Q: What does the “engaged, happy, productive, efficient” employee have in common with the “disengaged, grouchy, counter-productive, inefficient one” one?

 A: Motivation

Yes, you read that right – motivation!  How can that be you’re likely asking?

110% motivationLet me explain.  Have you ever heard or spoken the phrase: we want people who are willing to give 110%?  Of course you have.  You might be one of those people who believe the more energy and the more intensity you put into a project or a relationship the better. If you can hire the person who puts out more than 100% effort, you want to have that person on your team.  Right?

Not so fast!

Before I move on, several of you are probably doubters. More than 100%?  Well, that’s just hyperbole – a euphemism for someone who gets things done.  I’m sorry to say you’re wrong.  In fact, it is possible for someone to be more than 100% motivated, at least according to decades of Quality of Motivation research.

Individuals who give you more than 100% are undoubtedly intense. Everything they do is driven by unmistaken ADHD-like energy. Observing them work or even engage with a complete stranger is like watching Robin Williams on stage with his triple-caffeinated delivery. They are a spectacle to behold. Their sheer volume of words per minute and perpetual motion is sheer entertainment. They perform like the Energizer bunny – they seem to just keep going and going and going.

The problem is that no one is capable of giving you more than 100% without bringing in counter-productive baggage. As soon as you surpass 100% on the motivation scale, it’s an indication that an employee is exercising his “negative” motivation.

Quality of Motivation research places maximum positive motivation at 100.  Positive motivations make you feel good.  They drive you to achieve success, awards, and accomplishments. Those individuals who are positively motivated tend to enjoy life. They are internally motivated and understand how to make good things happen even when life hands them lemons.

But not all motivation is full of fun and roses.

Motivation despite its feel-good connotation sometimes can produce negative results. Negative motivation originates with behaviors or habits that cause us pain and stress.  Why would anyone want to inflict pain or stress on ourselves?

Sometimes the pain is physical. It could be from a chronic condition or self-induced. In either case, the pain requires motivation to endure.  The energy to go on can either sap some of our positive energy or rev up some good “ole” negative motivation.

For example, ever hear the phrase “no-pain, no-gain?”  In small doses, no-pain-no-gain is normal. It’s an important life skill to help us deal with aches and pains, fears and phobias. If we don’t have any motivation to endure, we are “wimps.”  We tend to go to extremes to avoid anything that might cause pain in our lives.  We don’t date. We don’t shake hand, hug, or kiss for fear of catching a disease. We take no risks. For life to go on, small amounts of “self-punishment” help us get through tough times.

But some people carry “self-punishment” to extremes.  Athletes play contact sports with broken bones. They continue to play after multiple concussions. Cancer victims continue to smoke. Spouses and partners endure abusive relationships. Employees put up with harassment from a bullying boss.

All these behaviors – for good and bad – require motivation.  Up to some point, these individuals deserve a pat on the back. Unfortunately beyond a certain level, negative behavior is not normal. It’s counter-productive and even self-destructive to themselves and those around them. Behaviors like no-pain-no-gain require motivation and like positive motivation, negative motivation can also reach 100%.

It’s even possible that one employee could be 200% motivated but the maximum positive motivation is still only 100.  At 200% motivation the individual is manic-like.  He might be entertaining for a time but eventually the hyperkinetic behavior wears you and everyone else down.  His intensity becomes stifling and distracting. Personally he takes 100 steps forward and 100 steps back.  He expends a lot of energy but at the end of the day has nothing to show for it.

Like I mentioned earlier, people in general tend to look at motivation as intensity and equate motivation with productivity. Unfortunately the science of motivation soundly refutes that logic, especially with the more negative motivation an individual brings to work or into a relationship.

With that new knowledge it’s possible to understand how an inefficient employee can be equally motivated as the efficient one. Here are three findings that the Quality of Motivation research reveals:

  1. All people exhibit some motivation (even the unmotivated are motivated!).
  2. Motivation can be both productive and counter-productive.
  3. Motivation can be accurately measured.

Here’s how this can be applied in the workplace.

The inefficient (or low quality of motivation) employee is working hard to prove the sky is falling, all employers are greedy, all government is corrupt, his or her spouse is cheating, the kids are lazy, good-for-nothing leeches, nothing will ever improve, aliens are invading and so on. I think you get the picture.

You may even be getting the chills just thinking about a few people you know like this. This person is convincing and committed to prove a point. His lips are always moving and his body always in motion but at the end of the day, all he has to show is a lot of anger and few results.  And here’s the critical point – he expended as much if not more energy on counter-productive behaviors as someone focused on more positive outcomes. He’s motivated for sure and he’s possibly effective at getting others to side with him. But he’s surely not very happy. He wins a few life battles but always loses the war.

The efficient (or high quality of motivation) employee, on the other hand, is engaged, focused, happy, hard-working, and optimistic.  He may in fact expend less energy than his inefficient counterpart but has more to show for it.  He’s often a people magnet.  Others like to be near him, work for him, to have him on your team.

Hundreds of different programs are offered which measure motivation by rah-rah and kumbaya moments.  The more exhilaration and enthusiasm one feels, the more motivation in the room. Unfortunately those rah-rah moments are not only transient but also ignite the counter-productive motivations as well.  Motivational “training” is typically focused on raising the level of intensity, not quality. If the employee works hard, arrives early, stays late, and works at home and on vacation, managers laud the employee for his motivation. All eyes point to perseverance and loyalty while little if any notice is given to efficiency…until a situation arises which changes everything.  Complaints about attitude, moodiness, and even slips of the tongue are overlooked and ignored when things are going smoothly. But at the first crack in the foundation, one thing is for sure.  Counter-productive behaviors and habits will  begin to show their ugly side.

Inevitably bad habits and counter-productive behaviors catch up with the present. The one-time “model” employee worshipped for his intensity and drive is now recognized as the ballast dragging down the organization.  The moodiness and the stress he bestows on anyone within his range crushes the weak and drives away the strong.

This deleterious impact of the high energy but low quality of motivation employee on co-workers, company culture, productivity, and profits is a common occurrence. It is repeated time and again, every single day in organizations across the country. But it can be stopped and prevented.

By adding the Quality of Motivation dimension to employee motivation discussions and strategies, hiring and career decision can focus on quality performance as much as much quantity, efficiency as much as effectiveness.

We live in an increasingly competitive marketplace.  At one time, employee inefficiency could be tolerated since margins were larger and competition was weaker. But today, companies are squeezing out waste and ratcheting up productivity every chance they get.  It’s time to quantify and qualify motivation by adding Quality of Motivation to any discussion and strategy to elevate employee performance.

And finally, a word of advice.  The next time a candidate, employee, boss, vendor, or supplier tells you he gives 110% – run for the hills and don’t stop!