Welcome to Presentation-Pointers!      Keyword Search:    

Check out our new projector section click here. You will find reviews on the latest LCD projectors and DLP projectors for business presentations.

The Leadership Challenge: Motivation And The "New Breed" Of Employee
By Phil Van Hooser   Printer Friendly Version


As a professional speaker and trainer, I have the opportunity to work with different kinds of organizations and the managers that lead them. In an attempt to quickly identify their immediate needs, I will often begin my sessions by asking this question: If you could choose one thing you could be guaranteed to get from this program, what would it be?

The responses I continue to receive have become predictable. Increasingly, today's managers and supervisors share with me that they desperately want, and need, to know how to "motivate" their subordinates. Many of these very qualified professionals admit a personal frustration with not being able to relate to the new type of employee that is invading our workplaces in ever-increasing numbers. The attitude and approach these employees display is simply not what we are used to, or frankly, comfortable with. How can conscientious leaders ever hope to motivate someone they don't understand?

The answer is, unfortunately, they can't. They can't, you can't, I can't, and no one can. We must always remember we can not motivate anyone to do anything he or she doesn't want to do. So, the leader's biggest challenge hinges on their ability to clearly discern what it is that today's employee wants to do and what it is that drives them to do it. With this clearer understanding, we are able to approach the motivational challenges that await us, energized and revitalized.


Let's begin the process of exploring the characteristics of the "new breed" by admitting the obvious. This present day generation of employee is different than generations of yesteryear. But, there is no reason to be surprised by that declaration. Almost everything we experienced in life today is different than it was 10, 15, 20 or more years ago. Why should we expect a person to remain unchanged while all that is around us transforms? It is not my intention to attempt to pass judgement as to whether or not life and work are better than ever before. Rather, I choose to spend my time developing a clearer understanding of what the observable differences are. I would offer the following three characteristics as significant changes impacting the "new breed."


Please note that I did not say that they were better educated. National reports on declining SAT scores, functional literacy competencies and other academic measurements might be cause for argument regarding the educational prowess of American workers today. But, no one can argue with the overwhelming volumes of information available to all of us, constantly.

Hundreds of television channels available at the touch of a finger. On the spot, at the moment news reporting from every point on earth. Technological capabilities that allow us to be "on-line" and in touch no matter where we physically may be. Truly, we are living in the Information Age.

But, what about work?

Before we go farther, let me suggest one consideration of motivation that needs to be fully understood: PEOPLE ARE NOT MOTIVATED BY WHAT THEY HAVE; THEY ARE MOTIVATED BY WHAT THEY DON'T HAVE, BUT HAVE DETERMINED THAT THEY WANT OR NEED. Therefore, the continuous sharing of information with all employees in the workplace is not an option, it's a functional requirement. We have determined that we want and need professional information. Therefore, the days of answering a subordinate's "why" question with a resounding, "Because I said so!!," and then expecting that answer will suffice, have long departed us.

We really can't expect the sharing of information to be seen as being motivational. It's expected. But, the withholding of information from this generation will certainly be seen as de-motivational. The old idea that information will be shared on "a need to know basis," has been replaced with the present day expectation that if the information exists and it concerns me, I need to know!


This new found mobility centers around the shrinking world in which we live, and our desire -- or need -- to discover it.

One of the most common comments I hear offered by senior managers and supervisors today is that there is no loyalty in today's employee. You simply can't count on them staying with a job or an organization for any extended period of time.

I would agree with the analysis completely. However, I would also caution that we must look at the big picture. During the past 10 years or so, it hasn't singularly been a case of employees quitting employers. Layoffs, right sizing, facility closures or geographic relocations have all become common economic realities in the 1990's. By necessity, the "new breed" has adopted a survivalist mentality.

Couple this new found attitude with the information available concerning economic opportunities that exist in other parts of the country -- or the world -- and the mobility of this generation becomes a point of serious contention. THE THIRD CHARACTERISTIC OF THE "NEW BREED" THAT MOST MANAGERS CONTEND WITH DAILY IS THAT TODAY'S EMPLOYEE IS THE BEST-PROTECTED IN HISTORY. The protection to which I am referring is legal protection.

The laws of our land have been sculpted to adequately protect the employee from organizational abuses -- and the employee knows it! Once again, information in action. The predominance of labor-related complaints and lawsuits, of all types, being initiated by employees has been on the rise for several years now. It is a fact, that in many situations employees today know more about their own "rights," than do those of us who have been designated to lead them. The protective, legal process is a powerful ally for this "new breed."

So what does this all mean to the average leader? After sharing this basic information with groups of leaders, I have had some exhibit what I would describe as a sense of hopelessness. I don't believe that to be the proper approach at all. As a matter of fact, I believe the opposite should be true. Now that we are beginning to realize what we are dealing with in the form of the "new breed" of employee, we should be better prepared to deal with motivational challenges associated with them.


After much study, observation and experimentation, I am ready to offer a suggested approach for dealing with this elusive issue of human motivation. Remember that I still hold no one can "motivate" any other person to do what he or she doesn't want to do. We can certainly intimidate, force or coerce them, to respond as we wish, based on the position we hold. But that's not motivation. Instead, I would challenge you to understand the basic "nature of human nature," or why most people do what they do. Five points might be helpful in understanding the motivational process in which we are all involved constantly.

THE CORNERSTONE OF HUMAN MOTIVATION: ALL HUMAN BEHAVIOR IS DIRECTED TOWARD THE SATISFACTION OF NEEDS, BE THOSE NEEDS REAL OR IMAGINED. As plain and simple as this statement is, if you believe and understand it, it will explain a lot.

