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Killing Motivation With Kindness

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Motivating workers is a full-time job in itself for managers who are required to be flexible, people-focused diplomats. Add in the challenge of trying to adjust to a generation of younger workers characterized as being accustomed to recognition and praise, and it makes for a tough time for tough bosses. Many books tout the advantages of an open, "kid gloves" style of managing, but it's also possible to kill motivation with kindness. Here are situations when a "cracking the whip" approach is a better way to motivate your team and improve their performance.

Setting an Example
It's easy to hear the expression "top down" and think that it mainly applies to those above you in the company hierarchy. As a manager, you are always setting the tone for your team. One useful motivational tool is to expect more from an employee by telling them that you think they can do better. Setting the bar higher can spur them to prove themselves and do better work. The danger is when you are not exemplifying a commitment to excellence yourself. Understand that your workers take their cues from you and that slacking off, being easy on yourself, and lack of follow through take their toll. In other words, when you give yourself a free pass your team members will be looking for free passes too, and this can dampen motivation.

Policy Policing
Businesses have established policies for everything from taking breaks to being late. "When there is discipline, everyone knows what to expect and the rules are the same for everyone," writes Mike Ramundo in his book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motivating People. "That provides security and predictability, which are two important components of motivation." The trouble comes when managers ignore infringements or drop the ball on disciplining workers. In his book, Ramundo outlines the most effective ways to enforce company policy. The first step is to make the rules understandable and to make sure everyone does understand them. He recommends keeping policies precise and accurate without overloading them with excessive details. As always, the key to discipline is not to give preferential treatment to workers who violate rules. Nothing kills motivation faster than those who abide by policy seeing or perceiving others getting away with breaches.

Cracking Down on Deadlines
One of the kindest things you can do as a manager is overlook missed deadlines. It's also one of the most damaging. Schedules and deadlines are critical to your company's success, and if you are not meeting deadlines internally it can ultimately harm your outside business. Once you've clearly communicated a deadline, the question is how do you enforce it? The best way is to demand accountability when it's missed. Discuss the matter privately with the individual and stress that missing a deadline affects other team members as well. The key is to be demanding without being demeaning and to inform them of future consequences. When people are in danger of missing deadlines, they often cut corners to get a project in on time. Don't let this slide. Make workers accountable when they sacrifice quality to meet a deadline.

Seeing the Big Picture
"You've got to look out for the best interests of each member of your team, but primarily as to how those interests relate to the total group," writes Ramundo. Giving individuals preferential treatment can foster speculation and resentment among your workers. According to Ramundo, "Acting unfairly, or even being perceived as acting unfairly, will severely threaten your ability to lead, much less to motivate."

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