These two scenarios showing the contrast between how a motivating versus a demotivating manager might handle the same situation come from the book and multimedia package we published titled Streetwise Managing People. 

Setup: Communication is the heart and soul of motivating employees.

Employees are demotivated when they are unsure of manager expectations and priorities.

They’re motivated when managers provide clear expectations, instructions, information, and time frames, creating within the employees a sense of security, respect, power, and control in their jobs. Furthermore, managers need to communicate encouragement during the process as well as acknowledgment and appreciation upon achievement of outcomes.

Although the likely effectiveness of the more motivational approach may seem obvious, the problem is that, as a busy manager—especially a busy entrepreneur/manager—we tend to be more focused on addressing the problem as fast and as hard as possible and hence we tend not to stop and reflect on the situation from the employees’ standpoint. What message does our communication style send to them? Here’s the scenario:

Demotivator

Manager: Sarah, I’m very disappointed in your ability to complete your responsibilities on schedule. We have to meet this deadline. If you don’t get that report on my desk by Friday, there will be serious consequences.

Sarah: But I’m trying very hard . . . (manager cuts her off)

Manager: No buts about it. I want that report by Friday morning at 9!

Sarah: (appears upset and frustrated) I’ll do my best.

Motivator

Manager: Sarah, you seem to be having problems meeting deadlines.

Sarah: Yes, I am. I can’t ever seem to stay on top of them.

Manager: We both know that your ability to maintain your schedule is critical to the functioning of our department. Therefore, I’d like to sit down with you to make sure we agree on priorities, brainstorm possible solutions, and determine what information and resources I can provide to help you solve this problem. I’ll also continue to update you with any information that may impact task priorities.

Sarah: (feeling understood) Thanks. I want to do a good job, but I have so many responsibilities, I don’t know what to do first. (with enthusiasm) Can we have that meeting today? I really want to hit that Friday deadline.

Manager: Well, my schedule is pretty tight today. Why don’t we meet over lunch, around 12:30? Does that work for you?

Sarah: Sounds great.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Managers are, by nature, demotivators because they often focus on their own issues instead of those of their employees.
  • However, you can really motivate employees if they feel you are partnering with them to solve problems.