Ignite Motivation with 4 Sure-Fire Strategies

Monday, March 16, 2015

The notion that passion drives motivation is not new or groundbreaking. For example, individuals that rank low in traditional sales skill tests have raised millions of dollars for cancer research because the disease touched a family member’s life. Or people that are always late to meetings and can’t seem to responds to requests on time manage to have the discipline to train for and run a half (or full) marathon. And sometimes employees that never seem to complete a task or a project will pull all-nighters to finish a book that has caught their attention.

Clearly, these individuals have the ability to sell, manage time, and complete tasks, but these performance abilities are not exhibited in the workplace. What’s going on?

The answer is really simple: Motivation is lacking because there is no passion. These individuals don’t see the significance or relevance of their work. Perhaps they haven’t made a heart connection to the work that would drive them to focus and push through to completion.  Maybe they don’t believe in the vision or mission of the organization. Perhaps they don’t see the value in what the company offers, so they aren’t able to sell it. Or maybe they’re in the wrong position; it is possible that their skills and interests just don’t align to the jobs that they’re in.

Whatever the reason, the end result is that their performance doesn’t meet expectations and the business is suffering as a result. Now, you need to have the dreaded performance discussion.


Where do you begin? What types of questions should you ask to determine the true underlying causes of performance issues? How do you position the employees to turn their performance around and put them squarely on the path to success?

Starting off with a “shape up or ship out” message is a big mistake. Instead, it’s better to start out trying to understand where they are in their own thinking. Ask such questions as:

  • What do you enjoy doing and why (or what are you passionate about)?
  • How does this relate to what you are currently doing in your job?
  • What aspect of the company’s vision and mission do you relate with best?
  • What aspect of the company’s vision or mission resonates with you the least?
  • What makes our products or services valuable?
  • How does what you do tie into that value? 

As you hold these discussions, don’t just listen to their words, but also observe their nonverbal cues. What does their body language tell you about their level of comfort in engaging in the conversation? Where is their hesitancy or diversion? Picking up on these cues better positions you to have meaningful conversations. Now you’ve set the stage for deploying one of four motivational strategies. 

  • Active coaching. This is how you help employees align their skills and talents to the job. Help them see that they can leverage what they do best and what they enjoy to not only be successful in their current role but to also establish a career path. Developing and implementing learning and development plans may also be a part of the coaching process. 

  • Re-visioning. This is where you help employees see how what they do relate to the company. Help them cast a new vision of the value that they bring, and see the relevance in what they do.
  • Re-positioning. This is when you move employees around to get them in the right seat. They believe in the company, but their skills and talents are better suited toward another position. Initially, the shuffling of roles and responsibilities can create pain points, but the pain of change will be well worth as each individual begins to excel. 
  • Re-engaging. This is when you draw a line and force the issue. You may have tried active coaching, re-visioning, or re-positioning without success. Or, you may have determined that those strategies are not appropriate given the circumstances (individual refuses to participate). At this point, it’s time for you to empower them to decide whether they want to lean in or lean out. In this case, lean out means leaving to pursue other options. If they decide to lean in, you can work through a performance improvement plan. If they should decide to lean out, you’re ready to support them to move on to something else. When you present this lean in/lean out option, it’s critically important that you’re truly comfortable with either decision. You’re putting the decision in their court. The only option you’re not giving them is the option to stay with the status quo.

Performance issues aren’t always what they seem on the surface. Sometimes, performance challenges have nothing to do with capability or competency—and everything to do with motivation. Motivating your employees can be as simple or as complex as igniting their passion. As a manager and a leader, you have to decide whether you’re willing to put in the time and effort to get this right. 

About the Author

Tiffany Crosby is an entrepreneur, author, writer, researcher, and trainer with more than 20 years of practical business experience. A graduate of Duquesne University and Franklin University, Crosby founded Petra Learning LLC in November 2011 after approximately 14 years at Ernst and Young LLP, where she was an executive director responsible for business advisory services. She combines her passions to develop fun, engaging, and innovative learning solutions for teams and companies. 

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