How To Motivate The Late, The Lazy And The Terminally Uninspired


I work with teams and have done for the past 20+ years. Over those years, I have developed my two most favourite questions:

Of managers - "Would you like to be free of having to deal with fire-fighting/ crisis managing, and employees asking stupid questions for one whole day every week?

And I see the look of absolute desire on their faces.

Of employees - ‘How may of you get up on a cold wet, winter morning; think of work and leap out of bed shouting ‘yes"?

And everyone falls off their chair, gripping their sides laughing themselves silly for the
next 10 minutes.

So how did the workplace get itself into such a mess in the first place?

I believe our work habits are left-overs from the Industrial Age. In those days most employees were illiterate so managers had to tell them what to do and when to do it, and so to ensure speed of production, we created a parent/child way of dealing with each other; manager acting as ‘parent' and employees acting and reacting in ‘child'.

We are now in the Information Age; most employees in our workplaces are reasonably well educated; some are very well educated. Yet we still act out that old Industrial model.

It doesn't work.  (I don't think it ever really did.)

How to do this ‘work' thing differently is the challenge, because even though we want better results in our workplaces, our homes and our society we don't actually want to do anything differently in order to get those better results - it's called human nature.

So let me give you some facts which may encourage you to at least consider doing this managing thing in a slightly different way:

1.    In the 18 months after the World War II, globally, 60 million children were born thus creating a baby boom. The baby boomers are now coming up to retirement, yet because of a healthy diet and good exercise most of them are not yet ready to retire. However, most of them don't want full time employment. Baby boomers are very loyal workers, they show up when they are supposed to show up. Yes they may work a little slower than they used to, but normally if they take on a task, they will see it through to the end.

2.    In 1960 or thereabouts, the birth pill was invented and in the 18 months or so after it's introduction, only 17 -20 million children were born - what is now known as the baby bust.

3.    In the late 1980s we had one of those great ideas to save money (never mind the cost downtrack)....we stopped putting people through apprenticeships.

4.    We now have a new breed of worker joining the workplace - Gen Y - or Gen WHY? These kids have been born using technology - they have usually had two parents working - they are known to have a short attention span and want a fast-track career. If they don't get what they want, they leave. And they leave with little notice or fanfare. They don't actually care what their CV looks like.  

Which all adds up to a shortage of skills and a huge shortage of people to fill in for the baby boomers who are leaving the workplace.

The implications for organisations is that it might be a really good idea to start looking after (and upskilling) the people you already have, because you may not be able to replace them.

The implications for employees is that there is very little career development any more. There is only a very short ladder to climb. So career growth may be more about learning more skills rather than climbing a ladder. And given that there is a real possibility for everyone of their skills becoming obsolete (because of technology) it seems like a really good idea to learn as much as you can, wherever you can, so you have other skills to fall back on and are seen as a person with a can-do attitude.

The future of the workplace may actually be more about ‘project teams' rather than business teams. A small group of people who come together for a short space of time to work on a task or project, and they go back to their old job.

If it all seems a bit overwhelming, don't panic, there are ways out of this conundrum.

In your role as manager there are four powerful questions you can ask of your direct reports to ensure you get your one day per week freed up; and your employees DO get up every Monday morning shouting YES!

The questions are:

1.    Where would you like to be in 5 years?
2.    What skills do you need to get there?
3.    How can I help/coach/mentor you (and delegate one of my boring jobs to you)?
4.    When would you like to start?

And then get started.

Realise that just because you are bored with something, doesn't mean that the job or task doesn't offer a growth opportunity for someone else.

Remember though, delegation is not abdication. You will need to coach and mentor until the person is truly able to do that job for you and without you. Which doesn't usually take too long.

And then you will have freed up that one day a week which can be far better used working on your business rather than in it.  Yeah!



Ann Andrews CSP specialises in working with high performing teams and showing managers how to deal with poor performance.

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