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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Motivating Employees

I'm executive director of a small nonprofit with a total of three employees. I have one employee who works hard and one who does not. However, they like to talk instead of working a bit much. How does one get the point across that although you don't expect them to keep their noses to the grindstone from the minute they walk in the door to the minute they leave, you do expect them to work most of the day without sounding like a total Grinch?

Well, why don't you want their noses to the grindstone? And the Grinch is such a fashion icon, I'm not sure why you resist. But, I digress.

What you need to focus on is the outcome of their work--not how they do their work. I, personally, have the attention span of a flea and am frequently doing numerous tasks at once, listening to music and keeping up on Dear Abby, so that I can mock her over here. (Which, I haven't done for a while, but I probably should.) Someone might think I'm being a slacker, but if you look at the quality and quantity of my work, you'd know that I'm good at what I do. (And only a little bit pompous, but you all knew that.)

Are they working while they are chatting? Well, if you have one good employee who chats and one bad employee who chats, it's obviously not all a chatting problem. (Although, you didn't mention your poor third employee who has to listen to their mindless banter...)

What you need to do is set clear expectations and goals, and follow up on those--not necessarily on the chatting. If the bad employee isn't meeting those expectations, you can have a "chat" with her as well. "Brenda, X and Y didn't get done and the presentation on Z was somewhat sloppy. What's the story?"

"Oh, Grinch Boss, I am working so hard and I just can't get everything done!"

"I've noticed you spend a good deal of time talking with Jan. I think that might be interfering with your ability to get things done."

Brenda won't like this, by the way, because people don't like negative feedback. But, being the boss is not about being friends. Really, it's not. It's about motivating, developing and getting the job done.

With clear expectations of what work is to be accomplished, Brenda can either rise to the challenge or fail--in the former, great, with the latter--you can (and should) fire her. Without clear expectations, why shouldn't she chatter away the day? She's getting paid (her motivation for working), and she assumes you (in your non-Grinchy fashion) are happy.

What you also don't know is who is instigating the chatting problem. It could be your good performer--she may be a proficient multi-tasker that needs multiple brain stimuli going in order to do a good job--and she may be wearing down on your poor performer. Keep that thought as a definite possibility.


Alex Andrei said...

There are currently so many schools of thought about to motivate employees - its hard to see through the clutter. Do you recommend any books that have been thought of as particularly good on the subject?

Anonymous said...

(Although, you didn't mention your poor third employee who has to listen to their mindless banter...)

I was assuming that's her, given that the org has three employees, not that she has three subordinates.

Anonymous said...

Evil HR Lady for President!

Evil HR Lady said...

Alex--not really. Although Egonomics was really good, and while not specifically about motivation, it was helpful in understanding people.

Anonymous--I think you are right. Three employees altogether--not there subordinates.

HR Wench--Thanks for your vote! Can I have some campaign donations?

Alison said...

Alex-- I wouldn't get caught up in fancy motivational plans. Motivate employees by giving them goals that are challenging and ambitious (yet realistic) and supporting them in reaching them. Hold people accountable, get rid of the ones who can't or won't meet the bar you set, and reward the ones who do. This has the convenient side benefit of not only motivating employees (the ones who can be motivated) but also keeping you all focused on what you're there for: results.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all. Since I sent this question I had worked to not try to be "nice boss" and to hold my problem employee to expectations. It also happened to be around raise time and I told her the things that were holding her back from getting a good raise. i.e. Not getting work done because she spent too much time talking.

Guess what? She quit within a week. I found out my other employee was relieved because this person was pushing things off on her. I had suspected as much.

One problem I have is that we rent space from an agency and are located in their offices. Many of their people are allowed to play computer games, chat and go way into the hole on leave without repercussions. Since our offices are not separate from theirs I have to remind my employees that our board of directors has different expectations than theirs. They have 40 employees. You can hide someone not getting things done with 40 employees, but you can't with only three.

Anonymous said...

As you've already heard here, it down to three things clear expectations, follow-up, and delivering consequences. Those are not always easy, especially with "difficult" people, but they're necessary things for you to do.