As any experienced leader can tell you, motivating your team to perform at their highest level of achievement can be a real challenge. When you encounter a disengaged employee – exemplified by degraded performance, decreased team participation, and poor attendance – what do you do?
To decipher the lack of motivation, you may need to delve into your employee’s subconscious. They may be unaware of the trigger if it’s a deep-seated issue. As a manager, you need to muster up the best of your emotional intelligence to understand the underlying issue. In addition to the verbal replies that you receive, observe the visual cues — does a person’s gestures, eyes, and stance support or contradict what they’re saying?
Here’s a case study from our in-house team. A long-time employee in a technical role was no longer performing the minimum job requirements. She was weeks behind responding to emails and phone messages, and didn’t attend team meetings or team-building events. Her workspace was a disaster zone crowded with ten pairs of shoes, used food containers, and stacks of paper.
Her supervisor addressed these issues with her, but there was no change in her behavior. She was put on three-month notice to be terminated, which still did not trigger any improvements.
Frustrated with the situation, he asked me to speak with her. I asked her how she felt about her job. She said she hated it. I asked why and she said because it was very boring. I said, “Fair enough, but why are you still here?” She replied “I don’t know what else to do.”
I asked her what she loved to do. She said, “drawing.” I asked to see her website and wow, she was an amazing artist! I questioned why was she wasn’t looking for a more creative position. As it turned out, she lacked confidence.
So, together we planned the next steps to realize her goal to be an illustrator. Over the next several weeks, I provided a critique of her portfolio and helped her better understand her strengths. As she grew, she realized her talents would be best suited for the gaming industry. She left our team, but found her identity and a new level of confidence.
Her supervisor missed her unconscious cries for help — the condition of her workplace and her disengaged behavior – and didn’t simply ask “what would make you happy?”
He learned that it is critical to be observant of your direct reports and really understand what motivates them, on and off the job. Noticing changes of behavior early on can prevent compounding issues that become difficult to resolve.
As an in-house manager, there are three imperative points to keep people engaged:
- Communicate with your staff to understand what motivates them.
- Diagnose lack of motivation and devise a plan for increased engagement.
- Create an environment where employees support each other.
As an in-house creative on the front lines, take an active role in ensuring your happiness and productivity on the job. Here are three things you can do to help your managers help you:
- Do your best to align your role with your unique skills and long-term goals.
- Don’t lose sight of your passion and if needed launch a personal creative project outside of work.
- Partner up with a colleague, could be a mentor or just someone you trust, who can provide a reality check when needed.
Managing difficult employees means inspiring motivation through communication, honesty, and respect on both sides of the aisle. Sometimes it may mean your employee moves on to other opportunities. But there is nothing more satisfying than knowing you participated in someone’s growth. A happy current or former employee will always reflect positively on the company’s brand as well.