De-motivating Self-Motivation


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Most management techniques include motivation methods and mechanisms, proselytized by training gurus and motivational speakers who tell us that in order to get the most out of our staffs, and ourselves, we need to develop “motivators.” I don’t agree. We have all the “self-motivation” we need to perform well.

What we need is an environment absent of de-motivators and – what we really are referencing when talking of management motivation – support mechanisms to allow self-motivation to flourish. The mechanisms that management uses merely serve as “connectors,” or re-enforcement, to those things that already motivate us.

Think about it. When was the last time a motivational speaker, manager, or colleague was able to, truly, get you fired up about something that you weren’t fired up about already? It’s rare.

When we are hired to do a job – or hire someone to do a job – we (they) are already highly motivated to perform well. We all know the feeling of starting a new assignment, a new job, tackling a difficult problem, or getting a promotion; we’re excited about what we can and want to accomplish. It’s a great feeling, being that motivated to get things done and done well. We have faith in and high expectations of ourselves. And we don’t need motivation from the “outside.” We’re already there – through self-motivation!

Performance falls off when we start getting “de-motivated,” not from the lack of proper management motivation. This doesn’t mean that some people may be in the wrong position, can over extend themselves or have other unrealistic expectations about their career and its path (they thought they could handle that CEO job without any experience), lacks the required job skills, the ability to create appropriate job knowledge or just plain confidence.

These things happen and can be legitimate reasons for poor performance or, seemingly, “un-motivated” individuals. These management challenges shouldn’t be overlooked when assessing our own, or those who we manage, performance capabilities.

But I’ll bet we all can go back and think about situations where we, or folks we worked with, were de-motivated, resulting in a slide in performance or other reactions. Consider the following (support mechanisms to counteract are left up to the reader):

  • We (generally, most people) like “belonging,” which is a common expectation when joining a group, a project, and other teams. While the feeling of belonging strengthens our motivations, we can be de-motivated by being ignored. You know, no “thank you’s,” one-on-one’s with the boss, or inclusion in project decisions.
  • We like being in control or, at least, have a feeling of being in control. We lose that feeling when we are not being told the entire truth about information or events that can have an impact on the decisions we have to make.
  • Related to the item above, we know we work better when we have the timely knowledge we need about the company, our group and sister groups, customer success or failure, etc. Also, we like getting feedback about our performance. We like being “in the loop.” Surprises about performance issues, project information, and customer needs only make us exclaim, “If I only knew…”
  • The feeling of achievement, i.e. successfully completing a project, solving a particularly hard problem, or going the extra mile for a customer, is something we live for. Think about the “motivational damage” that we sustain when we are not recognized for these and other contributions we make to the company’s success (only its failure?) or when recognition goes unshared when it should be shared.
  • A form of recognition extensively used in the business world is “rewards” (like pay, bonuses, promotional consideration and other perks). People will be “motivated” to search for greener pastures if they feel the system is unfairly applied – like to “favorite” groups and individuals. Or some types of rewards are not applied at all to some groups! Rewards – compensation – aren’t the main reason people perform well. But I’ll bet an unfair system, even if only perceived that way, is the real source of un-motivated individuals, not their pay.
  • Every job function in a company is there for a reason – to produce value for stakeholders. Each is essential to the company’s success (if not, get rid of it!) But watch the (non) performance of the folks who are in a job function that’s either overtly or inadvertently cast as “non-essential,” especially if it’s compared to another competency. If they feel it’s not important then it won’t be.
  • Have you ever brought a problem – like poorly defined processes, lack of training, outdated tools or poor product and service quality – to the attention of management (or the organization as a whole) and have it ignored? How motivated did you feel after that experience? People like to solve the real problems that hold back progress and potentially create unhappy customers. They like working for a company with a good reputation. When they see the problems go un-addressed, it can become a de-motivator.
  • We know how to do our jobs and we like the freedom and independence to “operate” according to our experiences, comfort levels, and knowledge. Trust is important. Repeatedly defending our schedules, the resources we forecast, and being forced to perform “their activities” kills innovation, a main source of self-motivation.
  • The last category is what I call “the petty de-motivator group.” It includes things like arguing with the boss or co-workers, being belittled, criticized, and demeaned. We like to enjoy our work and we don’t like an atmosphere of fear and coercion that crushes confidence. Prevention? Easy. Don’t do or tolerate these things!

