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  • Writer's pictureSean Lewis

Less focus on motivators. More focus on de-motivators.

Culture (behavior) of engagement is not about how we come up with ways to motivate our workforce, but rather how we avoid the things that de-motivate them. Here are some examples of how leaders can promote a profitable business while maintaining a highly engaged workforce.

Employee Engagment and Retention

Building a watch is a delicate dance between science and art. Too much science and we're left with a chronometer that can time the orbit of an electron, but would crush the wrist of its wearer. Too much art and we have a timepiece that will dazzle the senses, but leave us stranded time and again after the bus has left the station. The same is true of business, where too much focus on the numbers will crush the spirit of those who make it happen, and too much color leaves everyone confused, frustrated, or lacking direction.

The difference for me between the great successes and complete failures has been the ability to strike a balance between the science and the art; let’s call these the Big 3. As the foundation for a great culture is not how we come up with ways to motivate our workforce, but rather how we avoid the things that de-motivate, here are two examples of my Big 3’s.


The science: we need to make profit.

The art: maximizing profit without detriment to workforce or sentiment.

The balance: after costs and reserve for reinvestment, etc. are covered, profits are distributed in perceptually fair proportions to the benefit of workforce and community.


The science: develop sensible systems.

The art: policies, procedures and workflows that allow for: 1) a modicum of downtime so employees have some breathing room; 2) the authority commensurate to responsibilities where employees can spend money or deviate from procedure to solve a challenge for themselves or a customer (i.e. purchase tools that make them feel more efficient and/or happier with their job, increase customer satisfaction, or ensure quality of delivery).

The balance: Having realistic expectations of our workforce regarding capacity, as well as communications that are complete enough to provide an end goal for direction along with boundaries to preserve trust.


If we’ve hired right, we should be getting individuals who are already motivated and full of desire to do great things together for our company. If after a year, or perhaps even as soon as ninety days, we are already seeing declines in performance or attitude, we have an imbalance in our culture that is de-motivating our people.

With Big 3: Profit, there are predominantly three imbalances: We’re squeezing the culture by taking too much out of the business, we’re not transparent enough to communicate how profit is allocated, or we’re so employee/mission focused that we’re giving away the store. This last one causes de-motivation through a never-ending cycle of increased expectations to maintain a margin, and where the extra employee efforts never resolve in success.

With the Big 3: Systems, oversimplification aside, the most prevalent imbalances I’ve observed (and been guilty of) occur in leadership’s struggles with giving up control, and the consistent achievement of fairness. The former is a matter of trust, and the latter is often a result of the inherent biases we each carry. In the end, we get frustrated employees because they cannot do the job that they want to do, and/or they feel taken advantage of because there is either the reality or a perception of not being treated as well as, or have a greater workload, than another team or employee. Noteworthy here is that trust-based systems with lack of firm boundaries shifts the control of the business from the ownership to the workforce.

If we’re consistently challenged with keeping the great people we hired, or with identifying innovative ways to keep our workforce inspired and motivated, here’s a Big 3.

The science: a value system that promotes employee satisfaction.

The art: being honest with ourselves in identifying where our values, need for control, and actions clash with our mission and our desired culture (this applies to looking at both ourselves as leaders, as well as at the individuals we have employed to be leaders).

The balance: a leadership style that is fair, transparent, accessible, introspective, and trusting. Then, being firm enough to make the difficult choices that achieve the requisite profits with sensible structures.

Ask ourselves if the science is sound, if the art is obscure, and if we really do live the balance.

Photo Credit: Website: Unsplash. User: Djim Loic


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