Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why'd He Do That?

Imagine your cruising down a two-lane state highway at 58 mph, just over the posted speed limit. As NPR switches to a new story, you notice a blue sedan gaining on you. In a minute, it has blown by you and is quickly creating space between itself and your vehicle. You feel like you're standing still.

As you look around to see if any state troopers noticed this flagrant disregard for the speed limit, you wonder what demon is in possession of that driver's soul.

Why is that driver exceeding the speed limit?

I often use this example with teams who are struggling with their dynamics and communication. After the teams list at least ten different reasons, sometimes up to 20 motivating factors, I ask them how they would know which reason on that list is the reason for that particular driver. Most of the time, meeting participants admit that they can't know the reason. Without a survey of all drivers, they can't even know what are the predominant reasons for speeding.

Likewise, it is nearly impossible to observe someone's behavior in the workplace and know what is motivating them. If a person overlooked a problem without addressing it, is he/she oblivious to the problem? Does he/she believe it is a problem? Is he/she clear what to do with the problem? Does he/she not care? We'll never know by standing back and guessing. We have to talk to the person. Here's where many organizations become dysfunctional. Executives, managers, supervisors and all employees guess at the others' motivations.

"She's just out to screw us little people." "They don't care about us." "They ignore the problems and let them pile up."

Really? Do you know that for sure? Why did that driver pass you? Perhaps they had a legitimate reason. Perhaps the motivation is the good one and not an illegal or immoral one. Perhaps problems are left for others to see if they'll fulfill their job descriptions or follow-through on a coaching moment.

Suppose an employee is doing all the right things with great energy and enthusiasm, are they (choose one): engaged? bored and trying to keep awake? intrinsically perky and wanting to do their best? aware that someone is watching? knowing that they're being measured on energy and enthusiasm? keeping up with Sue Beth who models this same behavior? thinking that anything less gets 'punished' with reduced hours, reduced bonus, reduced pay? wanting to make sure the (internal or external) customer is taken care of? thinking that the faster they work there might be a chance to go home early?

Before you perpetuate a practice that has victimized you (yes, others have been guessing about your motivations), stop. Get the courage to ask the other person(s) what were the reasons for their actions or inactivity. You'll feel better. You'll learn something. The whole place will operate better.

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