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Training the Unmotivated. By Dawn Smith


How can L&D revitalise an unmotivated employee or team? And how do you engage an unmotivated delegate in the training room? Dawn Smith asked trainers for their hints and views.

One of the challenges of using training to perk up unmotivated employees is that their reasons for feeling lacklustre may include the simplest things, such as not eating the right kind of breakfast and never walking further than the photocopier. Rich Lucas at Supremacy Training Solutions points out that feeling motivated at work, or the opposite, is influenced strongly by how you treat your body both at work and at home.

Enrolling staff on a boot camp is unlikely to be practical, but Rich’s comments suggest that companies who engage the bodies of their employees in any motivational strategy may do better than those who only focus on what’s up-top. Providing a fitness trainer, paying for lunchtime gym sessions, and providing personalised healthy eating plans are some of the tactics that L&D might employ to get the physical juices of the organisation flowing, thereby boosting motivation.

At the other end of the scale, being demotivated may be due to rather more difficult problems, such as not getting on with your boss or being in a job that doesn’t suit your personal interests and passions. “Motivation is a personal attribute; Sadly it doesn’t come in bottles,” says Stephen Walker, Director or Motivation Matters. His company’s ‘All About You’ programme aims to help individuals understand who they are and find the best matched occupation. “If you do not enjoy driving do not become a trucker!” he says.

Motivating people out of the door
It’s easy to see how the kind of training that aims to develop individuals in a broad sense, and explore their motivation, can backfire. Helping employees to learn, grow and increase their promotion prospects may be motivational, says Annie Lawler, owner and MD of Breathing Space for Business, but “the downside for some companies… is that they invest in this kind of development and find people leave afterwards along with their newfound skills”.

She adds, however, that there are measures that can be taken to insure against this, and she stresses that the benefits to the organisation outweigh the risks. “Demotivated staff cannot contribute fully to the performance of the team and often drag others down with them, so action to reverse the trend is strongly recommended,” she says.

Positive action
Annie Lawler believes: “The very act that management is paying attention to an unmotivated member of staff and is taking positive steps to understand, support and help them, would be likely to motivate most members of staff.” She adds that specific training to help staff cope better in areas where they are not confident can also improve motivation.

Another point made by Annie is that a positive attitude is a key component of wellbeing and motivation. “If it is possible to view situations differently, it often helps improve motivation,” she says. “For example, if the job you do isn't necessarily everything you dream about, but you can view it from the point that it earns you money to do things you really enjoy, it can really improve motivation.” The stress management training conducted by Annie’s company “teaches the importance to employees and management alike of developing and maintaining a positive attitude,” she says.

What do we want? Motivation
Tony Boon, Manager - Employee Development Team at AMI Insurance Limited, says that motivation can be broken down into "have to" and "want to". As described previously on TrainingZone, Tony suggests asking delegates to list everything they believe they ‘have to’ do, and then list everything they “want to” do in another column. “When you debrief, you can move everything to the "want to" column,” he says.

“Basically, everything we do is a choice, with the exception of dying, and taking up some space in the world… but there are consequences of every choice. For example, you choose not to do a job on time, you take the consequences of the boss being grumpy with you, getting a written warning, etc. You choose not to come to work, you take the consequences of getting fired, etc. This single idea can be used by trainers in a number of ways. Any training session can use this concept to motivate people.”

As with training to develop individuals, this approach can backfire, he adds. “Just be aware that they might decide to leave the job, and accept the fact that they will not have any income for a while!”

Nice to see ya - to see ya nice
When it comes to the nitty gritty of motivating delegates in the training room, Stephen Walker reminds us that “all training is a performance”. He stresses the importance of connecting with the audience, having interactive sessions where people are doing and not just listening, and making sure the audience feels you care about them and see things from their point of view. “I can’t think of performing without thinking about Bruce Forsyth,” says Stephen. “Watch how he spends time warming up the audience, creating the empathy and then his constant checking of the audience to see if he has them or not.”

Rich Lucas says that finding out what people want from training is the key to motivating them. “If for example, I was training a call centre team I could not motivate them by merely telling them how to close a sale, I would need to show them what is in it for them e.g. use this close and you could earn more money. Motivation is simple in that you are either going for something good or avoiding something bad.  Once you've identified this core reason why people are coming to your training, you can show your delegates how they can gain something good or avoid something bad.”

Tony Boon has a similar view. “The main point for me is probably to find the reason for delegates to want to learn what you have to tell them,” he says. When dealing with unmotivated delegates, he advises having “a session at the start to say 'why are you here, what do you want to get out of the day' etc.” He added: “I know this is quite clichéd and standard, but often this will go a long way to sorting out what the problem is.”

Annie Lawler comments that when she finds people who are less interested or engaged, “I try to make eye contact with them and try to involve them in volunteering, answering questions or inviting their opinions.  In this respect, they tend to feel more engaged and become more enthusiastic.”

But what happens back in the office?
“The most brilliant L&D will not make a permanent change in motivation if the poor employee faces a depressing, uninspired working environment day after day,” cautions Stephen Walker. “In fact showing people how good their working day could be, can make them even more dissatisfied when they feel the same old management techniques when they get back to work. Beware motivational speaking!”

Peter Hunter, author of performance improvement process ‘Breaking the Mould’, has also the witnessed the “what now?” syndrome that can follow motivational training. “Someone goes back to work and the person who has led them to be demotivated (usually their boss) will still be doing all the things that made them think motivational training was needed in the first place.”

Peter has shared his thoughts on this subject previously on TrainingZone, and goes as far as saying that motivational training is a waste of time. “You don’t need to motivate people. You just need to find out what you are doing to demotivate them and stop doing it,” he says. “People start out motivated in life. When we’re born we don’t say ‘I can’t be bothered with this, I’m going back inside.’ When we go to work we want to achieve. We want to be proud of what we’ve done. It’s the things that management do to people that demotivate them.”

If training is to have any real effect on employee motivation, it needs to be directed at the people who create the conditions that demotivate, says Peter. “When we pay for people to attend motivational training, we are saying ‘it’s your fault you’re not motivated, now go away and do this course and come back more motivated’. Maybe we should pay to teach managers how not to demotivate staff instead.”

That’s the sort of approach taken at Motivation Matters, which runs a programme called “People amaze when motivation matters”, aimed at developing the management ability to create conditions that motivate people. “People who work for uninspiring managers will not be as motivated as those that do,” says Stephen Walker. “The L&D needs to be delivered to the people responsible for the working environment, the managers in other words. This needs to start from the top too for obvious reasons.”

And what about the trainer…
“Finally don’t forget the poor trainer faced with such a depressing working environment!” adds Stephen Walker. “It doesn’t help knowing it isn’t your fault. The trainer’s manager needs to ensure the trainer’s motivation.”

Breaking the Mould:
Breathing Space for Business:
Motivation Matters:
Supremacy Training Solutions:


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