Motivating the Unmotivated - Part 1

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

One of the areas that can be very difficult as a manager is managing the unmotivated. Sometimes it can feel like a daunting task to consider other's motivation levels because it's not one size fits all when it comes to a team....meaning they can't all be addressed in the same way. For whatever reason, a lot of managers will just dismiss that person. Calling them lazy or assign other negative names and behaviors instead of truly assessing the situation. As a manager, you want your team working at peak performance, and let's face it everyone goes through a period of doubt, boredom, wishing for something more...or simply just being over it. The key is to get to the heart of what is happening with that person and work through what can be done to get them back on track.

This article is a 3 part series where I will go through the steps of understanding the situation from your perspective, their perspective, and then how to create a plan to bring that unmotivated person back into being a productive member of the team. So, where to start? Firstly, I would recommend going through a personal audit. As a manager of a team, you are responsible for creating a healthy work environment and each person's well-being while at work. Some of you I am sure will wonder why you should look at yourself first and the simple answer is because your next step is to have a conversation with the other person. And if you aren't prepared with the things you could be doing better or differently and that ends up being EXACTLY what they tell you the problem is, chances are you will be defensive and argumentative instead of simply seeing things just as they are and working towards a resolution.

The end game is a highly productive team, so again, take stock of what you are or are not doing. Some things to consider:

  • What is the temperature of the team right now? Are they getting along, communicating well, or are their factions..splinters? If there are problems (even small ones) do they affect this person in any way?

  • Has this person shared their ideas and thoughts where you have taken action on them? Or are they regularly dismissed or ignored?

  • Have they been recognized for good works?

  • Are they being underutilized? Could they be doing more?

  • Have they been doing the same thing for a few years and not been presented with opportunities to grow or for advancement?

  • Have you, for whatever reason, been micromanaging them. (Are they on a short leash)?

All of these scenarios are ones that you can adjust in order to create a better environment for them, but you won't know until you honestly assess the situation. If we are to look at the scenario of whether or not the person's ideas have been taken on board, the answer could be a well supported "No". For example, maybe their ideas are cost-prohibitive, or they solve one problem but create another. My point is that there may be a good reason why they haven't been taken on board, but then you have to follow that up with another question to yourself. Have you done your part to explain this in a way so that they understand but still feel valued for their ideas? Do they know that you appreciate their consideration for the team and the department and that even though you can't use this "idea" that you value their input and should keep those ideas coming?

Once you have evaluated the situation from your perspective, the next step is to have an honest conversation with the other person. Your approach to this conversation will be a huge factor in whether or not it will be a productive conversation. You can't just say, "You are lazy and unmotivated and it's a problem." I mean, honestly, what a way to put the person you are supposedly trying to help on the defensive.

Remember to approach the situation with positive intent. That is that you are having this conversation to get to a positive outcome and they are going to tell you their situation for a positive outcome. Don't go in ready to blame and don't assume they are going to point fingers. Remember the only way they will feel safe enough to speak up, is if they trust that you are sincere and want to help.

The smartest approach is to ask them how they are doing, explain that you truly want to know how they are, and wait for them to respond. If you have to address the lack of motivation, it's better to approach it softly. For example:

  • "I get the feeling, you aren't very satisfied with work lately."

  • "It feels like you are unhappy or having a hard time being motivated. Is that true?"

If these questions are delivered with sincerity, they will be met with relief and honest answers. Keep in mind that you may need to probe for clarity or more detailed information, so you fully understand the situation.

Next week, I will discuss the most common reasons why people are unmotivated at work (outside of what I have listed above) along with some suggestions to help resolve their lack of motivation and productivity.

Lead with Greatness!