Project managers and HR are the same in that we both look out for the mental and emotional health of our team. But unlike HR, we dont have degrees in psychology or have access to clinical studies. So when an employee loses motivation and starts to drag his team down, we have to react pragmatically based on leadership experience, instinct, and our relationship with the affected employeeall with a ticking clock in the background.
We project managers have to focus on techniques that are direct, effective, and timely. For instance:
Dont go Touchy-Feely
This isnt a technique, but its an important enough warning to deserve mention.
I speak as both an employee and a manager when I say that touchy feely techniques like sharing sessions and trust exercises dont worknot the places Ive been, anyway. These eye-rolling experiences only affect the already-motivated (if at all). Trying this on someone who doesnt care is a waste of timetheirs, yours, and the clients.
No team can function without a little bit of internal griping, but too much can erode team morale. Bring their concerns out into the open at a team bull session, where they can be dealt with once and for alleven if its not to everyones satisfaction. Itll be messy and painful, but its better than having ill will fester and grow over the course of a project.
Its Motivation that Matters
Apathy can be a result of any number of factors. The key is to find something to motivate your employee that actually works. This may or may not be directly related to the source of his frustration. Your objective isnt to solve your employees problemsits to find something thatll get him back in the mood to work. If hes fed up with company management, for example, you cant do much about it. But if you switch his tasks to something he finds interesting, it may pull him out of that funk and get him productive againat least until the issue with management can be resolved. You can even try toying around with incentives and fringe benefits.
Dont Let Morale Slip in the First Place
Apathy doesnt happen overnight. Its a slow, gradual process, where an employee starts out caring, but repeated disappointments strip away his enthusiasm and leave him emotionally dried out.
Prevention is the best cure. Latch on to his concerns early on and let him know that hes not crazythat someone is listening to him. Even if theres nothing you can do about it, knowing that someone out there shares your concerns and is willing to discuss them can do wonders for a persons state of mind.
Project managers are leaders, mentors, and coachesbut above all, were managers. We have a responsibility to deliver a project, and we need to find the fastest, most efficient way of getting our team motivated and back on track.
Image credit, Flickr, Kristin Wall