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Motivation Fails

A happy employee who doesn't know what her results should be or how her job is tied to bigger organizational goals, is not going to be a truly productive and motivated employee. She won't be intrinsically motivated to do her best work.

Motivation has to be grounded in getting individual employee goals aligned with the big picture of how those goals relate to customer service or business growth = the ultimate outcome and ultimate customer. But this post isn't about goal-setting; it's about what NOT to do when you want to motivate people...

1. Everyone loves office parties!

No...they don't. Pizza parties, corporate barbecues, and awkward birthday celebrations around a store-bought cake in the conference room... do these things sound like fun to you? Do they? If you have a small team that genuinely enjoys one another's company, let them figure out how they want to hang out...don't figure it out for them. 

80% of teams we work with say they are thinking this when they get invited to one of these cheesy events: "I'd rather get my work done and spend time with my real friends/my family." So stop wasting their time.

Try instead: Be open to what naturally happens or doesn’t happen. No more forced socialization.

2. Same rules, different location (working remotely)

Working remotely is not a motivational perk if: a) you still have mandatory check-ins with the boss, b) strict or even stricter rules about time tracking and face time, or c) you have spying software installed on your computer so your boss can know exactly what you were working on during "work hours." < Eeeeeew!

Try instead: Focus on your employees' measurable results and make sure those things are getting done. If your employees work remotely, don't chain them to their computers, instant messengers, and email so you can feel assured that they're "really working." Focus on the results and you'll know if the work is getting done or not.

3. Pets at work

Please, no hate mail on this one. We’ve got as much love for animals as the next person, and we have pets too. But to be productive, work needs to happen. If you are petting your cat, playing fetch with your dog, or staring at your iguana, you’re not working.

Try instead: When you work in a Results-Only Work Environment, you get to decide how, when and where work gets done, which will make Fido and you happy...and based on the results of the hundreds of teams we've worked with, more productive, too.

4. Walking around or checking in to "show how much you care"

Management isn’t about walking around or checking in to see if people are in their offices or online. Checking in on employees by lurking in the hallways and popping your head into cubes doesn't show how involved of a manager you are - it's creepy. And yes, it’s creepy if done using technology such as Skype. It's not motivating anyone to work harder in case you might pop in. It's more likely to make them paranoid...and angry.

Try instead: Provide your team with clearly communicated outcomes and deadlines. Then manage their performance with objective communication and accurate metrics.

5. Employee-of-the-month parking spot

Jeff Haden beats up on this tired old gimmick in his article on

"When you announce your latest Employee of the Month, one employee "wins." Great. That means every other employee loses. Recognition should be specific, timely, genuine... and available to everyone, not just a "winner." Get rid of generic praise and recognition programs and spread the positive feedback wealth."

Try instead: Take some tips from Razor Suleman, Founder and CEO of Achievers.

6. Dress down Friday

This one is simple. Telling your employees how to dress during the week is ridiculous, and giving them a special day to wear jeans is even more RIDICULOUS!

Try instead: Trust employees to be in charge of their own wardrobe decisions. Easy as that. Handle the one person who will decide to wear a tube top, mini-skirt and flip-flops to a client meeting with one conversation; don't punish the rest because of her bad decisions.  

7. Office gym, coffee shop, dry cleaner (and anything else you might need)

Corporate perks that seem awesome may get in the way of work-life balance. Google, for example, and similar massive organizations are creating campuses where everything is there that you need; sleeping nooks, dry-cleaners, gyms, daycare — everything’s at the office. People look to Google and say: "Look at how progressive they are!"

Why would you ever leave the office? There’s everything you need right here!

Post-Marxist theorist Slavoj Žižek has similar thoughts on this phenomenon, as summarized by architect Andrew Maynard:

Slavoj Žižek argues that modern employment tactics create the illusion that our employer is our friend. This fabrication empowers the employer while denying the employed the right to vocalize and protest dissatisfaction of their working conditions. “You’re not going to stick around and help out? I thought we were a team? I thought we were friends?”

If you find yourself banging your head against the wall with employee motivation programs, gimmicks, rewards, incentives, perks, benefits, raises, promotions, all without success, then maybe you're ignoring the basics.

Those of you who have read Drive by Daniel Pink are aware of his endorsement of Results Only Work Environment.

In this TED Talk, Pink talks in detail about what actually motivates us and how most businesses don't act in accordance with what the science tells us about intrinsic motivation.