Recently I attended a function where I observed two mothers trying to control their exuberant young children with totally different results.
The first mother was clearly exasperated by the unruly behavior of her young children. For the entire hour she told them: “Don’t be so naughty.” “Don’t run away.” “Don’t kick the door!” “Don’t hit your sister.” “Don’t make so much noise.” And all of her instructions resulted in more and more of each behavior she chastised them about.
She was struggling, and the children were clearly not used to being at an event where they needed to sit quietly and pay attention. They didn’t know what to do or how to do it, so they entertained themselves. And they did it very well, even if it embarrassed their mother.
There were times when the second mother needed to address her young children’s behavior too. But she did it differently and with a very different result.
She drew her children’s attention to the program and pointed to what was happening on stage. She quietly explained where to look, why things were happening and encouraged them to participate when it was appropriate. She showed them how to not just listen, but to watch and listen carefully, so they would hear particular things.
In other words, she focused on telling her children what they should do, rather than what not to do. And it was clear that as her children steadily began to learn what was going on and how to be a part of it, they even began to enjoy it.
Now I’m not suggesting that her children were perfect – there were times they were distracted too – but by the end of the function it was clear they learned a lot about how to participate in such an event. They had been shown what was expected of them and what to do, rather than just being told what not to do.
So, what does this story have to do with workplace motivation, you ask?
Well first let me share another quick story with you… A few days ago a friend commented that her husband had come home from work happier than she had seen him in ages. It turns out that something exceptional had happened. For the first time in many years his boss had commented on his work, and the feedback was what a great job he always does. (And yes, you read that right – for the first time in many years…)
Do you see a pattern related to motivation in the workplace here? Managing people (employees or young children) can be challenging, time consuming and, at times, stressful. When you don’t offer any feedback, even the best people feel demotivated and taken for granted. If the feedback you offer is always negative or corrective, without any guidance about how to do what is required, it will do little to motivate people or improve results.
It’s easy to expect good work from people and take it for granted when you get it. But when good work is not acknowledged in the workplace, motivation shrivels up and even your best workers begin to produce the minimum acceptable results rather than their best work.
The workplace motivation message is simple: Focus on showing people what you expect of them in a positive way and notice when they do what you want.
For more ways to improve employee performance and boost workplace motivation check out this powerful tool: http://leadershipskillcenter.com/workplace-motivation/ from Kerrie Mullins-Gunst.
Kerrie specializes in helping leaders and managers develop all the skills they need to mentor manage and lead.