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By Richard F. Gerson, Ph.D., CMC

Two of the biggest problems every employer faces today are how to continuously motivate employees and how to achieve ongoing improvements in performance. Companies struggle with both situations, throwing incentive programs and increased benefits packages at the problems. Yet, they dont always get the results they want. Thats because the problems are inside the employees, and external controls such as incentives will not get the job done.

A new model of motivation and performance, called the Engagement Model of Motivation and Performance Improvement, identifies 10 areas of motivation that may be the cause of performance problems. These areas are: Competence (skills and abilities), Confidence (belief in oneself), Consequence (reinforcers for performance), and Commitment (dedication to successfully completing a task). This first set is known as the big four of motivation and performance improvement. They are followed by the supporting six: Communication (how clearly are performance expectations communicated), Challenge (how challenging is the task), Conflict (how much stress or conflict exists for the performer), Culture (how well does the organization promote and reward successful performances), Control (how much do performers believe they control the outcomes), and Concentration (how much attention do performers pay to the task and for how long).

When a persons performance deteriorates, or has never been up to par, you can be sure that it is due to one of the above motivational categories. It is up to managers and companies to identify the cause of the motivational problem and then develop potential resolutions for the problems.

For example, if competence is the issue, then more skill training may be necessary or a job change may be in order. If the performer lacks confidence, then we must develop a series of performance activities that are similar to the required performance where this person can be successful. When success is achieved, we must reinforce the positive behaviors and outcomes so that the person will continue to perform well.

When performance standards or expectations are not clearly communicated, then the performer has no idea of what constitutes a successful outcome. Or, if the person is under so much stress that he or she is unable to perform, we must find ways to minimize that stress and maximize a positive performance environment.


The most effective solution to any problem is to ask the employee first. Too often, managers identify a problem and they are the ones who prescribe the answers. They tell the employee what to do, how to do it, and when it must be done. Then, the managers wonder why it either never gets done or it does not reach the specified performance level. The reason is simple. The manager owns the solution, not the employee.

So always ask employees what their problem is first, and ask them what they propose for a solution. It may be that they do require more training, or that they want to change how they are reinforced for their performances, or that they are getting reinforcements that they dont really want, or that they need more guidance. Whatever the problem, you can be sure the employee has been thinking about it and the possible solutions for a long time. So, as a manager, ASK the employee how they would resolve the issue.

When you do this, you move the employee to a state of engagement. True success and high levels of performance occur when employees are fully engaged in their jobs. That is where managers and employees must get to in order to be successful.

Total engagement means the employees own the problem and the solution, feel in total control of their performance behaviors, their outcomes and reinforcers, know the consequences for performance or non-performance, and have the confidence and skill set to do the job well. Employees who are engaged are completely committed to achieving successful outcomes, both for themselves and their companies. Employees who are engaged will do whatever it takes to get the job done so that everyone wins. Employees who are fully engaged will continuously challenge themselves and raise the performance bar.

And isnt that what we want from all our employees?

So, to identify and solve any motivation and performance problems, ask your employees first what they perceive the issues and solutions to be. Then, go down the list of the 10 areas related to motivation and help them identify other causes, And finally, work with them to implement the appropriate performance improvement intervention. This approach will resolve 80-90% of your employee motivation and performance improvement problems, regardless of your industry.

Bio: Richard Gerson, Ph.D., CMC, is President of Gerson Goodson Performance Systems, Inc. a consulting company that helps clients improve their individual and organizational performance and productivity. They do this by focusing on psychological, motivational and interpersonal aspects of performance improvement. Dr. Gerson is a frequent contributor to various publications in many different industries, as well as highly regarded speaker at professional and trade association conferences. His company provides consulting and training services to businesses in the areas of sales, customer service, marketing, leadership development and management training. He can be reached at getrich@richgerson.com, www.richgerson.com, headcoach@headcoaching.com or 888-2DR-RICH.