Motivating Laggards and Paycheck Collectors

by Granville Triumph

In a previous post, I discussed how micromanagement can be a destructive force that can kill productivity, slow business growth and increase turnover. But how should a manager deal with an employee who is constantly struggling to keep up?

There is a direct link between productivity and morale, and both have a direct impact on your bottom line. High productivity boosts morale, and good morale boosts productivity. When an employee fails to meet deadlines and objectives, it can cancel out the work of a high-performing employee. Instead of increasing profitability, profits go down or remain flat.

But it’s not just the laggard who is costing you. You could be leaving quite a bit of money on the table if you have employees who are simply getting by without any obvious issues. In both cases, poor morale is holding back the employees and your organization.

According to Merriam-Webster, morale is “the mental and emotional condition (enthusiasm, confidence or loyalty) of an individual or group with regard to the function or task at hand; a sense of common purpose.” The very definition speaks to the negative impact of low morale. When enthusiasm, confidence, loyalty and sense of purpose are lacking, and employees don’t have an emotional stake in the game, they’re just collecting a paycheck.

Low morale typically starts at the top. A weak leader doesn’t do enough to address morale issues, set performance expectations or recognize the value and contributions of each employee. This leads to dissatisfaction and confusion among employees, causing negativity to fester and spread from laggards and paycheck collectors to high performers. With negativity comes a loss of productivity.

The key to lifting morale is motivation, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. In the IT sector, for example, many leaders have achieved their positions because of their technical knowledge, not their communications and motivational skills. IT managers are constantly scrambling to process requests and make the business case for new tools and services – in between putting out fires and maintaining equipment. Figuring out the best way to motivate laggards is nowhere near the top of their list of priorities. Instead, high performers are expected to make up for low performers.

Motivation needs to go beyond short-term morale boosts like pep talks, contests or a monthly happy hour. The keys to motivation are communication and planning. Find out why the employee can’t keep up or excel. Listen to them. Is it a lack of talent and effort, or a lack of guidance, support and training? Gather specific data and proof rather than making sweeping generalizations. Establish goals for improving performance, and create a roadmap with benchmarks for achieving these goals. Involve the employee throughout the process to build their confidence and enthusiasm for their work, the organization, and you, the manager. Once the plan has been enacted, avoid micromanaging. At this point, employees have to sink or swim on their own.

Everyone benefits from effective motivation – the employee, fellow employees and management. The ability to motivate isn’t learned overnight, but it’s an essential skill for any leader who expects to maximize the potential of every employee. Through motivation come improved morale and productivity, two of the key drivers behind business growth and profitability.

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