Motivating “Cruise Control” Employees

You know this person. He arrives at 8:00 a.m. and clocks out exactly at 5:00 p.m. –never a minute late on either end.  He does what is assigned and his work performance is satisfactory.  He has been doing the same job the same way for years.

On the surface, the “Cruise Control” employee appears to be a good team member: on time, dependable, and gets his work done.  By these measures, he is a fine employee.  But what happens when the job begins to pass him by or you need increased work output from him?

Because technology and other advancements have accelerated the pace and increased the volume most employees are asked to shoulder on any given day, “Cruise Control” employees can find themselves falling behind. When this scenario occurs, he no longer looks like such a solid employee.  When more is needed, how does a manager motivate the “Cruise Control” employee to strive for more than the average?

Acknowledge the Problem: The first hurdle is to communicate with the employee that a problem exists and to help him acknowledge that there is an issue.  Is he handling 80 percent of what the average employee is asked to handle?  Are projects taking longer for him to complete than the rest of the staff?  What is the issue and why is it a problem?

Identify Incentives: What is important to the “Cruise Control” employee?  Is it a chance at a bonus?  How about flex-time?  More control over his operations?  Whatever it is, find the right buttons to push for this employee to get him to move beyond the basics.  I have experience with employees who have stepped up their efforts when the right motivation was offered. The key to making the incentive work is to have very clear goals as to what was expected from you and from your employee.

Present a Logical Argument: If the landscape has changed and the old ways are no longer acceptable, have that conversation with the employee.  If you need him to use technology to handle a larger client load, tell him this.  If his way of doing things is no longer acceptable in the new paradigm, do him the favor of discussing this with him on the sooner side.  Few people enjoy such difficult discussions, but honesty honors the employee’s dignity.

Offer an Ultimatum: Probably the least effective tactic, this strategy is necessary from time to time.  When incentives fail and communicating why change is required is met with a blank stare, it may be time to implement the ultimatum.  Explain that change needs to happen, why it needs to happen, and the consequences if these conditions are not met. This option truly is a last resort because the employee is forced to choose – change or quit.  No one wants to be put into this scenario as the boss or the employee.

Motivating someone to change their ways or to increase their productivity when they are doing the minimum by choice is not an easy task.  What advice would you offer a manager who is facing this issue?


About Kevin Monahan

I have 10+ years experience in coaching clients in their career management and career change efforts. Personal career consulting services combined with employer outreach to help find opportunities for both constituents.
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