I’m sure you can think of lots of other, specific situational de-motivators. And I’ll bet you can think of appropriate ways to ensure they don’t strike you or the people you work with. Awareness is 75% of the work to eliminate them.

People generally want to do their best. An environment that promotes quality performance and pride in one’s work will contribute greatly to preventing these de-motivators (and others) from occurring in the first place. It’s an environment that is courteous, enthusiastic, and firm in its resolve to promote company principles.

Don’t have any “public” company principles? Then develop and communicate them. And hire people, especially management, who believe in them! Ridding your company and organizations of de-motivators and developing principles to live by will add a fair amount of competitive value to your asset bank!

Jonathan Narducci
CornerStone Cubed
Jonathan Narducci, owner of CornerStone Cubed, uses his more than 30 years of experience in business, management and quality systems to help clients design the execution eco-system they need to make initiatives work as intended using his Execution by Design Framework and Process.


  1. Jonathan

    There are many motivation theories, such as Maslow, Herzberg, McClelland, and Vroom.

    Maslow talks about hierarchy of needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem and self-actualization.

    Herzberg suggests that some needs are not motivators, but only de-motivate if not fulfilled (hygiene factors).

    McClelland is about a different balance of three fundamental needs: power, achievement and affiliation.

    Vroom says that motivation for a given act depends on the desirability of the expected outcome of a situation, whether you believe you can affect the success of the situation and whether you believe the success of the situation is linked to the desired outcome.

    Which one do you think rings true?

    Daryl Choy
    Make Little Things Count

  2. Daryl,

    Thank you for the reply. My first reaction was to say Vroom’s because people take on responsibilities (projects, jobs, and promotions) based on their belief they can provide positive activities to help meet goals. But it isn’t that simple because, even though they are motivated to “do the job,” they are also motivated (or de-motivated) by some of the other factors mentioned by the other three theorists. For example, a promotion is taken because it can provide more financial “safety” or “achievement,” or a new job because taken because of “affiliation” with a more prestigious company. Both situations create self motivation to perform a job well in addition to the personal principles that drive performance self motivation.

    So, the bottom line: They all ring true. Some are self motivator builders – based on personal principles – and some de-motivate the built up motivation. What keeps the de-motivators from taking a large toll on self motivations are the principles – integrity, honesty, self worth, etc. That’s one of the reasons I wrote the article – management and individuals have to recognize what de-motivators creep into the system and watch the toll taken or performance will suffer. By the way, not everyone is affected by the de-motivators I mentioned nor is anyone individual affected by all. Not only that, some self motivators can nullify de-motivators because they are strong. For example, if pay is a motivator, a rare project of interest can over ride it because of the motivation – prestige – associated with the project is greater.

    I hope this helps answer your fairly complex question. The answer also needs to look at how leadership is related to tapping into self motivations when the leader creates and promotes a vision and defines the desired outcomes. Leaders are self motivated. How do they tap into the self motivators of potential followers?

    Jonathan Narducci

    CornerStone Cubed
    Creating Positive Change

  3. Daryl, Jonathon,

    Herzberg had it right…avoiding de-motivating is more important than motivating. Pay, recognition, etc., are not effective because the impact wears off too quickly. People want to work, be productive, make a contribution, and belong to a successful team.

    Isn’t it interesting that when young men and women in the armed forces serving in Iraq are wounded, almost invariably they desire to return to their team? Watch the interviews you see they want to go back and be with their comrades because they believe in their mission.

    The ones who complain about the Army and the uselessness of the mission demonstrate that de-motivators have more of an impact than motivators. They volunteered for the Army – every one of them – and if they are bitter it is usually because: (a) They feel they aren’t getting the support (equipment, troops, etc.) they need from the Army. (b) They feel they have been lied to by the recruiter. (c) Their work and sacrifices aren’t appreciated. Or, (d) they have no chance at success (we will pull out before the mission is complete.)

    Many years ago I heard a quote that pretty well described the impact of de-motivators. It went somthing like, “It is amazing that today’s corporations can’t get a person to work overtime and be paid time-and-a-half, and the army can get a person to risk his life for a piece of medal attached to a ribbon.” The medal a person receives for risking his/her life isn’t as much about recognition as it is a symbol to the individual that he/she “belongs to the team.” By constantly removing de-motivators people succeed and move on to higher goals!

    Keep you motivated people, give me the ones who resist de-motivation.

    Ken Hall


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