Motivating ‘problem’ employees

“Begin with yes” in the workplace. Such optimism may sound unrealistic. After all, no job is perfect or without worries or problems. We get flat tires, the raise doesn’t come, we have good days, and not-so-good days. Sometimes things unfold so perfectly, and other times they go downhill faster than a runaway toboggan. We all know a good work life is not without problems. But we also know that it doesn’t happen by accident — nor does it happen in isolation. It goes back to that “begin” word again. One has to take steps to improve situations, as these examples prove.Q. Can a “Begin with Yes” approach help motivate a “problem” employee?A. One of the underlying requirements of a “Begin with Yes” approach is a willingness to shift your perspective. In this case, the shift might be from motivating a resisting employee to clarifying what’s really going on and seeking a collaborative solution. Before thinking about motivating a problem employee, I always try to ask a few clarifying questions. Sometimes I ask myself the questions. For example: “Why is John always argumentative with his co-workers, or why is Mary always turning in her work assignments late?” Sometimes I simply go to John or Mary and ask these questions directly. This honest approach can be surprising, and the answers often revealing and helpful. Once you have an answer, the immediate and important follow-up question is: “How could we get past that, John?” When we understand what’s really going on and then engage the employee in seeking solutions, we save lots of time, usually while maintaining everyone’s self-esteem, and almost always leading to better results.I’m not suggesting psychotherapy, or a prolonged “talk” strategy, but I know that taking a few minutes to find out what’s really going on will pay big dividends and make any plan to motivate more successful. In the end, it’s not so much about motivating, but about understanding the real problem. Once the problem is clear, developing a solution with the employee will increase your chance of success dramatically. Once a plan is put into place, monitor, offer feedback and encouragement, and expect the best. Q. How can managers use a “Begin with Yes” approach to keep morale high when tough financial times hit and layoffs are necessary?A. When I first read this question, three words came to mind — honestly, clarity and kindness. If management embraces these qualities as it navigates a company through difficult times, the pain will be lessened. Often we think that a high morale means everyone is happy all the time. This isn’t possible, practical or even desirable. Life isn’t like that, and neither is work or the workplace.Leaders within organizations must find in themselves, and then share with others, a sense of optimism that focuses on the belief that “we will get through this.” Management also needs to be honest and realistic about what is happening, and then compassionate and respectful about any decisions or actions that impact employees.The goal of maintaining high morale is about maintaining confidence and a sense of trust in the leadership of the organization. Employees will feel much better if they believe that all people involved are being treated honestly. There is something comforting about the truth, no matter how painful or unpopular.Layoffs offer the employer the opportunity “to do more” for those being laid off. “Doing more” can include transitional financial support, career counseling, networking assistance and extending some benefits to keep a safety net in place. Staying compassionately engaged with the affected employees, which means both those being laid off and those left behind, through the entire transition will do much to enhance company morale and productivity.Paul Boynton, president and chief executive of Moore Center Services, Manchester, he also is a personal coach, corporate consultant, motivational speaker, host of the television show, “Begin with Yes” and author of the book by the same name. He can be reached at