time, Jeffrey is caught in the middle of a conflict between two of his co-workers.

– Parmina is also dragging her feet right now, but unlike Jeffrey, she feels overwhelmed and negative about more of the same. She couldn’t think of anything more frustrating than a promotion.

These two employees are both lacking drive, but they both need something different from their organization to get that spark back. We need to ask the right questions to find out just what.

3. Ask The Right Questions

It’s often necessary to ask “Why”, but it’s also a very easy question to get stuck on. The performance-potential relationship gives us a future-focused what people need, what the organization needs, and how these can be realigned.

Chocolate Bars International, Jeffrey and Parmina’s employer, wants to be the most customer-friendly candy maker in the market. They need high-performing, ambitious, and motivated employees, and here are a few questions they might ask.

– Jeffrey has plenty of potential, but his motivation is flagging. Is Jeffrey receiving the right amount of leadership attention? What conditions can we create for Jeff to realize that potential? What development does he need, want, or desire? Will career coaching help? How about helping him develop leadership skills?

– Parmina has neither the skills nor the desire to go any further on this career path. Is her team leader aware of this? Is she in the right position for her capabilities? Can we find a better role for her at Chocolate Bars International?

With the right awareness of opportunities, skills, and their employees as individuals, leaders can create a motivating context for teams to thrive. Whether that means professional development for people like Jeffrey, or a new role for Parmina, it starts with a fresh set of eyes on the situation.

A closer look at your current scenario can then be the framework for a future-focused plan – one which is focused on development, growth, and success.

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