I just spent a couple of weeks with some great sales folks and their managers. And, as is often the case, I got into a side conversation about one of THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTORS of driving high performance: motivation.
It’s classic, right? If you are the leader of a group of people – especially in the role of professional sellers – how do you keep people driven to achieve success? And more importantly, can you actually motivate someone… or are they the only ones who can be involved in the motivation process?
But I want to take a different approach to answering that question. Frankly, I think asking how to motivate someone else is the wrong question (really, you can’t motivate someone else – only they can motivate themselves – everything else is just a form of manipulation). Therefore, this
rant blog post is NOT about how to motivate someone.
It’s about how to de-motivate them.
Demotivation is the exact opposite of motivation. Instead of inspiring action, one is squelching it. Turning off the will to choose. Literally crushing the desire to act.
It is perhaps equally as powerful as motivation. Demotivation keeps poor performers (and even potentially strong performers) at the bottom of the heap. It keeps whole groups of people subconsciously in invisible chains. It keeps entire nations in submission to tyrants and despotic regimes. And, if you are a leader, you can absolutely affect someone’s de-motivation (or even be the cause of it).
Now, some of this is actually – and illogically – self-imposed. I’m not going to address that now. I want to talk about HOW people wound up demotivated in the first place. What was done to them? How could people just like you and me end up in such demotivated states?
There are typically four factors that I see as the culprit. Four specific patterns that on their own are insidious. Put a couple of them together and you’ve got a cocktail for literally sucking the soul out of living.
The first factor is task difficulty. In other words, having to do something that is just too hard to do. If someone is given a task that – no matter how many times they try – they cannot experience success, they will eventually quit. If you want to de-motivate someone, take away their tools and other resources. Force them to use
a CRM a sales process an ivory tower sacred cow something that makes their job harder to accomplish.
The second factor is isolation. In other words, being left completely alone (even in a room full of people) without any feedback, encouragement, or offers to help. What’s the “big” punishment in a prison? Isolation. Why? Because it is so effective at turning someone “off.” If you want to de-motivate someone, take away the human relationships they need. And not just support functions, but also team mates.
The third factor is information overload. In other words, being given the end of a firehose of data to drink until everything becomes a “priority.” Because, then, nothing is a priority. All the information (be they emails, telecons, meetings, product specs, competitor data, etc.) is “important.” Until someone is paralyzed by it all and they cannot decide what to do. If you want to de-motivate someone, simply give them massive amounts of information and tell them to sort through it all in order to complete a task. Or worse, make them memorize and use ALL of it.
The fourth factor is unrealistic expectations. Also known as “WTH?!” and “You’ve got to be kidding me!” In other words, people are held to standards that they have no way of achieving. In this situation, they wind up living in a constant state of failure, where family reunions with unhealthy relatives are considered a “vacation.” If you want to de-motivate someone, continuously raise the bar on your expectations of someone – especially right after they achieved some measure of success.
So here’s where I go nuts. Why, oh why, do we allow these factors to be so rampant in our organizations? Why do task difficulty, isolation, information overload, and unreal expectations get such a hall pass when our leaders do them? Or worse, build them into roles and execution plans?! Ego-driven “stretch goals” anyone?
All leaders – be they leaders of businesses, government agencies, churches, or schools (and even families) – need to know these four factors of demotivation and search for them. Relentlessly hunt them down. Then squeeze the life out of each one. I’m serious. If you are a leader – or want to be one – addressing demotivation is a MANDATE.
If someone is making a team mate’s job harder than it needs to be, stop it immediately. If someone is struggling to complete the task, either coach the gap or reassign the player to a role that they can do.
If someone is isolating a team mate, especially if the offender is in an official support role (like IT, HR, or Finance), stop it immediately. Drive open the lines of information flow. And if someone is imposing their own isolation (consciously or not), stop it. Show them how to network and get connected to others.
If someone is creating information overload, stop it. Create clarity around what is important and what is not. Seek out the purely “cover your ass” stuff and eliminate it. Lead by example. And lead with accountability.
And finally, if someone is generating unreal expectations, stop it. But look in the mirror first. This one, above all others, is as tied to your credibility as anything else you do as a leader. Because once you get a reputation as “that” leader, well… you know where it goes.
Okay. I feel better now. But more importantly – do you?
I mua. Onward and upward.
By Tim Ohai