Motivate or Eliminate De-Motivation

To Motivate or Not to Demotivate

The idea that you cannot motivate a person is wrong. I suspect that it has grown out of failed “motivational” initiatives like company slogans, posters, pep talks, performance reviews, and coffee cups with the text “teamwork” printed on it. I agree that those practices are probably not the best way to motivate most people. But there are bad ways and good ways to do things. And it’s the manager’s job to find out what the good ones are…

Note: Frederick Herzberg also tells us that motivation is an intrinsic thing, which means that you actually cannot directly motivate a person. You can only try to influence their motivation. That’s true. But it also applies to people’s demotivation. And therefore I only consider it just a semantical issue, that bears no relationship to the motivation-vs-demotivation issue.

I still think eliminating de-motivation is the better way to look at it.

I still see far too many managers thinking in a theory x way – 50 years after McGregor’s The Human Side of Enterprise. If there was not such a systemic failure to apply effective management practices and such a desire to substitute motivation for management I wouldn’t see this as a big deal. The issue is important to me because there is a huge amount of poor management based on how people view the need to fix how people are motivated instead of fixing what management really needs to fix (see all the links in the related section at the bottom of this post).

“eliminating demotivation” is a too simplistic view

When our management subsidizes a great party that is organized by our employees themselves, and the employees appreciate our company’s financial contribution, do you still talk of “elimination demotivation”? I think that would be just a silly way of turning the matter upside down. I simply call it motivating people.

I would say a party doesn’t really motivate people. But it can (taking psychology into account) gain advantages by helping bond people to each other, letting people feel good as they form social relationships, build trust with others… They can be good things that can build a stronger work environment. And by building social ties we can create an environment where people are more interested in working toward common goals.

We are naturally social and so we do many things to build on that with others, consciously (less often) and subconsciously. Taking psychology into account is important for managing human systems. But I don’t think we really do motivate people with a party. Parties can set the groundwork that can then be used to tie people together and make it easier to build a sense of community that can lead to people being motivated to help their colleagues… I can certainly see why it can seem as quibbling over minor semantic details, but thinking about these matters can help I think.

The danger is not in calling things motivation. The danger is so many managers think in a theory x way. That is the attitude that needs to change. Whether people agree on what is called motivation… isn’t as important – at least if they are reading people like McGregor and Hertzberg and the links below :). I am probably a bit overly concerned because I see how often empty motivation is seen as a replacement for fixing management performance (improving the management systems…). If there is a sincere effort to improve the system (instead of just encouraging people to work harder or smarter or more carefully or with more motivation…), respect people, understand variation… then if people still want to think of it as motivation that isn’t that important to me.

Related: To Motivate People… Balance Your PracticesStop Demotivating Me!The Defect Black MarketWhy Extrinsic Motivation FailsMotivating EmployeesStop Demotivating EmployeesManagement is Helping Others Be GreatMotivational Poster

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5 Responses to Motivate or Eliminate De-Motivation

  1. Pingback: Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog » Righter Incentivization

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  3. Nancy says:

    Interesting post and I like the choice of words “Not to Demotivate”. I never really thought of it that way but it makes sense! Here is an interesting way of looking at it too. You cannot motivate your employees. A horse can be taken to the water but it cannot be forced to drink; it will drink only when it feels thirsty. Your people are not horses, but the same case can be applied to them. To desire motivation is a decision your employees must make on their own. We compiled a nice glossary of motivation here that covers many various models and theories of motivation. You can find it here

  4. Pingback: Is Using the Words Resources or Assets When Talking About People the Problem? » Curious Cat Management Blog

  5. Pingback: Managers Should Focus on Eliminating De-motivation « The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

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