Motivating the Unmotivated

Posted on January 11, 2012.

A while ago, a friend asked me how she should motivate her very unmotivated employee.  Her employee did just enough to get by, made it clear he was counting the days and was a downer to be around.  Firing was not an option. For you Office fans out there, think Stanley Hudson.  I wrote a blog on How to Motivate Your Team, which I think is helpful for the average worker, but to be honest, while many of these tips will help, you need to bring out the big guns when dealing with the Stanley Hudson’s of the world.  Here are some “big gun” ideas:

  • Learn their strengths and weaknesses.  Or actually, learn what they think are their strengths and weaknesses. Ask them to prepare a SWOT analysis on themselves. What are their key strengths/weaknesses? What do they perceive as opportunities within the organization? These can be opportunities for a promotion, salary increase, learning, etc. What do they perceive as the obstacles to these opportunities?
  • Prepare you own SWOT analysis.  Comparing the two should create great dialogue.  But make sure you’re prepared, as they likely listed under opportunities- none.  Make sure you fully understand what outcomes are available given his or her skill set. What training would be necessary to achieve those opportunities?  Make sure you and your companies are prepared to invest in this person.
  • Realign job responsibilities.  Based on the results of your analysis above, you should be able to determine what tasks fit into their strengths and what doesn’t. Reassign the responsibilities that match up with weaknesses and add tasks that play to their strengths.  No one is motivated to tackle a job they don’t feel they can do really well. Giving them jobs and responsibilities they perceive they can do well with should help change behavior.
  • Ask them to mentor a newer associate.  There’s nothing like empowering your unmotivated employee to make them take a second look at their surroundings.  The unmotivated often live in a world of monotony. You need to shake things up. By catapulting them into new tasks and asking them to step up into a leadership role, you’ve shaken the foundation of their world. Their behavior will be forced to adapt to this new world.
  • Find ways to recognize and reward achievements. As we’ve mentioned many times, recognition is critical to both motivation and retention. Again, by surprising your employee with unexpected recognition, they’re forced to change their perception of you, the boss, and their role in the organization. Even if it’s small milestones, make sure take notice and provide ongoing positive feedback.

Managing someone who’s just putting in the time is one of the hardest challenges you’ll ever face.  They usually have more experience, more time on the job and are often intimidating in their behavior. But getting this person to new levels of motivations is also one of the most rewarding experiences you will have.