Agile Forest

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All my blogs are highly self-opinionated. This one is going to be even further out there.

We have all hopefully had a good look at Daniel Pink’s amazing work on motivation. But despite this knowledge how do most organisations still currently manage motivation and performance?

They almost always still have yearly bonuses. Maybe this is because CEOs are motivated to get their yearly bonus and hence they think everyone else will be equally motivated for theirs. If all of our bonuses were several million dollars I am sure we would all be willing to conduct deplorable activities such as offshoring half of our work to third world nations… oh wait… no I have morals (well enough not to do this), that and I know it actually won’t work.

Most organisations still do the whole ‘you aren’t cutting it so I need to have a serious talk to you’ discussion.

Have you ever worked in an organisation where you haven’t felt motivated? Did you enter that organisation with such a low level of motivation? Of course not. People don’t enter organisations unmotivated – organisations make them unmotivated. Who do the organisations blame for this? The person of course!

I think there is something seriously wrong in this world if it is a CEO’s attitude that unmotivated people should quit, as if they are dead weight that the organisation cannot learn anything from. They performance manage these people in the hope of making them even further uncomfortable that they will leave. I say this as if it is an intentional plan, because it is in some organisations. To be honest it sickens me.

I have had the privilege to speak to some people who this has happened to. They haven’t explained their lack of motivational issues to the HR bodies of the organisation because they feel strongly that the HR bodies do not care or refuse to do anything about it. Their common causes of motivational derailment:

  • Bullying
  • Sexual harassment
  • Doing endlessly monotonous work
  • Not having the opportunity to do what they do best
  • Not being listened to (talking to the wind)
  • A long-term physiological or psychological illness (manifesting into stress of lack of performance)

In all these instances these people were labelled as being ‘at fault’ by their management and forced into a performance review process. Does the above items really seem like the employee’s fault? And yet when they leave senior management have the attitude “Well done! We got rid of that highly unengaged person.”

What have they done ? They have basically not fixed a really bad problem and instead will introduce someone else into the loop of misery, all the while leaving a permanent dent on someone’s mental health. I am so incredibly angry about this.

What needs to be done:

  1. Stop having the attitude that “we need to get rid of the poor or unengaged performers” and replace it with “we need to listen and start changing the culture around here”
  2. Start asking who your HR group is meant to be supporting – the managers or the people? Let me give you a hint, if is just the managers then you are wrong.
  3. Stop telling poor performers that they suck, start listening to them. Start asking questions like “When you joined this organisation what sort of environment were you hoping for?”, “How can we change the work that you do or the way that you do it so it can be more fun?” and “How can we make you more in control of what you do on a day-to-day basis?”
  4. Don’t jump to the conclusion that a poor organisational score on managing performance means you have to get rid of people. Find out why people rated the organisation that way and rather than manage them out work with them to improve their motivation and performance.
  5. Be aware that people are smart. If you tell someone ‘stop doing x’ they will game it, they will do it, but the underlying discontent and unhappiness will remain; it will likely manifest elsewhere or result in other actions. It is better to get a positive outcome for the employee and the organisation then just the organisation.

3 thoughts on “Motivation and performance

  1. Rawr! The queen has spoken. You’re absolutely right on point here. We need to fundamentally change the way people view…. and…. oh dear… “care” about each other.

  2. Jordan says:

    Well, see, we agree 10,000% on something. We all need to blog about this more and I’ll be doing some postings along these lines as well.

    It kills me that half the planet or more (as far as PHB’s go) wants to hire above average talent for below market wages… as if… and as you allude to the offshoring etc, is even more farcical.

    When the managers start realizing that just like they have cash incentives, and could theoretically work for other employers based on compensation, that everyone else with a brain deserves similar consideration in terms of merit and talent based compensation, etc.

    If you want to have above average people, you have to have above average wages, and above average working environment. It’s just common sense.

    People talk a lot about TPS on agile blogs, but toyota invests 6 years into an engineer before they really expect to reap significant benefits…

    How many companies nurture, grow, enhance salaries along the way, to retain people for 3 years let alone 6-15 years? The whole people culture needs to change to value talent and contribution and not just have a walmart replaceable cogs mentality.

    It’s a race to the bottom or a race to the top and with most of these companies it’s decidedly the former and needs to be the latter.


    1. Look forward to reading your blog on this Jordan. The more noise we can make about changing this the higher the chance that someone will take notice and make a change.

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