The Business Leaders, Мanagers and the Тricky Мotivation

published in: Leadership inventory

31 Oct

Although it is a true story I will omit the company and participants’ names.  The only reason for this is that I have not been explicitly authorized to share this story.  But I also do not have a ban on its publication

So, a Business Leader had 4 managers of workshops that produce glazed tanks.  One of the workshops had significantly lower productivity.  The Business Leader visited the workshop manager with the goal to find a way to improve the performance.

The Business Leader to the Manager:
"You're a good manager!  Your finances, organization and work processes are second to none.  Only labor productivity is the lowest.  What can we do to improve results?"managers, leaders, manager, leader, motivation, employee                pic.1.: Ms Stefka Kostadinova jumps over 209 cm in 1988 - world record eversince.

"Honestly, I do not have any useful moves.  I awarded, praised for the smallest partial success, blamed, punished, threatened with dismissal, but the productivity hasn’t increased..."

The Business Leader and the Manager discussed in details what had been done, by whom, and how, and decided to apply the motivation technique "competitive spirit".

At the work end of the first shift the Leader moved at the exit of the workshop and asked one of the leaving workers:
"How many glazed tanks have your shift produced today?"
"Eighty-two" - the worker replied.
Without saying a word the Leader wrote on the glass door, with huge numbers, 82.

When the workers from the second shift came to work, they saw the number 82 on the glass and asked the guard what was the idea behind that number...

The next morning, when the first shift staff came to work, they noticed that number 82 was deleted and in its place there was written the number 86.  The first shift probably thought: "Those second shift guys consider themselves better than us!", because when their shift ended, they proudly wrote on the glass door 98 - the number of produced tanks. (For fans of statistics 98:82 returns 19.5% increase in productivity)

The type of motivation, used in the story, aims "to promote competitive spirit".  This tricky motivation technique should be used with extreme caution.  It boosts the desire to be better than others! The noble wish to be better than others!  To take the challenge!  This motivation is a sure way to the strong and brave individuals in the team.

However, if improperly managed, that motivation technique could foster the self-interested  and  “win at all costs” employee motives.  Leaders be aware of that danger.

The motivation "competitive spirit" is recommended to be used only if we have applied unsuccessfully all other motivational techniques.

In the example above it worked because:
  • Both shifts have quality people who want to be "better".
  • The company operates a clear system for daily production reporting and every worker knows the number of tanks produced by his/her shift.
  • There aren’t any personal rivalries between members of different shifts.
  • The leader did not blame anybody for low productivity - on the contrary, he was focused on the goal “increase productivity”.
  • As the Manager had applied all known standard techniques for motivation , he and the Business Leader decided that the motivation "competitive spirit" is the last technique applied to increase shift productivity prior proceeding with staff turnover (i.e. they were ready to pay the price if they do not manage successfully this motivational technique)


It is not easy to be a Business Leader.  It requires knowledge, and skills, and sense of timing, and principles, and honest assessment of positive and negative effects of the leader’s action, and ... and... But when high results are achieved - the Business Leader’s satisfaction is incredible.



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