Disengaged employees? Four approaches to sustainable performance in your team

Sustainable employee motivation

When people have lost their motivation, pressure and material incentives are at best short-term. Lasting motivation comes from within. Here are 4 transformation management impulses that will get people back to work with more energy.

Motivation is a delicate plant. It reacts sensitively when the weather changes. In companies, internal changes are one of these capricious weather conditions that can unsettle and demotivate employees. As a result, they do their work with less drive and focus.

Although a transformation can initially weaken motivation, it also offers a great opportunity: with the right measures, companies can improve team dynamics in the long term. Ideally, the transformation will act as a catalyst for more motivation and happier colleagues.

But what does this mean for managers who now have an acute performance problem in their team? They can tackle this challenge, independently of a current change program.

In this article, we share 4 practical approaches from transformation management with you that also have an impact in day-to-day business:

(To go to a specific section of the following text, click on the subtitle)

1. Increasing motivation through clarity about the “why”

When a company changes, the transformation story is one of the first important tasks of top management.

The transformation story makes tangible …

  • why the change is necessary
  • why it pays off in the medium to long term – not only from a company perspective, but also from the perspective of internal stakeholders

And now comes the crucial part:

In the best case, the story not only provides pragmatic answers. It does not simply explain what the change is for.


A company digitizes a customer service process …

  • What for? -> To automate standard processes and work more efficiently.
  • And what for is that? -> For a faster delivery, with consistent quality … etc.

A transformation story like this only explains the immediate technical and economic benefits.

Is this “what for” motivating? Rather not.

In such a pragmatic explanation, the “why” is missing. And it is precisely this deeper “why” that is important if companies want to motivate their employees even in difficult times.

A real why arouses emotions: Pride, community spirit, ambition. It conveys an urgency to act and creates meaning through a unifying, higher goal.

In transformation management, for example, we work with Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” model. The aim is to find strong, inspiring answers to three questions:

  • Why do we do what we do in our company?
  • Why do we exist on the market / What difference does our work actually make?
  • What higher goal are we striving for?

This emotional perspective can be unfamiliar at first – especially in a “German” corporate culture, which tends to be characterized by reason. It is therefore important to provide a suitable frame to this topic. In Germany, it is advisable not to use too much pathos.

Demanding the why from top management

And there is another objection: the answers have to come from the very top of the company.

Managers at other levels who notice a motivation problem in their teams cannot conjure up a “why”. What they can do, however: Raise the issue with their C-levels and demand clarity.

In projects, we often find that it is often unintentional when the “why” is not communicated from the top – or the answers remain vague. This is because top management has a thousand topics on its agenda and is often unaware of the power of creating meaning. Especially in the long term!

This is impressively demonstrated, for example, by companies that rely on the OKR management method. OKR creates a system that makes the why tangible in day-to-day work and motivates top performance. And not only in areas that are characterized by office jobs, but also in production units, for example.

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2. Fostering motivation through participation

Transformation succeeds when the employees who are affected are on board. Creating facts over their heads is poisonous to motivation. Even beyond projects, it is worth involving employees in important steps and not defining everything top-down.

Based on negative experience, many managers are skeptical about this. And there is indeed a risk that decisions will drag on endlessly – or that the employees with the biggest egos will drown out others. And this ultimately achieves the opposite of what was intended: team spirit and drive are dampened.

The following approaches, which are easy to implement, promise more success:

Making decisions – a common theme

Once a quarter, it is a good idea to collect topics in the regular team meeting:

  • What decisions need to be made in the next three months?
  • On which issues do employees see themselves as leaders and would be willing to prepare a decision?

Sense and purpose: Those who develop structured decision proposals themselves and present them for discussion not only feel valued and on an equal footing – a strong motivator for high performers in particular. The respective colleague also gets a taste of management and develops a better understanding of why some topics are given priority over others.

This entrepreneurial approach also makes it easier for employees to deal with situations where their own initiative does not succeed.

Don’t always go for the loud ones

Sooner or later, the roles in a team seem to be distributed: There are the committed and the passive. However, this is not always due to the will to perform, but also to different personalities.

So why not deliberately look for other volunteers for the next initiative instead of the “usual suspects”? Introverts, for example, also get the chance to try themselves out.

Taking a step back as a manager

Employees do not necessarily reflect what they really think to their superiors. This can lead to poorer decisions and a depressed mood. A simple habit often works wonders here: the person with the highest rank speaks last in meetings. Jeff Bezos, for example, takes this approach.

3. Motivation boost through celebrating success

Does the change work? For companies undergoing change, it is essential to make progress tangible. This not only shows whether the project is on track, but ideally also releases new energy – which can wane during a long transformation.

How can teams make their successes visible in everyday life?

Request feedback

“What do our customers actually think of our work?” This question is asked much less often than you might think in day-to-day business, especially when it comes to internal customers – for example in the IT sector. However, customer testimonials are pure gold for motivation. And not just the positive ones! When things go wrong, concrete feedback is essential to shake people up.

You do not always need to conduct extensive customer surveys. It helps a lot to have customer-facing staff collect feedback at specific points – but even then it is best to use a structured guide.

Honest success stories

Role models are important if transformation is to succeed on a broad scale. But you also need good instincts to tell a motivational success story. Few people identify with high-flyers – who, for example, are showered with laurels at the divisional meeting because they have mastered their task flawlessly.

Fame and glamor primarily motivate personality types who like to compete with each other. Others even feel demotivated by overly slick success stories. A pinch of humility is needed:Those who present successes should also describe the rocky road that led to them. In this way, recognition is combined with lessons learned, which creates an aha effect and encourages. For less envy and more positive energy in the whole team.

4. Increasing motivation through development beyond the hierarchy

From HR employee to project manager? From IT specialist to Project Lead IT Compliance? A few years ago, such a career path in companies was still exotic.

However, such specialist roles are very interesting for committed employees. After all, traditional management positions are few and far between – especially at a time when companies are thinning out their hierarchies.

Coming up empty-handed in the race for posts can be very frustrating. To avoid losing ambitious employees, companies can make the content of their work more interesting. Be it further training in project management, as a coach or AI prompt engineer.

Job rotation programs also offer alternatives to the executive position. Anything that satisfies the hunger for knowledge of top performers creates new perspectives that make them want to come back to work in the morning!

Lack of team commitment?

Putting the problem on the backburner costs companies valuable resources on a daily basis. De-motivation is also contagious and can push the performance curve further down.

Do you want to protect your team from this and get them more engaged? We would be happy to talk to you about your situation and give you personalised suggestions: so that your colleagues feel more motivated and enjoy their work again!

2024-06-14, grosse-hornke

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