Motivating Employees: Do You Let Them Know When They Perform Well?

I greatly enjoy the regular New York Times column “Corner Office,” which features interviews with CEOs on their leadership styles, lessons learned and goals.

A recent interview with Bing Gordon, partner with venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufiled and Byers, surprised me.

In the interview, Bing says:

My leadership style, which is that I was really impatient with under-motivated people — extremely impatient, to the point where I was counterproductive as a manager of underproductive people. And that hasn’t really changed. If people need to be motivated, I’m no good. … It’s just: “What? You’re doing this thing and you’re not trying to do it really well? I just don’t understand.” As you grow up, you become more comfortable with your own peccadilloes, and I’m bad with people who aren’t self-motivated. And now, when I see them coming, I run the other way.”

3 questions the manager needs to answer

Self motivation is an interesting thing. Of course, Dan Pink and others talk about it a good deal in terms of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose – an idea I’m much in alignment with as evidenced by the webinar discussion I had with Dan.

But I also believe self motivation relies on good communication:

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  1. Do your employees know how to do their job/task really well?
  2. Do they know when they’ve done really well?
  3. Do they know why they should be doing it?

Having the answers to those three questions are critical to employees being able to deliver the results Bing seems to expect. And those are the responsibility of the manager to answer:

  1. Explaining clearly what’s expected of them or what defines a successfully completed project.
  2. Recognition and praise of a job well done so employees understand what it is that is desired.
  3. Communicating the greater meaning and purpose of the task.

Good managers cannot expect employees to simply intuit these answers. They must communicate to engage and yes – motivate – the employees to achieve their best.

This originally appeared on Derek Irvine’s Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.

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2 Comments on “Motivating Employees: Do You Let Them Know When They Perform Well?

  1. Great point Derek. As managers we are responsible for unleashing the potential that resides in our employees, not just taking their “under-motivation” as a given or worse yet, as a character flaw. As you say, perhaps they don’t understand the expectations of their job or how they fit into the greater picture. I recently read Ann Tardy’s book Moxie for Managers (http://www.lifemoxie.com) and she does a great job of laying out what motivates people and how to tap into employees basic needs (to be heard, to feel important, to be part of something..) to unleash what she calls the “moxie” in people. It’s a great read packed with actionable strategies and great management tools. Bing probably wouldn’t be a fan, but for us managers that want to inspire, it’s perfect. 

    1. Hi, Laura. Thanks for the response and apologies for my tardy reply. Thanks for the link to the book. I will have to investigate it. I hadn’t heard the phrase you used – “under-motivation as a character flaw.” That’s an excellent point. I think far too often we as managers would prefer to take the easy way out and blame it on the employee instead of looking at ourselves and what we should be doing to help give the employee insights that lead to increased motivation.

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