How to Motivated the “Unmotivated”

 In Coaching, Employee engagement, Employee Satisfaction, Leadership, Leadership Development

The first time that we met, John walked into the room with a scowl on his face. His eyes glittered with anger. I wondered, how do you motivate this guy? He sat down as if ready to pounce.  I’ve lived with teenagers so I don’t scare easily.  I shook his hand, made small talk and began to ask a few low key questions. Over a series of meetings we developed a rapport and trust. (Early in my career I did educational coaching and training.)

John told me he was considered a “tough guy”. His family had a history of trouble with the law. His older brother created a bad reputation for all of them. John was targeted early on by authorities. They felt he was unmotivated. Teachers cornered him and roughed him up on the first day of high school to warn him about bad behavior.  The local police chased him on the street. In John’s word’s, “I showed them that their worst nightmare about me was true.” 

3 Valuable Lessons

After helping John finish his education and get a job, I realized, by accident I had learned a three valuable lessons.

  • All people can be motivated; some just aren’t motivated do to what you want.
  • While  all people have incredible potential to do good things, many don’t believe it or seem to care.
  • Most people can be motivated to be more and accomplish more. This is a key to employee engagement.

5 Steps to Motivate the Unmotivated:

1. Show genuine concern: All too often when we want to motivate someone we have our own agenda. This could be to get an employee to improve performance or a child to clean her room. Instead, in John’s case, I treated him with respect. I wanted to help him and  that’s what I was trained to do. I also had this ideal: to make a positive difference.  Others he encountered wanted to lock him up and threaten him; wanted to offer him  look at other possibilities.

2. Ask questions: Instead of telling John what to do, I asked questions: to understand him, his family, his problems, hopes and dreams. At first he was hesitant but, since I wasn’t preaching to or scolding him, he talked and shared. I encouraged and complimented him.

3. Listen with empathy: While asking questions, I listened. I clarified his responses for understanding. I paraphrased and related to him where I could. He relaxed and trusted me.

4. Find out what they want and give guidance: I learned what he wanted. I shared some ideas that might help him in terms of education and employment. He listened and tentatively began to ask some questions. We explored  achievable options.

5. Help them get it: Together we created a plan and set goals. He started classes and began to make progress. Over a 4-6 month period, a beautiful thing happened: he graduated and landed a job. His attitude and demeanor seemed extraordinarily positive. He had the potential all along! Nobody else seemed to care and nobody really helped him. I discovered that as I help others succeed, I succeed.

Putting this all together

I have essentially applied similar steps with countless employees and managers in many different organizations. I notice all of their companies push them to improve. Expectations are often ambiguous. Little training or coaching is provided. Some bosses threaten them or scream for better results. Benefits get cut and yet more production is required. Pay increases have been minimal. Recognition is neglected. Teamwork is a joke. Everyone is scrambling to cover their backside. Weekends and long nights are mandatory. Some are on 24/7 to get the job done. Work/life balance is a myth. People are being fired indiscriminately to send a message. Job satisfaction and employee engagement is at historic lows.

As my team and I coach and change the above in companies, performance improves, goals are achieved, and results are better. Yet, the #1 question I still hear from supervisors, managers and leaders is ‘How do I motivate people?’ Isn’t it obvious?

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