Employee motivation and productivity: how you motivate others to do as little as possible

Employee motivation and productivity can be tricky. Have you ever managed people you would describe as capable and talented, but who just “go through the motions” of showing up and doing the bare minimum? You might ask yourself, “Where is your motivation?”

What may be happening in the above scenario is that these talented and capable people are motivated to show up at work and do as little as possible without getting fired.

The definition of motivation is: an internal drive that compels behavior. Therefore, saying that someone is “just not motivated” is simply not possible. Employee motivation begins with the understanding that within every human being, there is an internal drive that drives behavior. In other words, everyone is motivated. Criminals are just as motivated as you and I … just in a different direction to achieve different results. Each of us behaves as we do, due to an internal drive called “motivation.”

One question that might arise from the above definition is: “If motivation comes from within, does that mean that employee motivation and productivity are not possible with some people?” That’s a great question. Let’s take a closer look at employee motivation and productivity and how we can get more out of people.

The first step is to understand that each of us has “wants” in key life areas, such as finances, health, relationships, business / career, spiritual, and recreation. Our vision in those areas, and our journey towards their fulfillment, is what determines our motivation and productivity. When there is a “gap” between where we are and where we want to be, the internal drive “kicks in” to somehow bridge the gap.

Given the above, every interaction you have with people, motivates or demotivates them. Each interaction “raises a mirror” where they see themselves in relation to where they want to be. Your words and actions have an immediate meaning for people: their relationship with you leads them towards or away from their desired destination. If people perceive it as a barrier to getting more of what they want, they may “slow down” your productivity. For them, more effort is not worth it; therefore, it may appear that they are unmotivated.

Now we know better. They are motivated … just in a different direction than you. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to affect someone’s motivation and productivity.

A friend of mine is the number one salesperson for a company. He once told me that he had no motivation to win a sales contest that included a fully paid trip to Cancun for 10 days with his wife. Why?

His children were not included in the trip. If he and his wife went on vacation, he wanted his children with them. Since that was not the case, he got very creative with ordering schedules, so he was able to finish second in the contest without losing commissions in the long run. Of course, the company’s quarterly bottom line would be less, but this way my friend could get what he wanted: a family vacation on his terms.

Like my friend, we are all motivated towards what we want and we move away from what we don’t want.

If my friend’s manager had asked, “What would give you the greatest motivation to win this contest?” … I would have heard my friend say, “Just give me four days at Disney World with my wife and kids, then get out of my way and watch me win this thing.” A simple question would have made a difference in my friend’s motivation to win, but his manager did not.

When you show interest in what people want and help them get more of it, you ignite employee motivation and productivity in the direction you want.

Are you having problems with business productivity and employee motivation? Are you desperately trying to find a way to increase productivity and motivate some employees? Are you about to throw in the towel because you think motivation is not possible with some people? If so, be aware that they may not be getting enough of what they want, which is why they seem to have little motivation.

How do you find out what employees want? You must ask them. If your productivity and motivation are low because important things are not being accomplished, you may be able to increase productivity and turn things around by finding a way to make your job a vehicle for getting more of what you want.

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