Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Song Incident: An Exercise in Poor Motivation Tactics

It’s 10:00am on a Thursday morning and my co-workers and I were gathered together for our department meeting. I was a manager of a three person scheduling and forecasting group. As we all sat down to review the agenda for the meeting, we noticed the first agenda item was titled: Motivation. As I looked around the room, I could tell that everyone was intrigued by the mystery of what “Motivation” meant on the agenda. Maybe it could be some type of bonus or incentive program, I thought to myself.

Our department head entered the room, sat down and began the meeting. “I want to start off this meeting with something that will inspire and motivate all of you.” She then reaches to her side and placed a small CD player boom box on the table and hit play. She closed her eyes and let out a big sigh.

The song “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack begins to play. I looked around the room and saw a few people physically moved by the song. I watched as my boss as well as some of my coworkers began to actually cry. I then looked at the two guys in my group. They both looked back at me, shrugging their shoulders. They had the same “what the hell is this” look on their faces. Most of the other non-crying people in the room also looked completely puzzled by what was happening. The song finally ended and my boss uttered “this song really hits hard at what we are trying to do here.” The few that had been crying wiped the tears from their faces and thanked our boss for playing the song. We then immediately moved on to the next agenda item relating to some type of problem within our department.

Following the meeting my work group gathered in our work area to talk about “the song”. We tried to figure out what our boss was trying to accomplish or what her comment meant following the song. What I had derived from this incident is that my boss was trying to motivate and inspire the team with a song that probably had some type of inspirational impact on her. Instead of motivating and inspiring our management staff, she completely confused and baffled the majority of us. The “song incident” as well as many other foiled attempts at motivation by our boss resulted in our team losing respect for her. Her failed motivation attempts became office jokes as time after time she would completely miss the mark on what inspires and motivates people.

Motivation is a nifty little concept that is completely misunderstood and misinterpreted by clueless leaders. I’ve come across many bosses that thought they were quite inspirational, when in fact their actions had the opposite result. So many leaders try to motivate but forget to really understand what is meaningful to their employees. Why? Because they jump the gun and try to start “motivating” without building relationships and finding out what makes people tick. You can’t motivate people if you don’t know who they are, what they want, and why.

I’ve seen my managers actually buy books with titles “1,000 Ways to Motivate Employees” or “Creating Inspired Employees”. I’ve watched as they pointlessly tried to implement stupid ideas from these ridiculous books. Breaking News to Clueless Leaders: You can’t buy a book that tells you how to motivate employees! What you can do is listen, observe and interact with employees. There is a saying “no two people are alike” and if you try to use the same motivational tactics for everyone, you will fail.

Unfortunately for most of us though, manager after manager will hang motivation posters or hand out motivational cards without even knowing they are doing more harm than good. Hopefully your motivationally challenged boss doesn’t play ‘I Hope You Dance”. I still have nightmares from that experience!


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