Why Motivating Your Employees Only Gets You Half Way There

Believe it or not, great leaders aren’t just good at knowing when to do something. They also know when to stop doing something.

Motivate Your Workplace with Carol Ring

What do I mean?

I mean that our sometimes slavish attention to motivating employees can prevent us from examining the demotivating behaviours we practice as leaders – we don’t take time to weed them out of our corporate culture.

You’ve heard me talk about the limits of “motivational leadership” before…

I prefer an “inspirational model of management”. The methods for inspiring your team are slightly different, but the end result is the same, if not better…and is actually longer lasting.

You want your employees to feel a sense of purpose, possess an understanding of the common goal, work towards it with the entire team. But you also want them to feel appreciated for the unique skills they bring to the table. You certainly don’t want them “putting in time” at their desks.

When you put up barriers to motivation, you’re missing an opportunity to light a fire within your teamnot under them.

Take a step back: are you demotivating your team?

It’s natural – even imperative – for leadership to look forward. Progress, growth, longevity…these are all the goals of any profitable, healthy enterprise.

Team retreats, on- and off-site training, strategic planning sessions are all designed to propel a company forward. Plans and programs emerge, new initiatives and incentives are put in place. They’re innovative, improved, refined…

But have you considered the practices and programs you have in place that are covered in cobwebs? When you dust them off, do you see a sensible, time-honoured company practice, or a stifling, demotivating rule that’s cutting off the fresh air to your team?

Here’s an example:

Roger Crandall, CEO of Mass Mutual Insurance, talks about taking a red pen to the company dress code. What did he leave behind? “Dress appropriately.”

With the stroke of a pen, Mass Mutual had stopped micro-managing the team’s attire. It put the onus on – the trust in – them to understand what passed as “appropriate” in their specific work environment. Employees were personally accountable for their choices.

Work retreat: Are you putting up barriers to motivation for your team?

Is your Company Handbook a Command-and-Control Manual?

Even though worker capacity and motivation are destroyed when leaders choose power over productivity, it appears that bosses would rather be in control than have the organization work well.
Margaret J. Wheatley

It’s so important to look at your leadership model and decide if you’re simply trying to maintain control. That style of management is outmoded, unappreciated, and can make your organization look like a dinosaur.

When you’re setting strategies for the use of resources in engineering, manufacturing, and marketing models you take time to cross certain choices off the list…to choose what you’re not going to do. The same concept should be applied when looking to lead your human resources.

Patty McCord, former chief talent officer at Netflix and one of the architects of their HR renaissance, says, “Some of the most innovative work I got to do at Netflix wasn’t to create new stuff, it was to just stop doing the stupid stuff.”

Stop demotivating your team: stop doing the stupid stuff.

Barriers to motivation can crop up at both ends of the business spectrum: the Fortune 500 company that’s been around since the turn of the century and the upstart enterprise that grew so quickly leadership barely has time to breathe.

It takes some humility to scrap practices you implemented in favour of a new one. It takes courage and conviction to scrap a practice completely and leave a void for your team to fill in using their ingenuity and inspiration.

In order for this exercise to bear fruit, you have to understand your existing corporate culture. Now, more than ever – with so much of your workforce engaging remotely – it can feel daunting to take the pulse of your team…but it’s vital that you try.

There are tools and resources you can access that will help you take an accurate, in-depth reading of your company’s culture – not simply their level of engagement, but their investment in your common cause.

Contact me if you’d like to begin an exploration of your company culture…one that can lead to lasting, transformative change.

Did you enjoy this article? You might find these helpful, as well:

The Next Evolution in Leadership – Will You Fit In?
Are You Preserving Your Culture During the Covid19 Crisis?
How Unretired Baby Boomers are Causing a Shift in Workplace Culture

This article was originally published in 2018, and has been updated in July 2020 just for you!


  • Great insights Carol. I couldn’t agree more.

  • Apart from motivating employees, there is much to do to reach the end goal. Motivating them the right way is more important, or else you will need help to get something out of them. If one knows these, then they can be avoided.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Take our assessment

Want to know if your workplace culture is truly aligned with your business goals?

Take this simple quiz to see if you are on the right track

Scroll to Top