For Improved Motivation, Managers Must First Believe In Themselves

In a recent blog post, we discussed how companies are getting away from annual or semiannual evaluations of past performance and instead providing real-time coaching to improve future performance.

It’s a sound strategy for making better use of managers’ time, but it runs into one major problem: A recent survey of more than 500 managers around the world indicates less than one-third (28 percent) feel they know how to help people change, and less than 10 percent are confident they can make behavior change stick. Less than half of the managers surveyed believe that efforts to change behavior actually work.

“If line managers are the linchpin of the new performance management process, a 50 percent success rate is not good enough,” state authors Nik Kinley and Shlomo Ben-Hur, who wrote about their findings in a recent issue of MIT Sloan Management Review.

More Than A Two-Step Process

Kinley and Ben-Hur say managers most often follow a classic two-step process to impart change – identifying what needs to change and providing training or feedback that is designed to help people learn the new behaviors that are sought. But this is largely ineffective. Why?

The authors identify four key factors about inner context – “what’s going on inside people” – that impact efforts to change their behavior:

  1. Motivation – Is there a desire to change?
  2. Ability – Do they have the skills necessary to change?
  3. Psychological capital – Do they have the inner resources (confidence, willpower and resilience) needed to sustain change?
  4. Supporting environment – Does the workplace provide the social support, situational cues and social norms to properly promote personal development.

Understanding Context

To achieve long-term behavioral change, managers must first understand the inner and outer context that is affecting workers’ performance — why they are performing the way they are – and then offer practical ideas for improvement.

Small things can make a difference. For example, giving someone a broader sense of choice can improve their motivation, the authors state. “Knowing whether the person is driven by a desire for competence or a sense of challenge can help managers frame opportunities. Even slight changes in how managers describe the relevance of tasks or how they deliver praise can make huge differences.

The shift from reviewing past performance to coaching future performance is a good idea. Now, say Kinley and Ben-Hur, managers must make the extra effort to understand workers’ inner and outer context. “Most managers focus more on the ratings than on the conversations. In our view, meaningful progress cannot be made until greater emphasis is placed on the quality of conversations that managers have with their direct reports.”