Demotivation: how to make your life as a leader more challenging

Posted August 12, 2010 in Communication, Latest News & Insights

“Catch people doing something right” was Ken Blanchard’s (The One Minute Manager) advice to leaders who wanted to motivate and engage their teams.  Blanchard’s philosophy is that, if you want to get more of the “good behaviours” from employees you need to reward them every time you see them in action.  It’s a great, but often ignored, fundamental management principle.  Last week, my six year old reminded me of Blanchard’s what can happen when positive reinforcement goes awry.  Here’s what happened…

After spending an action-packed day at daycare, my daughter was debriefing me on a musical group that had come in to teach the kids.  It went something like this…

6 year old:  “Mom, I’m confused. The man said that if you participate, smile, sing the songs and answer the questions, you’ll get a prize.  Well, I did all those things… I was really dancing, smiling, singing songs and I answered all the questions.  And then, he handed out prizes to everyone except me.  Even to people who weren’t participating.  I don’t understand.  If he said that we had to do all those things how come other people who didn’t do those things got stuff and I didn’t get anything?”

Me: “Did you ask him why you didn’t get a prize after you participated so well?”

6 year old:  “Yes.  He said that he didn’t see me participate.  Which is weird because he was the one that was asking me the questions and I don’t understand why he didn’t see me asking them.”

Me (not sure where to take this conversation): “Well… how did you feel about that situation?”

6 year old:  “I felt frustrated.  I did all the things he asked and people who were just sitting there got the prizes.”

Me (feeling frustrated myself):  “Yup. I’d be pretty frustrated by that situation too….”

And so it went on for a bit longer… but you get the picture.  There’s a few lessons for a kid here around “life isn’t always fair” etc, etc, but there’s also a really great illustration of what happens when, as a group leader, you set out expectations and don’t reward people who do them.

When you reward people who aren’t doing what they should be doing you demotivate the people that are doing a great job.

You’re telling them that the expectations you’d set out in the beginning are really meaningless.  It shows them that mediocre performance is acceptable.  It’s frustrating, disappointing and may make engaging these individuals in the future even more difficult.  Which, let’s face it, makes your job as a leader harder the next time.  And, who needs leadership to be harder?

Setting clear expectations and then rewarding them consistently is a crucial tool for leaders.  So… who are you going to catch doing something right today?

Happy leading!

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