During the economic downturn, the president of a company I worked with was
about to send an e-mail to his sales force to demonstrate empathy for how
difficult it had become to meet sales targets, saying that he would understand if
they didn't make their numbers this quarter. What he didn't realize was how his
sales people would interpret that message into their behavior. If he was so
understanding, surely it would be okay if they didn't do that last appointment at
five o'clock, because what difference would it make any way?

Fortunately, we managed to change his message before it went out. Instead he

"This quarter may be tougher to meet our sales quota, so I am asking
you to work as hard as you possibly can. Please see as many customers
as you can and do everything within your power so that we can ensure
that we meet our targets. I know you can do this and we are counting on
you. The sales managers will support you in this effort."

Times are hard. Companies have shed large numbers of their workforce,
reducing their expenses in order to avoid bankruptcy. The employees who are
left have much work to do replacing what their colleagues did, and yet they are
still faced with the possibility of also losing their jobs. Many people are
depressed, suffering from feelings of hopelessness and are paralyzed at

As a leader, everything you say or do can help your people get motivated
to do their part or can sink them even lower into the hole.

What can a manager do to make sure their people get energized and ready to
tackle the present situation? Unfortunately there isn't one solution that will work
for all your employees. One size does not fit all when it comes to motivation.
Those actions that will motivate part of your workforce may not fit for many
of your people. And yet everyone could use some help right now.

Sure, you need to reorganize how work gets done with fewer people, and make
sure they focus on the important tasks. But let's look at how you can help
motivate your very different employees. I work with a psycholinguistic tool called
the Language and Behavior Profile (LAB Profile)*.which enables you to decode
the individual motivation and thinking patterns of your team. Here is a list of
the different Motivation Triggers at work:

Motivation Triggers

Proactive and Reactive: Some people need to take initiative in order to be
motivated while others can more to wait and reflect.

Toward and Away From: Some people need a goal in order to be motivated
while others jump into action to prevent or solve a problem.

Internal and External: Some people prefer to judge for themselves while others
are more influenced from outside people and factors.

Options and Procedures: Some people prefer to explore many alternatives
while others are motivated to start and complete a single step-by-step process.

Sameness, Sameness with Exception, and Difference: Some people are
motivated when their work is the same, some prefer gradual change, while others
are motivated by constant radical shifts.

Criteria and Values: these are the things a person holds dear at work; what is
important to them and triggers their motivation.

With all these different Motivation Triggers what is a manager or HR professional
to do? It is not an easy task but here is a step by step process that can help

Motivating Your Team

First, make sure that each employee has a clear set of responsibilities and
tasks to do. Secondly, invite all of your team members for a meeting and set
the framework for what you expect from then and the environment you wish to

Here are the key messages they now need to hear from you and see reinforced
by your actions:

1. As their leader you want to make sure that they know that their
contribution is needed now more than ever, that you are here to help
them reach their goals and overcome any obstacles they may encounter
along the way.

2. There are many ways to look at the present situation, and one way is to
seek out and discover how we can find new opportunities and
reduce unnecessary expenses. All ideas are welcome.

3. It is also important to make sure we complete and finish the important
projects our internal and external clients need from us on time and on
budget to ensure we prove our usefulness.

4. Everything may feel different this year, and while there are huge changes
in our environment, it is still even more important to do our best work
and to make sure our customers benefit from that.

Thirdly, figure out the basic motivation needs of your team members so you can
support them to perform at their best particularly under pressure. Here are the

In a crisis here is how people with these different patterns react and what they
need to perform better:

Proactive people who are motivated by taking initiative, and getting out and
making things happen are really frustrated at the moment because it is difficult
for them to see how to take the initiative. When these people are unable to take
initiative they become de-motivated and depressed quite quickly. To get out of
their negative space they need to proactively create a new reality for themselves.
Here are some of the questions you can ask your Proactive employees to get
them back in the game:

• What do you really want in your work?
• Why is that important to you?
• What are the steps you need to take right now to make this happen?
• What possible obstacles do you need to prevent now?
• What is the first step you can do today?

These questions are oriented towards action. A Proactive person needs to act
now and have something specific to do. These questions allow that person to get
into action immediately and start getting results.

But this will not work for someone who prefers to think things out slowly and
carefully. The Reactive employee needs to thoroughly understand what they are
going to do. Here are some questions you can ask a Reactive person to help
them get out of their mental hibernation:

• What is important to you in your work?
• Why is that important?
• What steps will need to be in place to make this happen?
• What could be the obstacles for which you will need to have a solution?
• What do you think are the solutions to the obstacles?
• What is the first step that you can start today?

These questions allow the Reactive person to think their situation through. They
need to spend some time creating a vision and a plan in their mind and working
out the steps involved.

About 40% of the population are only motivated when they have a goal.
This is the Toward pattern from the LAB Profile. During tough times many
Towards people panic because they see only the problems around them and
they have nothing to move towards. This is disastrous for them unless they find a
way to develop some goals to get them moving again. Here are some questions
you can ask to help them get re-motivated and re-energized:

• What do you want in your work?
• What will that do for you?
• What are the steps you will need to take to achieve these goals?
• What are the obstacles for which you will need to find a solution to achieve
these goals?
• What is the first step you can do today to move toward your goals?

If only 40% of the population are motivated to achieve goals, what is motivating
the others? Another 40% of the population is motivated to act to prevent or avoid
a problem from occurring or to solve one that is already happening. This
motivation pattern is called Away From because these people are motivated to
move away from the things they do not want. In an economic crisis there are
many things they could move away from. The key is to focus on what could be
the principal motivator for them. Here are some questions that they can answer
to help find their way and not get lost:

• What do I most want to prevent from happening?
• What do I want instead?
• If I do not succeed in that, what will happen?
• What are the steps I need to take to move away from what I don't want
and to achieve what I do want?
• What are the obstacles I will need to overcome?
• What can I start today so that I won’t be stuck?

The last question in each set is critical because it helps get the person moving
and back into action moving towards their goals (or away from their problem).

These are four of the Motivation Triggers from the LAB Profile. As a leader
or HR professional, you can see that it is important to ask these questions in a
way that engages each person’s own individual motivation rather than
offering the "one size fits all" solution. While this is not the miracle cure, when
you ask the right questions, you can focus your employee’s attention on what
they can do to get out of mental hibernation and into high performance
*from Words That Change Minds: Mastering the Language of Influence, 2nd
edition, by Shelle Rose Charvet, Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, Dubuque, IA

Author's Bio: 

Shelle is an expert in the below-conscious aspects of communication, and speaks about what makes people and groups motivated or de-motivated. She helps leaders create a climate where employees and clients become engaged. She is a Certified Speaking Professional and a Certified Trainer of Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP). Shelle was the founding president of the Canadian Association of NLP and is the 2009 President of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers.