Episode 131: Why am I failing to motivate someone?

If I told them once … why didn’t they do it?

Like me, you may have grown up with the phrase “if I told you once, I’ve told you a million times.” Maybe if like me you did, you probably still haven’t done it – whatever it was! In the work context, we sometimes give direction to someone and they either avoid doing what we ask or actively seem to do the opposite. Just how many times do we need to tell someone to do something we need them to do?

One of my friends, who went through management training at a large retailer, told be about a process they had adopted for these sorts of situations. After asking nicely for something to be done, after explaining why it needed doing, after being more forceful about it being done, then it was time to say ‘JFDI’ or Just Flipping Do It (that’s the nice way of saying it). This final approach is the “I don’t want any debate or discussion, do it or there will be consequences” moment in any leader-follower relationship. Typically, it is also a red line that when crossed, there’s no going back. When they don’t do it, there must be consequences or discipline collapses, or so it is believed.

Having recently read “The Three Laws of Performance” by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan, there might be some value in understanding an alternative approach. Of course, no blog can do this book justice and I would recommend reading it. The book does cover some amazing ideas about how people see themselves and their work. After all, the sub-title is “Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life.” The one idea I would like to review is, how people see their world and why that might be different to yours. The word that is often used is how the ‘occurs’ to people.

How we see the world

I used to have a boss who liked to say “it is what it is.” Invariably it was the way he concluded the discussion or conversation, even when people around him did not necessarily agree with the conclusion. After reading the book and looking back now, it is clear to me that what he was saying was more like “ok, this is how I see it and therefore that must be how it is.” Whatever we were discussing had finally made sense to him as the world ‘occurred’ to him.

The reality of the work world is that we are a combination of people from different backgrounds and different experiences. We strive for diversity in our teams because that brings new types of thinking and different perspectives. Backgrounds, education and experience mean we all interrupt things differently. It should not be surprising that each of these people sees the world slightly or sometimes radically differently. The way the world occurs to all of us is different and unique.

While this may at first seem obvious, there is an important lesson for all of us in this. How we see the world, how it ‘occurs’ to us, may not be how everyone else sees it. So, while a thought or an action required may be obvious to us, within how someone else sees the world, it may not be obvious to them. Maybe instead of getting frustrated or annoyed with someone who sees something differently, you should ask the question, “I wonder how this occurs to them.”

The power of listening

We can too quickly assume that things occur to everyone else the way they occur to us. For us, something is so obvious that anyone that sees it a different way is obviously wrong. If instead of dismissing them we ask the question “how does this occur to them?” we might stop for a moment and learn something new. But how do you work out how something occurs to someone else.

The answer is listening.

You need to carefully listen and ask questions. When we do that, we stand a chance of learning things we might have missed. The best way is to listen without judging or trying to interpret what they mean. When you try and interpret what they mean, you are letting how you see the world cloud how they see the world. The chances are that when you understand their world you will get insights into your world too.

After a couple of attempts at this, what you learn is that how the world ‘occurs’ to someone is derived from the way they describe the world and the words they use. You might even find out that you see it much the same way but in different words or definitions.  When you align your definitions, you will align your understanding. Then you both get to define a future together using the same definitions, words and ideas.

While management books are full of ideas about how to ‘motivate’ people, few suggest the most powerful tool you have to change someone’s behavior: linking the outcome you want to the way the other person sees the world.

A world view

I have written before on the impact that Millennials are going to have in the workplace and how to come to terms with it. Given that this generation will be 50% of the workforce by 2020 and 75% by 2025, if you have a problem with them, in the words of The Eagles, “Get over it.

This is a generation that is not going to be frightened or scared into doing what you tell them to – per one survey, as many as half of all millennials would rather have no job, than one they hate. That means we need to learn to engage them with more than JFDI. The approach laid out by Zaffron and Logan, is a great way of approaching this group. You could in fact see the book as a modern approach to teamwork and management.

I have not done justice to the book here and it is worth reading it to understand the three laws and how they fit together. The book is full of case studies that illustrate the points made. This is especially true if you are part of a team that is struggling to perform and meet its potential. Should you find yourself in that type of environment, you will find the ideas behind the 3 Laws of Performance both very powerful and maybe even life changing. Finding the right language to talk about ideas is as important as the ideas themselves.

The Bottom Line

There is an old Talmudic thought that goes something like this: “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” At work, it might be useful to remember this when explaining what we think.