Home > Work > How not to motivate staff – nag

How not to motivate staff – nag

This falls into the category of don’t do stupid things on purpose.

We recently all received a request to complete a routine piece of admin work. This happens quite often, and usually we have to do it at short notice. Unusually on this occasion we were given a full month to comply, my initial reaction was “great, for once they’ve recognised that we are all busy and have given us a sensible length of time to do it”.

At this point I was working flat out on two separate pieces of work with deadlines within the next two weeks, on top of all the usual tasks to keep my team working. Immediately after that I was on leave, so I also had to resolve various issues so my team were clear about their work while I was away. So I took the view that I would deal with it on my return, as I would still have over a week remaining.

I was a bit surprised when a week later we all received quite a sharply worded reminder from my unit head complaining that so far the response had been “very poor”. A few days later we received a separate reminder from the COO explaining the rationale, and also a gentler reminder from my immediate manager.

On my return from leave, I found my inbox filled with increasingly strident reminders from my unit head, complaining that too few people had responded, even by only half way through the month at which point “only” 31% had responded. I would say that was actually quite a good response rate by then. The next reminder contained a list of all those who had not yet complied. Overall I counted no fewer than 9 reminders to complete this relatively trivial task.

Did this bombardment help?

Of course not.

As my wife knows, nagging only serves to get my back up and my immediate reaction was to delay responding until 17:29 on the last day of the month. In fairness to my immediate boss I didn’t quite delay that long, but I would undoubtedly have responded sooner otherwise.

It also led to quite a lot of unproductive chat in the office, diverting attention from the real work, and reinforcing yet again the general feeling that some management just don’t have a clue.

Personally, I objected to being treated like a nine-year old, particularly having my name circulated to all members of the unit as if I was a miscreant when in fact ultimately I complied with the request in good time. There is a danger that if you treat people like children not adults, then that is how they will behave.

Fixing the wrong problem

In fairness, response rates to requests like this are historically poor. This is because in the past nobody has ever been rewarded for complying, or penalised for failing to. As one of my team said, “what are they going to do if I don’t do it – sack me?” The official line is that meeting objectives concerning internal admin contributes to your performance rating, which in turn contributes to your next pay rise. Any old hand knows this is a myth so there is no incentive to bother.

Because the system doesn’t work, some managers feel that they have few options available to them other than volume.

What I would have done?

As there was clearly a need to show good progress early, rather than shout and nag people into submission, I would have adopted the following approach:

  • Request compliance by an earlier date, say the 16th, explaining why an early response was preferred (to give time to process the outputs, manage workload etc). Ask people on holiday or with some other genuine reason why they were unable to meet the deadline to agree a date with their Line Manager.

  • To encourage early participation, enter everyone responding on time into a prize draw for some shopping vouchers.

  • Send out a reminder 4 working days before the deadline.

  • Deal with individuals failing to respond on time personally

I know you don’t need to hassle people because I send out a single reminder to complete timesheets by the end of the month; stating clearly when it is to be done, and my team do it on time.

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