Managing Better Work Performance

By Bill Cottringer

“Compelling trust is the highest form of human motivation” ~Stephen Covey.

We have always known that excellent work performance has to be driven by strong motivation. But in the beginning, motivational experts were only scratching the surface by experimenting with external motivators with failing employees at the workplace. The tipping point came when we began to realize that external motivation wasn't nearly as strong and persistent as the right internal motivation can be for success. But then, the question became, “How can managers best help increase intrinsic motivation to get the best job performance?”

The above quote by Stephen Covey, followed up by his son Stephen M.R., in The Speed of Trust, is undoubtedly the best answer to this question to date. For proof of the power and profoundness of the opening quote, look at the most important thing at the helm of a successful marriage. It isn't external motivators like mental and social compatibility, brand of spiritual faith, sense of humor or interpersonal skills, but rather it deals with the basic promise in the wedding vows. What best motivates the partners in developing and maintaining a successful marriage is something that is unconditionally given at the beginning—trust in the commitment that each person makes to assure things work for better or worse. Whenever there is any doubt about this basic unconditional commitment, the relationship begins to get in trouble.

Unfortunately such an unconditional commitment of trust, isn't a given that both employers and employees can start out with equally in a work relationship. It has to be first offered freely by the employer with a job offer, starting things off; and then it must be followed up with management behaviors that build and deserve the commitment level of employees, who in turn earn this trust and pay it back with their work performance. But hold on a minute, there are some major obstacles in the development of the necessary commitment and trust that must be somehow overcome. Consider these four important realities in today’s workplaces:

• The speed of change that drive business today doesn't really do much for building a sense of mutual loyalty or longevity between employees and employers. Everything is fast, relative, tentative, virtual and new. and the oasis of comfort and trust is invisible and elusive.

• There has been a major transformation in core values that affect motivation and performance. These value changes affect both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in not so small ways and employers are just now learning what changes they must adapt to vs. the ones to defend against.

• We are overloaded with too much information in this ever-expanding information Age, which misleads us to often miss the forest from the trees. We haven’t even learned the best questions to ask to get the best answers with regarding work performance and motivation.

• Technology is our main business backbone today and we still have no clue about how it works or where it is taking us. The truth be known, we are just beginning as technology pioneers.

While it may be of utter importance for employers to rise to the challenge of removing these trust-building obstacles, one other point of focus might be even more important and a very fertile ground to explore. When all other things are stripped away from work success, there is something very basic that comes to light. This is an undeniable sense of making sufficient progress in whatever we are doing at work. This sense is registered by our internal thermometers. We know when we have enough of it and when we don’t. And when we don’t, all bets are off about work performance. Lacking this needed sense of progress is totally demoralizing.

The only way employers can know if this is happening is by the results of the work performance. When it is not happening, then it is up to both the employer and employee to assertively speak up and identify the roadblocks in the way. These are more often related to the “how” of doing the job belonging to employees, whereas the “what” is always owned by the employers. Whenever the employee’s choice of “how” to do the employer’s “what” of the job gets taken over by the employer, underlying trust is eroded and that decreases the necessary commitment and motivation necessary to get to this important sense of making progress that we all need, employers and employees alike.

So, the solution to this conundrum of motivation and work performance, which we are just not beginning to understand, is for employer’s and employee’s to step up with better answers and accountability to their respective division of “what” and “how” aspects of better work performance that get the necessary quick results. Here is what has to happen:

• Employers have to: (a) clearly communicate the “what” of work and build enough credibility that they know best about what needs to be done to get the company to where they intend to lead it, and (b) afford more trust with employees by giving them authority and responsibility of “how” the employer’s “what” gets done. This is a very fundamentally fair division of labor that creates a more productive playing field for all.

• Employees have to: (a) become more open to learning, growing and improving how they come to know and do their jobs, in carrying out the employer’s expertise of “what” needs to get done to close this growing problem ability gap with managers, and (b) take reasonable risks in changing approaches as to “how” things can be done to get quicker and better results.

When employers and employees make the internal commitment within themselves to do these things to the best of their ability and keep pushing the ceiling as to what their best is, then both relax the trust issues and feel the necessary sense of progress to keep things moving in the right direction. That kind of success is guaranteed.

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” ~Ernest Hemingway.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice-President for Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security, Inc. in Bellevue, WA, along with his hobbies in being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the peaceful but invigorating mountains and rivers of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, “You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too” (Executive Excellence), “The Bow-Wow Secrets” (Wisdom Tree), “Do What Matters Most” and “P” Point Management” (Atlantic Book Publishers), “Reality Repair” (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Authorsden), and “If Pictures Could Talk,” coming soon. Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 454-5011 or