How to motivate your problem people

November 06, 2017

In order to get people to follow your lead, the only way to succeed is by getting the people to motivate themselves. The common mistakes managers make in their attempts to motivate problem people is by using the sales pitch to push solution, hoping to get the employee to listen and agree with the logic of their position. However, different people have different motivational drivers, values and bias, which result in different ideas about what is reasonable. This mismatch of perceptions create unsatisfactory outcomes as the fundamental rule of management is that you cannot change people’s character. You cannot control people’s actions most of the time. Change comes from within or not at all.

Instead of pushing solution on people with the force of argument, it is a better approach to pull solutions out of them. It prompts them to clear the obstacles that impeding their motivation. The leader needs to rethink what the problem employees can reasonably be motivated to do. This involves a shift in perspective and looks at the employee not as a problem to be solved but as a person to be understood. An investment of time is required to create a resolution to the problem. A manager needs to understand what the employee really cares about from a series of informal conversations that will give you insight into. This includes seeing the world look from the employee’s eyes, understanding the expectation and desires moulded by key past experience.

After the analysis, the managers need to break out of the narrow mindset and not to limit the options for solving the problem. You should let go of your desire to bring one predetermined solution, but willing to switch to an array of possible outcomes. You should reframe goals so the employee can meet them by putting together a list of options of the possible outcomes. Your goal is to identify the unsatisfied feeling and offer new opportunities to help your employee’s driving passions.

On the application, some of the intrinsic motivation factors of myself in the IT consulting firm include achievement, recognition for achievement, the work itself, responsibility and growth or advancement. I really enjoy programming and seeing many users enjoy using the code I wrote in production for a mobile app for an airline in Hong Kong. Despite there was much dissatisfaction resulted from poor project management by senior levels, our team managed to work together with extra hours at night and weekends in order to successfully deliver the product without a tight schedule. However, at the end of the project, the team got really frustrated due to a lack of recognition for all the hard work. Instead of appreciation, the senior managers were blamed for the quality drop and pushing to fix on the number of defects, despite the unreasonable deadline set by them was the root of all problems. Many team members resigned and look for other job opportunities which also give better external motivations from earning more money.

After my resignation, the director of the company scheduled a meeting and asked me to stay. The tactics he used include listening to my concerns and understanding my interesting direction for career growth, which is the in the area of big data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. He then offered me a project that would perfectly fit into my motivation and I was excited to work on this new challenging project about chatbot. The motivation problem was resolved and I get back to high performance.

After I made a decision to stay, then it became my challenge to get my team members to stay. Neuroscience suggests that when it comes to motivating action, a reward may be more effective than punishment. The “go” signal is triggered by dopaminergic neurons deep in the midbrain that moves up through the brain to the motor cortex, which controls the action. Positive feedback was more successful at motivating people, therefore, I did one-on-one conversation with each team members to understand their own personal concerns and offer positive rewards, such as money for buying lunch and snack during office hours. According to research, a conditional bonus was, on average, more than twice as effective as the unconditional bonus. It resulted in a sales increase of 24%. Another research shows that when employees are willing to go beyond their formal roles by helping out co-workers, volunteering to take on special assignments, introducing new ideas and work practices, attending non-mandatory meetings etc, their companies are more efficient and effective. Therefore I need to adopt a servant leader’s mindset and try to prioritise my team’s work at the intersection of passion and contribution.

In 2014 Deloitte study found that “up to 87% of America’s workforce is not able to contribute to their full potential due to lack of passion for their work.” It becomes more important for a leader today to apply the method to motivate individuals, and also help to motivate the entire workgroup. It can boost everyone’s morale by dealing with poor performers in the team and send a strong message that poor performance does not always mean immediate dismissal. People will see the culture that prefers problem-solving. It leads to a healthier and more productive organisation.


Written by Victor Leung who is a keen traveller to see every country in the world, passionate about cutting edge technologies. Follow me on Twitter