“Many leaders already recognise that coaching needs to be different for high and low skill employees but I think it’s equally important that we take motivation level into account,” says Kristen Hansen, a renowned neuroleadership speaker and trainer.
Hansen – who recently penned ‘Traction: The Neuroscience of Leadership and Performance’ – says some low-skill employees have a high motivation while others have low motivation. Similarly, some high-skill employees have little will to self-improve while others are incredibly driven.
“Low and high skill can change the way we coach but low and high motivation should also be changing the way we coach,” she tells HRD.
With high-motivation employees, Hansen says leaders often take a backseat because they assume the worker is able to self-motivate and generate their own level of recognition – however, this hands-off approach can easily backfire.
“As managers, we don’t pay enough attention to those with high motivation because they’re doing such a good job and they’re not in our problem line of sight,” she tells HRD.
“However, we have to recognise how to stretch and challenge someone who is already motivated otherwise they won’t reach their full potential and they could even become demotivated.”
Hansen – who has worked with the likes of Telstra, Google, ANZ and Allianz – says leaders must push to find new and challenging opportunities for highly-motivated employees otherwise their job will become too easy and they’ll quickly explore other, external, options.
“I find that I meet people with relatively high motivation and I find that their managers have not done enough to actually stretch them further because they’re already performing so well,” she says.
While a promotion may not be possible, Hansen says leaders should encourage high-motivation team members to learn new skills and even move laterally across the organisation in order to maintain a high level of interest.
Much more common, however, is the struggle to coach low motivation employees.
“This is the challenge that most managers face, when they have somebody who is not as motivated as they could be,” says Hansen. “In these cases, it’s important to determine whether that person is extremely demotivated but does have the skills required to do the job or if they’re demotivated and don’t have the necessary skills.”
For employees who are capable, Hansen says leaders have to either inspire them or confront them.
“Inspire them means rechallenging them, giving them a new project, helping them mentor less experienced people – those sorts of things – but we also need to confront people,” says Hansen.
“Sometimes, you just need to have an authentic conversation – I’m just not seeing you very inspired or motivated, I’m not seeing a lot of effort, and we have to have those genuine conversations with those people.”
By talking to demotivated staff, leaders may be able to identify ways to bring them back on board – such as offering flexible working so they can spend more time with their family or by freeing up some time so they can pursue personal passions.
“I worked with one lady who was really demotivated and disengaged but we figured out she was desperate to do some work for charities so her company sponsored her time to serve on the boards of two charitable organisations,” says Hansen.
“She was extremely grateful to the company and became reinvigorated and re-motivated to do the work while also being able to do something she was passionate about,” she continues.
“The important thing is that we can’t guess these things. We have to have authentic conversations with staff, where we’re asking open questions about what their values are, what motivates them, what would make a difference to their lives, what kind of legacy they would like to leave behind.”
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When it comes to coaching, leaders have far more success when they take an employee’s skill level into account – however, one industry expert says it’s not the only factor HR should be considering.