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How to Motivate Under-Performing Personnel
By William R. Patterson
It is no secret that the performance of personnel is the largest contributing factor to the long-term success of
any organization. Managers may give direction, but in the end, it is the company’s staff that determines how
well it executes. It is the staff that must respond to the threat of competition and the shifting interests of
shareholders and consumers. Taking this into consideration, one of the greatest challenges facing managers
is motivating their personnel to achieve outstanding performance. Whether you are a first-time or veteran
manger, these simple strategies will serve as a primer to put you on the right track.
Emulate High Performers
Direct your staff to model the behaviors of their well accomplished colleagues. The more you and your staff
are presented with these positive archetypes, the more likely they are to model that behavior and exhibit the
high performance you seek. This applies internally and externally, on a group and individual level. In
addition to being modeled from outside sources, successful techniques should be shared by different groups
within your organization. In order to perform at peak level, your staff must know the details of the methods
that bring results. Take time or set up meetings to share success stories where your staff can share their most
Believe in Your People
The Law of Expectation plays a key role in managing people. Simply stated, it says, “In life, you get what
you expect.” So, expect the best from your staff in order for them to perform at a high level. Given the
proper resources and direction, good people will perform at your level of expectations. As someone they
respect, the more you believe in their ability, the more they will believe in their own ability. Confidence
breeds confidence and success breeds success. Responsibility given to the right people will communicate a
message that you expect more of them and they will perform to reach that level of greatness.
Set Realistic Goals
Employees should know at all times what they are striving toward and being held accountable for. It is
important that your team has clearly defined goals set at the beginning of any evaluation period. There is
nothing as disheartening as being evaluated without being given prior written goals. Also important to note
is that goals assigned to employees should be attainable and influenced by factors within their control. You
should support your staff by providing them whatever resources they may require for the attainment of their
Incentive programs should encourage behaviors that benefit the organization and promote its mission and
values. They should offer enticements for employees to launch new initiatives that will directly or indirectly
boost morale, generate revenue, and reduce expenses. Incentive programs work to create a corporate culture
that promotes initiative, teamwork, and the generation of ideas for productivity enhancements. They assist in
fostering the development of new business, as well as the projects that affect the bottom line. As the old
saying goes, “You get more from what you encourage and reward.” Management is no exception.
Reward and Recognition Programs
Reward and Recognition programs apply when projects have been completed. To be effective, R&R
programs must be genuine and equitably applied. One way to ensure this is by having recognition that comes
from your staff, not the top ranks. Employees should select those deserving recognition, not managers. It
should be a system with defined metrics that all employees can measure their performance against. It is then
a system based on objective accomplishment, not one based on the subjective choice of management.
Another effective R&R technique is to reward teams over individuals. This creates an environment of
teamwork, rather than competition. The most effective R&R programs are those that offer ownership to their
Lead from the Front
Nothing will motivate people like a good leader. Good leaders foster the ideals of trust and interdependency,
as well as they lead by example. By leading from the front lines they demonstrate their knowledge, vision,
and experience, and command the respect of their teams. They show an understanding of their business and
personnel. Their level of knowledge and ability to relate to others command respect; they would do anything
for their people.
Education is one of the best ways to motivate under-performing personnel. No employee or associate wants
to feel they have plateaued in their work environment. By offering coaching programs, you communicate
your concern for personnel development. You also offer new skills for your workers to implement and build
upon in carrying out the organization’s mission and objectives.
Add a Deeper Level of Meaning to Business Activities
Another powerful way to motivate your staff is to reinforce the importance of their daily activities. It does
not matter if the function performed seems small; it contributes to the overall efficiency of the organization.
Help them understand that they are doing something vital, that they are helping people or changing an
industry. Give them something greater to strive for. Anything done with meaning and purpose will be far
more effective, and therefore more powerful, than things done without their efforts.
Give Guidance, Do Not Micromanage
Allow your employees the freedom to create. Encourage them to devise new ideas and show them how those
ideas will be respected. Micromanaging is one of the quickest ways to breed resentment from your staff and
communicate that you do not trust their ability. Giving proper guidance entails communicating the desired
objective, directing your team to resources to help get the job done, pointing out potential pitfalls, and
holding periodic status meetings. These along with maintaining an open door policy will make your staff feel
equipped and that they have your support. If you have to micromanage, you have hired the wrong person.
The methods you learn here are not one-time tactics, but ideals to be intertwined with your corporate culture.
Many employees will spend more time at the office than waking hours at home. The relationships they forge
in the workplace become akin to an extended family. Just as it is the employee’s decision to excel, so too is
it the manager’s choice to perform in the same manner. The manger is responsible for the morale of his/her
team. It is up to him/her to make the environment a great place to work. Staff members will only be as good
as their managers. It is up to that visionary manager, to initiate a culture of creation over competition, of
justness over cronyism. This is how effective leaders are born and personnel are motivated to perform at