It’s the Holidays! Don’t Make Employees Be Naughty Instead of Nice

When I was a kid, we had a name for those other kids who were always causing trouble — instigators.

Confusion, noise, and conflict swirled around these rabble-rousers who, when they weren’t actively making bad stuff happen, were darn sure taking advantage of its presence.

Unfortunately, some of these provocateurs grew up and were eventually promoted into management.

Crap.

Leave the crazy making to the crazies

I’m fond of the concept of workplace disruption, overused and hokey though it may be, and I welcome the commotion that’s part and parcel of significant and healthy change.

But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the person who likes to start shit for the heck of it. Whether afflicted with a need for continuous excitement, bad character, a personality disorder, or all three, these folks enjoy getting under other people’s skins.

Don’t be like them. They’re crazy, and you’re not. Therefore, it’s beneath you to engage in crazy-making behavior.

Put another way, when it comes to managing your team, don’t be the match that lights the inferno.

Motivation vs. provocation

Incredibly, and despite what studies have repeatedly proven, some managers still harbor a fundamental belief that people won’t work hard unless someone is watching and pushing. That’s simply untrue.

Yes, even the most conscientious among us can fall into bad habits without structure and accountability, but that’s not the same as saying people must be bullied into doing their jobs. They don’t. Plenty of people have done plenty of good with no one watching and no reward in sight.

What’s more, deliberately acting so as to get a rise out of someone is dangerous, irresponsible, and immature. (By the way, could someone please tell me why stress interviews haven’t yet gone the way of the voice mail message? If you’re angling for a job in firefighting, law enforcement, or air traffic control, I get it. Otherwise, no.)

When a manager motivates the right way, the employee is incentivized to do good without himself coming to harm. Proper motivation causes the employee to mindfully, willfully, and (hopefully) enthusiastically engage in virtuous activity for his benefit and the benefit of his company.

Proper motivation moves employees toward something desirable. Provocation, on the other hand, pushes employees away from something undesirable. Provocation is like negative reinforcement on steroids.

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If you’re a deliberately provocative manager, the kind who says hurtful and demeaning things to get a reaction, or who’s unduly critical because you enjoy tearing people down, this article is not for you. Something’s broken in you, and my words don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting your attention.

However, if you’re a manager who sometimes, and perhaps unwittingly, brings your employees to wrath (or tears), when that really wasn’t your intent, be encouraged because you can learn to do better. As someone personally recovering from a near-lifelong case of foot-in-mouth-disease, I know this for a fact.

How to be a better motivator

Motivation is harder than provocation, because the motivator has to consider the feelings of the employee, and the provocateur does not. The provocateur does what she pleases and leaves the mess for others to clean up.

Lazy jerk.

Your employees don’t need any parts of that! Here’s what they do need from you:

  • Your respect — I once counseled a manager how counterproductive (and unseemly) it was for him to call an employee out of an off-site training without explanation, and then, after she rushed back to the office, make her wait half an hour for him while he leisurely finished his lunch. His response? “She’s shown no respect for her work, so I don’t owe her any of mine.” Huh? Come on dude! Be the better person. Yes, you do owe your employees some level of respect. I’m not saying it’s always easy, but it is always necessary.
  • Your ears — What does your employee want? How can you help him or her get it? What workplace conditions are stopping your employee from doing her best? Ask the questions and listen to the answers.
  • Your humility — Be coachable yourself. A one-sided relationship is no kind of relationship.
  • Your genuineness — Your employees need your genuine interest in their well being — the fake stuff is useless.
  • Your integrity — Lead by example, don’t take credit for other people’s work, and honor your word.
  • Your support — Provide your employees with tools, tips, knowledge, and the benefit of your experiences. When appropriate, go to bat for them.

Be the leader you want to follow

I’ll say it again: People need leaders. Be the kind of leader you’d want to follow.

Motivate, don’t provoke. One is naughty. The other is very nice.

Ho ho ho!

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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