Stop Trying to Motivate Me! Part II

Stop trying to motivate me! Part II Or Why are you trying to make me angry

Throughout our industries, both public and private, there persists a perception that motivation is a commodity to be handed out by the manager at his own discretion.

Nobody seems to consider the effect of what would happen, if instead of finding time for motivational speeches and conferences, we spent the same amount of time and energy looking for the reasons that people become demotivated in the first place, then simply get rid of those reasons.

Let us start with the assumption that most people want to do a good job.

We don't get up in the morning hoping that we will miss the train or that we will fail to land the big order. We get up because we want to catch that train so that we can get to work and land that big order.

We want to do a good job but we are prevented from doing it by circumstances that we can’t control or understand

This lack of control or understanding that causes the frustration, and it is this frustration that demotivates.

In most cases the frustration can be removed by providing simple feedback.

This feedback does not always have to be positive.

The answer "no" is a valid response as long as it is accompanied by a reason why not.

Imagine you are waiting for the train to take you to work to make the call that you know will secure the order.

But the train doesn’t turn up.

You have no idea what is happening and every minute that passes you imagine losing the order.

Your frustration mounts because you do not understand what is happening.

Then there is an announcement.

A milk truck has broken down on the level crossing and the train will be at least another 45 minutes while the truck is removed from the crossing.

That announcement makes no difference at all to the time that you will arrive at the office, but now you know the reason why you have been delayed.

The delivery of the reason tells us that we are being valued and respected and the understanding thast the reason gives removes the frustration.

We accept the situation because we understand it.

When we are not being listened to or given this respect we become angry and our frustrations start to multiply. This is when we can’t accept the situation.

When we are frustrated it is very difficult to avoid becoming demotivated.

Sometimes the difference between frustration and satisfaction is as simple as the way we are treated by other people, whether we are given the reason or whether our need to understand is simply ignored.

Watching a programme on TV about low cost airlines and the problems that they incur with unruly or difficult passengers I am always struck by the way that what starts off as a small problem is almost deliberately escalated by the attitudes and behaviour of the airline staff.

Every member of the ground staff has been given the authority to deny someone a seat if they feel that they are being difficult or abusive.

The resultant attitude of the ground staff appears to be to drive the reasonable passenger, by escalating their frustration, towards the point where they become abusive and can therefore be prevented from flying, because they have become abusive.

It almost appears that there is some sort of reward system, that the general public is unaware of, gives the ground staff a bonus whenever they are able to stop people from flying.

One case in point illustrates the problem.

An American musician turned up at the airport with a reservation for Basle. When he got to the check in he was informed that the flight had closed and that he would have to transfer his booking to a flight the following day if he wanted to travel.

The American could not believe what he was hearing.

The check in had closed less than five minutes before he got there and through the departure lounge he could see the passengers for his flight still waiting to go through security on their way to the gate. He could see the plane at the gate, no passengers were boarding and the gate was not even manned.

Why couldn't they let him through?

He would catch up to the last of the passengers before they even cleared security and would probably not even be the last passenger to get to the departure lounge.

The girl on the desk was adamant.

The check in was closed, she would not let him through, the only thing he could do would be to re book for the following day.

The passenger repeated his question,

“Why can't you let me through?” “I can see the other passengers from here.”

But the girl was not going to be moved.

Each time he asked the question she stonewalled, each time he asked the question the TV audience could see this bespectacled, mild mannered musician getting hotter and hotter under the collar until the girl at the desk assessed that she had made him sufficiently angry, and called her supervisor to finish him off.

By the time the supervisor arrived 15 minutes had been spent in fruitless appeals to the check-in girl to tell him why, when he could see everybody waiting in the departure lounge, he was not allowed to join them.

The supervisor continued stonewalling the musician in the same way that the check-in girl had, with the added sting that if he did not calm down he would be escorted out of the terminal and not allowed to fly tomorrow either.

This behaviour was clearly designed to calm the American down, every body was really surprised when it didn’t.

After a further 10 minutes of argument with the supervisor, who was obviously short of someone to come and take the American away as threatened, she too lost her cool and in a moment of stress, completely forgot her training and told the passenger the answer to his question.

She explained that when the check in closed the final passenger numbers and the baggage mass was sent to the plane. The Captain on the plane then calculated the final fuel load for that weight and his order for fuel went to the oil company who then topped up the aeroplane.

The reason that the American could not be allowed onto the flight after check in was closed was because his weight and that of his baggage meant that the fuel load would have to be recalculated and the plane refuelled to take his weight into account.

To refuel again would take longer than the time allowed for the plane to board with the result that by joining the flight he would cause the plane to miss its departure slot and therefore delay the flight for all of the other passengers.

The Supervisor appeared embarrassed to have so far forgotten her training that she had actually given a passenger the reason that he could not board when he had missed check in.

From the expression on her face we could see that she thought she had done a terrible thing.

The American musician looked as if the weight of the world had fallen from his shoulders.

He said thank you and picking up his bag he made his way calmly towards the exit, and out of the airport.

All he had wanted was to understand the reason why not, why could he not check in?

His frustration was caused not by his inability to check in, but by denying him the reason.

By denying him the information that he required the check in girls where increasing his frustration.

By giving him the “No you can’t fly, and here is the reason why not” answer the supervisor had inadvertently removed his frustration completely, allowing him to understand the reason for the answer and to leave the airport happy with that answer.

He was clearly still troubled by why the answer could not have been given to him when he had first turned up but his immediate frustration had been removed by the simple act of the supervisor..

In most industries there is a similar perception that managers need to keep information from the workforce in the belief that they can’t cope with it.

The reality is that the workforce finds it very difficult to cope without information and the frustrations that this mushroom policy creates are deeply demotivating.

To remove this frustration and therefore remove the source of the demotivation the manager only has to learn how to listen to his workforce and most importantly, show them he is listening by supporting what they say and recognising their contributions.

For many managers this could be the single most difficult thing they have ever done.

Peter A Hunter Author of "Breaking the Mould"

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