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Face-off: Motivation vs. Demotivation

Which approach is better at getting the employees you want? According to Despair Inc., it's not as simple as you may think.

The Motivational Approach The Demotivational Approach Advantage
Motivational Tools Most employees merely want to appear motivated. They glad-hand, love meetings and task forces, and will do anything to obscure their limited accomplishments. By not rewarding meaningless activity, you can spot authentically motivated people — those who prefer solving problems to assigning blame — more easily. Demotivation. Typically, says Despair, phonies rise higher than their talent should allow. Demotivation lets true leaders shine.
Identifying Leaders Employees need ever more reinforcement and stimulation. What starts with a simple motivational poster soon escalates into self-help books, "trust falls," and fire-walking. All of which can get very expensive. Requires no out-of-pocket expenses. You end up in the same place simply by letting employees be all they already are rather than trying in vain to get them to be all they can be. Demotivation. If companies could create employees who were happy, enthusiastic, and productive, somebody would've already made it happen.
Living a Company's Core Values Values must be believed and lived if they're going to inspire, but senior executives routinely violate their company's core values and then use those same values to judge the attitudes and actions of others. Values should be merely acceptable to the employees rather than believed by executives. Preferably, they're developed by an outside consulting firm and are so vague as to be meaningless. A tie. Even in these cynical times, this is a little much.

A version of this article appeared in the May 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.