“I need a new motivation system”

It was a warm sunny afternoon when the restaurant owner and I were sitting on his summer terrace discussing his serving staff. “I need to change all of my workers.” said the slightly round man. When I asked him why, he replied “They aren’t good employees and I can’t make my restaurant work with them.”

“How long have most of the people been working here?” I query the restaurateur. “Nobody has been here more than 6 months” he answers with a curled lip and something close to a sneer.

“What happened 6 months ago?” I ask him getting more curious. “I had to replace everyone because they were also bad employees! I need to find a better way to motivate my employees.”

Wow! Can he really have been so unlucky with selecting employees. Did he really hire all of these unmotivated people? If so, he seriously needs to take a look at his ability to judge people. What is going on here?

Over the years I have heard this same complaint voiced in many ways. But it basically comes down to a struggling owner feeling that he or she could make the business work if only he had good people.

When I ask how is it that the competitors working in the same market conditions can build a successful business, the owner will find more excuses; competitors can pay more, they are bigger and can offer more opportunities, they were in the market first and took all of the good people, and on and on.

I have many managers in such situations who come to me looking for a new motivation system because their people lack initiative. They are seeking that magic combination of pay, benefits and positive reinforcement that will get people off their haunches and into the thick of things with focus, excitement and lots of activity. The first question I usually ask is “did you hire unmotivated people?” Of course, the answer is no.

I have found that virtually all employees are actually excited when they get a new job. People moving into a new position tend to see opportunity; they want to prove themselves capable and show their new manager that it wasn’t a mistake to hire them.

However, a study by Sirota Survey Intelligence showed that, while new employee enthusiasm is initially high, in 85 percent of the companies they studied employee enthusiasm sharply declined after 6 months.  The slide in morale also continues for years after that.

How is it that companies hire enthusiastic people and after 6 months much of that enthusiasm has disappeared? The fault for this lies directly with management in the systems and process they employ and the relationships they establish with employees.

If you are experiencing unmotivated employees, one of the first places to look for a possible cause is in the mirror. Ask yourself how do your employees experience you and the systems and processes you put in place. It was Peter Drucker who said “most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.” This dynamic frustrates employees and a frustrated person is going to have a decline in motivation.

The way to correct this is not to put in place a new motivation system. Managers should work more collaboratively with their people. Give people the opportunity to influence and change how things are done. Much of the cause in low morale comes from mismanaged workflow which leads to delays and mistakes and gets people frustrated. The people then start to blame one another not realizing it is the system at fault.

Getting work to move smoothly across departments and through the organization is a major challenge and one in which your employees should have a lot of input. After all, they are the ones working in the system and who have to live with it everyday. They see the weaknesses in the systems, often much better than management, and they should have the opportunity to make the systems work better.

When you experience low morale in your staff, you shouldn’t be asking how do I motivate my employees; but, rather, how do I stop demotivating them?

Greg Mathers, Certfied Associate
Adizes Insitute

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