For example, it explains the uselessness of continually asking ourselves that most frustrating question: Why did Sally do or say that? If you have faith in the cornerstone, you already know the answer: Because Sally had a need she was attempting to satisfy. The next obvious question becomes "what need would drive Sally to do or say that?" As simple a concept as this is, I believe it is fundamental for committed leaders. In avoiding the "why" question and replacing it with the "what" question, we remove ourselves from the reactive realm -- responding to something that has already happened, and instead propel ourselves to the proactive realm -- preparing for this behavioral certainty before it happens again. Behavior becomes predictable. It always is directed toward an individual's attempt to satisfy some need.

THE SECOND BUILDING BLOCK IN UNDERSTANDING THE NATURE OF HUMAN NATURE IS JUST AS CERTAIN. PEOPLE WILL TAKE THE EASIEST ROUTE AVAILABLE TO SATISFY THEIR NEEDS. Notice I didn't say they would take the shortest route, I said they would take the easiest route, based on their own perception of what easy is. Have you ever had an employee spend thirty minutes talking and trying to keep from doing what amounts to a ten-minute task? (By the way, children are masters of this technique.) It can be infuriating. But, again, ask yourself: What need is this person attempting to satisfy? Often it is the need to avoid added responsibility. Therefore, they perceive that the longer they stall or raise questions or objections to the activity, the greater the likelihood that you will eventually relent and they will not have to do the task at all.

However, take heart. If it becomes evident that you have no intention of relenting and that eventually they will have to complete the task, they will accept the obvious, albeit grudgingly, and proceed. Why? Because they have consciously determined that it is easier to do so than to continue to resist.

THE THIRD BUILDING BLOCK REPRESENTS THE MOST OBVIOUS MANIFESTATIONS OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR. WHEN PERSONAL NEEDS ARE NOT SATISFIED, PEOPLE WILL DO ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING: WITHDRAW, RATIONALIZE OR BECOME AGGRESSIVE. Withdrawal is a serious problem for leaders and organizations alike. But, be advised that withdrawal comes in two different forms. First there is the most obvious form of withdrawal -- physical withdrawal. Physical withdrawal manifests itself when an employee abandons his or her position. They withdraw to some other personal or professional pursuit. In other words, they quit and leave.

The second and more common form of withdrawal is more damaging. Emotional withdrawal --they quit and stay. They remain on the payroll, but have checked out emotionally. They simply go through the motions, without any sign of lasting commitment or emotional involvement. For most conscientious leaders, this type of employee presents the greatest daily challenge. But it certainly is not the only behavioral problem that will be noticed.

Rationalization is another mechanism that humans use to defend against unsatisfied needs. My favorite working definition of rationalization is this: To rationalize is to tell rational lies. Think about it. Another word for rational is logical. Another word for lie is untruth. So, to rationalize is to tell logical untruths -- to ourselves!

As strange as it may seem, an alarming number of people are constantly involved in the rationalization process. Why? We all need understanding and closure. When we experience trouble in understanding and satisfying the needs that exist within us, it often becomes easier to create our own reasons, than to search for the real reasons.

The third behavioral mechanism that people will use in an attempt to satisfy unsatisfied needs is aggressiveness. On occasion, we witness behavior that is not only unpredictable, but often totally out of character for the individual displaying it. It is at these times that I encourage you to pay special attention.

Have you observed a subordinate behaving in a manner that you determine is "uncharacteristically aggressive" for that person, with no chemical or medical reason to explain it? I would suggest the person in question is desperately attempting to satisfy an unsatisfied need and this is the only approach that appears available to them. I suggest you spend some dedicated, focused time with that individual as soon as possible in an attempt to determine what specific need could drive such behavior and to determine what positive, proactive steps should be immediately undertaken. The worst thing you can do at a time like this is ignore the obvious.


Two people may have exactly the same need, yet respond totally different when attempting to satisfy it. For example, if you have a need for more money, there are several different behaviors available to you. You may ask for a raise, beg for a raise or demand a raise. You might go back to school to enhance your market value, or you might take a second job. Come to think about it, you might even beg, borrow or steal to satisfy your need for more money.

You may be thinking that you would not do all of the things listed above just to get more money. However, ask yourself this question: Would someone do all of these things to get more money? I think your answer will have to be "yes." Just keep in mind that the same shared need may result in different behaviors based on the circumstance and the individual.

On the other hand, the same behavior may result from many different needs. I have seen my wife cry when she is happy and I have seen her cry when she is sad. I've seen her cry when she has been physically hurt and I've seen her cry when she has been emotionally hurt. Does that mean my wife is a crybaby? No. It means I cannot know for certain what an emotion really means to another human being. I must make a concerted effort to determine what need is driving that particular behavior. The need for on going, one-on-one communication continually exists.


Like any other process or theory, mine is not worth the paper it is written on if there is not an opportunity for practical application. This "new breed" that I have referred to so often has all of these principles mentioned firmly entrenched. But, so do the folks that have been around for a long time.

Our job as leaders is not to isolate individuals based on some stereotypical headings. Our job is to include and lead all our followers toward some point of personal and organizational need satisfaction and accomplishment. Understanding why people do what they do and applying the principles that have been outlined should prove to be a major step in your leadership journey.

Thank you for requesting this article written by Phillip Van Hooser, CSP.

Printer Friendly Version

Click here for more articles by Phil Van Hooser.