Unmotivated and staying that way

Unmotivated and staying that way

Are there certain people who just can’t be motivated?  Are there Wally’s who render the motivation fairy powerless?  While I would like to believe that isn’t the case, I have to wonder…

Motivation is Personal

One of the core beliefs that I have is that motivation is very personal.  People are individuals with different motivational triggers and drives.  While there are basic underlying motivational drives (see 4-Drive Model), those drives impact each of us differently and create a unique motivational profile.

This implies that if one can understand that motivational profile of a person, one should be able to understand what to do to motivate them…right?

That is the implication…however I believe reality is a little different.

We all know a Wally

All of us have probably encountered a Wally in our lifetime.  Someone who works harder at avoiding work than they would if they actually just did the job.

I remember working as a loan officer right out of college for a company that gave loans to people who couldn’t get them anywhere else (at an very, very, very high interest rate I might add).  This meant that we had a very high delinquency rate and that much of our time was spent on the phone or in person trying to “collect” our payment.   If we did well, we earned bonus and points for use in a merchandise catalog and our manager won President’s Club and a great trip.  The branch I was in was the top branch in the Region – needless to say, our manager did everything in his power to motivate us (note: good, bad and ugly motivational techniques were used – but that is for a different blog post).

Those motivational techniques worked on almost the whole branch (remember we were number one in the Region)

However, there was one person, who they didn’t work on.  This person would go out of their way to not actually call people, but instead, just pick up the phone and fake the conversation.  That person could not stand to make the calls and face the people on the other end – no matter what type of motivational techniques were used…

I know because I was that person.

What I realize in hindsight was that no matter how much they were willing to pay me or how many “points” they were offering me to get a payment on a delinquent loan – I was just not going to be motivated to do it.  I was that Wally…

I left after 8 months – the best move I’ve ever done (for me and the company).

Are Wally’s just in the Wrong Job?

So based on my experience, are the unmotivatable (yes – I just made up that word) employees just in the wrong job?  Perhaps.  For me that was the case.  I look back and realize that my core drives would never have been met working at that company.  Could they have done things to make me more motivated?  Probably yes.  Would those motivational elements have satisfied the core drives I had?  Probably not.

Does my experience translate to all unmotivated people?  I’m not sure – but I think that no matter what motivational elements my manager would have implemented, I would never have been happy or motivated in that job or even working for that company.

I went back to grad school (actually using my experience in that job as a motivator to make sure I would never have to do that again) so that I could pursue a job that better fit with my underlying drives.  I took a job after getting my MBA where I was making less than probably anybody else in my graduating class.  I worked my butt off for a number of years learning new skills and taking on new responsibilities.

And through it all I loved it.

Was I motivated by money – yes I was.  Was I motivated by more than money – yes I was.   What I realized was that while the drive to Acquire is a component of my motivational profile, it is not the strongest one.  I needed other things more (being challenged, feeling like I was working for company and doing work I believed in, etc…).

So what do we do with the Wally’s that work for us?

So do we need to fire the Wally’s that work for us or can they be converted into high performing, highly motivated superstars?  I would like to believe that we could create a work environment that could motivate everyone.  One in which everyone would thrive.  I’d like to believe that managers could find the core motivational drives of all their employees and work with those to develop individual motivation plans that make them passionate workers.  I’d like to believe – I just don’t.

There are times where the match just isn’t right.  Where there are no fixes that will overcome the malaise that an employee has.  Where the best solution all around is to let that person go.

So what do you think?  What do we do with the Wally’s of the world and can they every become productive, positive employees?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts.


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  1. Great post!

    I would also like to believe that everyone is ‘motivatable’, but, like any commitment, the person in question has to be willing to make a change.

    If they can’t telling themselves stories about how they are ‘victimized by the system’, ‘unfulfilled’, entitled to their job, micromanaged or just plain bad at what they do (even if some of these are valid, and corrected by the management) they are just going to find more excuses to be unmotivated. Some people get stuck in these mentalities, and can only be unstuck by months or years of professional counselling (if this is an option).

    The final attempt to get their commitment shouldn’t be an ultimatum by management, but more of a group intervention where the team team identifies that the person’s lack of commitment has a negative impact on other team members, and they have to decide whether to re-commit, or start finding a team they want to be part of. It is important that it is the team for several reasons, but one is this will identify when the management is the issue (the team won’t be willing to participate).

    If that doesn’t work… I agree that this is often what is best for both the individual and the organization for an exit. Managers who end up with a lot of these kinds of employees deserve a hard look as well.

  2. thelanterngroup


    Great comment – your comment about employee’s “telling themselves stories” resonated with me. It is often the stories that we tell ourselves (or that our employees tell themselves) which become the “truth” of the matter. And while we can sometimes influence those stories – often times they have a life of their own.

    Thanks for the great insight.

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