Stop Inspecting and Start Expecting the Best

By Dr. Larry Pfaff

Motivating employees can seem difficult and nearly impossible at times. When employees aren't performing, leaders want to help them improve. Many leaders want to analyze in detail what the causes are behind the lack of performance. Consequently, they begin to micro manage the employee. They demand detailed reports of what the employee does with his/her time. They start conducting regular meetings with the employee in which there are detailed discussions of the employee's work.

These leaders have good intentions and are truly trying to help the employee improve. Unfortunately, the employee feels that the leader has no trust in his/her ability. The employee loses confidence and often performance lags even more. This is a common trap into which many leaders fall.

If leaders are going to motivate employees to higher levels of performance, they must learn to develop an environment that supports employee growth and confidence. The following are factors in establishing just such an environment:

Avoid Negativity - Too often leaders focus only on the negatives of an employee's performance. This results in the employee losing confidence. When confidence is lost, performance suffers. In addition, some leaders tend to be negative in demeanor in general. They use insults and overly harsh criticism to try to motivate people. Negatives never motivate in the long run.

Be Positive - Leaders need to try to catch employees in the act of doing something right. This means focusing on the strengths that an employee has and building on that foundation. As a leader recognizes and reinforces good performance, it is more likely to occur. This builds confidence and confidence is key to good performance. As a person gains confidence, he or she is more likely to try new behaviors and attempt new tasks.

Accept Failure - Everyone fails many times throughout life (some of us on a daily basis!) A leader must model that failure is a normal part of every day. Leaders must also demonstrate that failure is something that can be overcome and a person can move beyond it. Modeling failing gives employees an important message of acceptance. We all fall at times. What's important is how fast we get up and try again.

Set Meaningful Goals - We all know that goals need to be challenging, but it is also important to set goals that have meaning and are founded on strong principles. This gives employees a sense of purpose that helps to motivate.

Have Fun - If employees can have fun while they accomplish their tasks they are more likely to be motivated. This means that the leader has to value people. Being able to laugh is an important part of that.

If a leader can provide all of these, the work environment will be a more motivating one. This type of environment will allow the leader to raise expectations of employees and have those expectations be fulfilled. Remember, if you spend too much time inspecting, you are not motivating employees, you are trying to manipulate them.

Please send any comments, questions or suggestions to Dr. Pfaff at

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