Greetings everyone!

I need some advice for a situation that I have with two directs here is my dilemma:

One of my directs is amazing at his job. He works in my warehouse, dealing with receiving and logistics. However, because he is good at his job, he tends to slack off and distracts other employees, whether in the warehouse or sale associates on the floor. Lately though, his attitude has really been an issue. I sat down with him during his o^3 and asked him what his goals were for his career and for life. His simple answer: "I don't have any." When I asked him about what motivates him, he does not know. He is 25, does not have an education, and only works because it's his paycheck. He likes his job, but he is not motivated to move on and does not respond to coaching. He has been like this for 7 years, and has advanced in his career.


Any suggestions as to how to motivate him and to change his attitude? He just does not care, and it is tough telling my boss that we need him.


- Phil



mattpalmer's picture

Human beings are goal-driven creatures, and we only get out of bed in the morning because we're motivated to do so.  However, I've found it incredibly ineffective to just come out with "so, what's your five year plan?" in a one-on-one.  Very few people are that meticulous in their life planning.  Simple example: what's your life plan?  Could you (and are you willing to) state it clearly and with detail to your direct?

I honestly think you're going about this the wrong way.  Rather than trying to deal with attitude problems by digging into life goals, just keep it simple.  Every time your direct distracts someone else, or exhibits a behaviour that isn't what you want, give adjusting feedback.  When he exhibits behaviours that you do want to encourage, give affirming feedback.  If one or more negative behaviours continues after you've given adjusting feedback (in the manager tools model -- so that includes asking the question "can you change that for me?" and getting a clear and affirmative "yes") on one particular behaviour at least a half dozen times, consider some systemic feedback:

Bob, can I share something with you?  When I point out that talking to and distracting the salespeople while they're on the floor reduces their ability to sell our products to customers, and you agree not to do that any more, and you still do it, I start to worry.  I worry that you don't stick to things you commit to, and I worry about what else you might be agreeing to do and not following through on.  What can you do differently?

If Bob says, "well, I can stop talking to the salespeople", you say "that'd be great, but I'm not talking about that any more.  I'm talking about your unwillingness to follow through on your commitments.  What can you do differently about that?"  The answer you're looking for is along the lines of, "I can ensure that whenever I agree to do something, I'll do it".  To which you respond, "Thank you.  That will be really appreciated."  (Note: not "would be appreciated" -- that implies it might not happen.

Now, if Bob doesn't want to change -- if he argues during your systemic feedback that it's all unfair or anything like that -- you need to make it clear to him what the consequences are:

Bob, I need to make it clear to you what the bottom line is here.  This is something that I am willing to fire you over.  I don't want to do that, but your behaviour may leave me no choice.  I need someone in this job who does great work -- which you do -- and who also doesn't distract other people from doing their own great work.  Do you understand that you are putting your job at risk by continuing to distract other people?

You'd only say that if it really was something you'd fire someone over, but by the sound of it the sum total of his negative behaviours is causing your boss to think in that direction.

Let me address that point in a little more detail, actually.  You said "it is tough telling my boss that we need him".  It should be tough to tell your boss that you need him, specifically, because it isn't true.  You (or, more specifically, your company) doesn't (at least shouldn't) need that particular individual.  You may lose his services for any number of reasons (illness, injury, gets a better job offer, gets abducted by aliens), and you need to have a plan in place for dealing with that happening.  I'll bet a not-insignificant sum that this person knows (or at least thinks) that he's indispensible, and so feels he has carte blanche to act like he is.  Make it clear to him that he isn't indispensible, and be willing to follow through on that, and you may be surprised at the degree and speed of change in his behaviour.

Start *now* on the process of planning for his departure, if you haven't already.  Know what sort of job ad you'd put out for his replacement, where you'd go looking to source suitable people (internally, perhaps, and the list of places you'd advertise), what you'd assess for in the hiring process (and how you'd do it), what you will need to train them on, and what sort of salary you'd offer.  Be ready to pull that trigger if and when you need to replace this person (for whatever reason).  This isn't "getting ready to fire him", it's the basic succession planning work that you really should be doing for all the positions in your team.

Just knowing that you're not being held hostage to the poor behaviour of this direct may be enough to change things for the better, as you'll have more confidence to give honest and sincere adjusting feedback in a tone that isn't "it'd be nice if you could change this, but don't put yourself out", but is instead "this behaviour here needs to change".

naraa's picture
Training Badge


Try listening to the Ted talk bellow and see if it fits for your situation.  According to the talk we strive on a challenge.  And we learn to like what we put effort in.  I feel that has been true for me.  Can you give your direct something harder to do?

I am 39, I have been very successful in my career but to tell you the truth if you ask me where I want to get, I don't know.  Perhaps a better question is: " what do you value?" I always valued some independence and a good challenge.  Give me that and I will be fine.  The problem indeed is to remain motivated-focus on the task once it is not a challenge and not new anymore!  I need to move to something else.  And as a high I I get interested on so many things that I may not know exactly which one!

I agree with Matt, don't worry about his motivations, just give him feedback on which behaviors are problematic.  Also check his Disc profile.  My guess is he is probably a high I if he is socializing too much.  Listing to the podcast Dangers in managing a high I.  It is brilliant!  And it is really helpful on how to correct high I's pitfalls, and also how not too overdue it.  

I am a high D high I. If he is anything like me, the way my mind works is my high D tells me: "get here."  Then my high I gets interested on so many other things along the way, 

I eventually get to where I am suppose to be, but I do take a lot of detours (and do accomplish things on these detours). But if I am stressed out I don't get anywhere. It is like my high D is gone. The high I just distracts me so much that I accomplish little, or at least far less than my high D wants. If your direct is only high I, you will need to be his high D to give him a direction and to keep him on track.
Just one final remark just for you to focus more on behavior and less on judgement of his motivations. How do you know he only works for the paycheck? Did he tell you that with those exact words? Because you cannot possible know what is in his head.

Good luck.