Curing Motivational Bankruptcy

The president of an office supply company was recently lamenting that his salespeople were not operating to their potential. "Motivationally bankrupt," he said.

This is a very common complaint in any area of business. Many times it's the managers who are unconsciously demotivating their employees.

People want to succeed in their jobs. When they sign on they're psyched to do well in the company. Even if they are experienced, they are new to you and new to your company. If you haven't made a conscious effort to show them the way you do business, they will do it their way and probably be less effective than either of you hoped. What happens next is they become unhappy — strike one. You're disappointed, which shows — strike two. Then, you probably tell them what they're doing wrong — strike three.

Here are six tips to keep your staff motivated and producing.


Tell your people what you want and your method to get it. Nobody knows what you think they should know. Believe this or live in frustration. Never assume they know because of experience, intelligence or whatever. Make your desires perfectly clear. Also, get over any concern that it would be insulting to them, or unnecessary.

You will have to take the initiative because your employees are probably not going to ask for your expectations or how you want them to work. They foolishly think this would make them look bad to you. Therefore, pull each aside quarterly and spell it out.

If your employee has a different approach, work it out together. Otherwise, even if you're successful you will always be suspect, waiting for the fall, and your anxiety will come through. This causes self-doubt, which leads to failures and demotivation.


Employees — especially when new or entering a new role — are like sponges trying to learn what to do. You can fill that sponge with good information or let them fill it with whatever they pick up. Even your best people are sponges, but they are looking for new information to get a competitive edge.

Unless a person has learned how to sell (or do) your stuff, how can you expect them to know how. I hear all the time, "They are experienced." I always retort that I am an experienced golfer, but I am still a 17 handicap. Experience doesn't mean they know how to do it well, never mind how to do it your way.

Doers need skills — skills they never learned and/or don't use. Besides, everyone can learn again or be refreshed. Employees will rarely accept responsibility for failure. They will always blame the company — you. So put your people through skills training. In this way you will know they actually have the tools. Business is constantly changing and your people need to be updated.

Be careful of in-house training. Consider bringing in a professional to train. Internal people, unless doing or managing the task, lack the beenthere, done-that knowledge and credibility to be effective. For example, many companies let marketing departments do training for new salespeople. This is a curse to salespeople. Marketing pushes product advantages, features/benefits and competitive differentiation rather than selling skills. This indoctrination makes salespeople feel they should go out pushing prospects to buy, rather than digging for needs and relevant information. They become annoying and never build their credibility.


People cannot coach themselves. If Tiger Woods needs a coach, your people need one. A few years back he was without a coach and his game slumped considerably. You are the best one to do the coaching. Do sales calls together. First do the interviewing yourself, discuss it and then let your person do the next one. It is crucial to give positive feedback. Also, once is not enough. You will have to do it until he or she gets it right. Better comes before perfect.


Saying something was done well — no matter how small the deed — is a big deposit in the motivational bank account. Your urge will be to point out what the employee did or is doing wrong. No matter what you think, this is a motivational bank account withdrawal. You have to exert an extra effort to spin negatives into positives. Say, "Consider doing it this way in the future." This will be tough because it takes more energy to find positives, or take poor behaviors and restructure them into constructive suggestions, than it does to just say something negative.


Here's a typical situation. You're up to your ears in alligators. It's a bad day and you want to strangle someone, and now your subordinate comes in and lays on another frustration.

Be very careful here. Your day is not his or her issue and a negative reaction will inadvertently be a drain to the motivation account. So be alert to your awful moments. Avoid your people or at least decompress before engagement. This will mitigate unintentional damage.


Rewards are catnip to employees' selfesteem. Salary, benefits and bonuses are part of the job. Rewards are special and personal. They are public acknowledgements of your appreciation and can be very energizing.

Two keys: First, don't presume to know what will excite a person. Everyone is different. Ask what special something would excite him or her. If they say something monetary, probe to see what else might do the trick. You'll be amazed.

Second, the cost of the reward is not important. A $10 plaque with the person's name is big. Decals or coasters are significant. Make it tangible — something for them and others to see. This is a lotto-size deposit into the employees' motivation account.

Also, make rewards so that everyone can win for meeting expectations. This creates a team atmosphere for all to help each other.

In summary, demotivating is like going down a slide — fast and without effort. Motivating is like walking, upright, back up that slide. So check your negative reactions and your employees will stay motivationally high with little effort on your part.

Although intuitively obvious, the implementation will require you push yourself into behaviors that are different — and nobody likes to change. However, if you make the shift you will stop the motivational withdrawals and your portfolio of satisfied, highly productive employees will keep paying you dividends.

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