Motivation — the willingness to get the job done by
starting rather than procrastinating, persisting in the face of distractions,
and investing enough mental effort to succeed.
There are four motivation traps,
1) I don’t care about what
we are trying to achieve 2) lack of self-belief, 3) volatile emotions, and 4) blaming
something or someone else.
Here are the ways to release an employee (or yourself) from its
Trap 1, I don’t care about what we are trying to achieve.
Find out what the employee cares about and connect it to the
task. Too often, managers think about what motivates themselves and
assume the same is true of their employees.
Sometimes it may be necessary to ask an employee to,
essentially, hold their nose while carrying out an undesirable task — making
clear to them the future benefit its completion will yield or the problems it
When an employee doesn’t value a task at the outset and the
values mismatch may not be apparent, a manager’s best bet is to try to appeal
to multiple values. One or more of them may resonate with the employee.
Trap 2, Lack of Self-Belief.
Build the employee’s sense of confidence and competence. This
can be done in several ways. One is to point out times in the past when they’ve
surmounted similar challenges. Perhaps share examples of others just like them
who overcame the same challenges in a way the employee can do, too.
3, Volatile Emotions.
Begin in a setting where you cannot be overheard. Tell them you
want to understand why they are upset and engage in active listening.
Do not agree or disagree. Be nonjudgmental by asking what the employee believes
is causing them to be upset. Then, briefly summarize what they said back to
them and ask if you have understood. If they say “no,” apologize and tell them
you are listening carefully and to “please try again.” When people feel
they have been understood, their negative emotions soften a bit. It may be
useful to tell them that you want to consider what they told you and schedule a
time the next day to discuss. This often helps the person get more control over
Trap 4, Blaming Something or Someone Else
Help the employee think clearly about the cause of their
struggles with a task. Helping the employee identify exactly why the
task seems insurmountable can help them move past such avoidance. If they
identify a cause that’s out of their control (blaming other people, for
example, or a flaw in themselves that can’t be fixed), suggest other causes
that are under their control, such as the need to adopt a new strategy or to
apply a greater level of planning.
With each of these four motivation traps, the trick is to think
more comprehensively about what stops employees from initiating, persisting,
and putting in mental effort and then coach, coach, coach.
Adapted HBR March 2019 Clark