These workers rarely give 100 percent. In fact, they usually know exactly how much effort will let them get by— and that’s all they give. You’re left with competent but apathetic staffers who dig themselves in and ride whatever changes the organization throws at them.
You don’t have to accept such employees. They may fight initiative with inertia, but you can shake a stick at them so that they hustle. Here’s how:
Stage NDEs. After someone has a near-death experience (NDE), he often sees the world differently. Put listless employees through such a trauma and they’ll come away chastened.
Two of the most effective on-the-job NDEs are stripping away the individual’s support system and removing his knowledge base. For example, move the worker into another department where he’s forced to rely on strangers. Or assign him temporarily to a specialized area where he lacks training, so that he must start at the bottom and learn while doing.
Such experiences usually will jolt the employee. If he can face fear without being able to fall back on a course of safe nonaction, he’ll have to learn instead of digging himself a new nest.
Deputize them. Turn indifferent staffers into enforcers. Give them limited authority to reward and punish fellow employees for their performance.
“I had this guy who plodded along, never showing emotion and never lifting a finger beyond the bare minimum,” says an HR executive. “Then I told him, ‘You’re going to be my eyes and ears in the field.’ I let him give out small bonuses to recognize exceptional effort from our support team, and I let him write up any evidence of lapses. He suddenly came alive and took his job more seriously.”
Seek their opinions. As you plan changes, don’t just invite your “fringe” employees to meetings. They’ll fade into the background and tune out. Instead, corner them in private, explain a specific change you’re pondering and ask, “What do you think?” Push them to take a stand and let them act on their suggestions.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to motivate cockroaches with fiery speeches or fist-pounding threats. Words won’t move them, but planting accountability on their shoulders just might.