How to Help the Unmotivated Person

Photo by Liane Metzler.

Photo by Liane Metzler.

How do you help an unmotivated person follow through on their commitments? How do you help them do the job they–and you–have agreed they will do?

This is a particularly important question when working with volunteers, which is what most ministry work is. There’s no employment stick to hold over them (“you’re fired”) or financial carrot (“if you perform well you’ll get a raise”). But whether a volunteer or employed position, you will have different visions for what constitutes quality work.

Regardless of the environment, I see helpful wisdom in Daniel Pink’s book on motivation, Drive, where he talks about three needs every person has in their work: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

But what if that isn’t working? What if you’ve pushed every button you know?

I’ve been there. An underperforming team member does more than drop the ball in their particular area; they are seen as dragging down the rest of the team. Whether paid or not, ministry or not, every field has nice, well-meaning people who don’t pull their weight, or perhaps overcommit and don’t do anything very well.

How do you help them?

The most important thing to remember is that the onus is on you as a leader. Don’t jump to blaming the other person. Here are five things I ask myself when evaluating the unmotivated person.

1) Is this a “want to” problem, or a “how to” problem? 

Quite frequently, someone wants to help and serve. What appears to be unmotivated, even lazy, conduct comes from not knowing how to do what’s asked. There may be some pride in the mix, keeping them from asking for help. But once shown the ropes, they perform the role as needed.

Don’t assume it’s a “want to” problem right off the bat. You may have a gifted and skilled person who simply needs some more direction. If it is a “want to” problem, there are probably other issues going on that need to be addressed.

2) Do they have the feedback they need? 

One casualty of our chronic over-busyness? Quality feedback. We don’t stop long enough to give honest, detailed feedback, both by telling them what they’re doing well, and what they need to improve.

While you may be stewing over someone’s laziness, they may be blissfully unaware of the reasons for your dissatisfaction. Turn the light on, and help them see what you’re seeing. Don’t assume you’re right either! Develop a system and process for 1) capturing what matters, and 2) sharing that feedback on a regular basis.

3) Is this the right fit? 

I think the concept of “fit” is overused; sometimes as a vague reason for dismissal when no one really feels like getting into the details. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t real value to the concept of fit. Take a closer look at the day-to-day roles this person has, and you may find certain tasks or positions that no longer make sense. People change–so should their roles.

4) Does this person have the resources they need? 

Yes, we all have limits on what we can offer. But sometimes we can make real and helpful changes to give people more of what they need: a more flexible schedule. More administrative help. More people on their team. Listen to your team member–they’re probably telling you what they need.

5) Do they need more vision? 

Since “vision leaks,” and leaders need to be sharing the vision till they’re sure everyone is sick of hearing it (and only then is it really getting through), odds are you need to refresh the vision. Maybe even recruit your volunteer to serve, all over again!

You’ll notice that in all five of these questions, the onus is on the leader to help their volunteer/employee. This is servant leadership. What would you add to this list?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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