How the heck do you motivate yourself and your employees? Part Two

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Motiving yourself to get to work and do what’s required of you is enough of a challenge some days. Add to that motivating less than eager employees and it’s no wonder you are exhausted by the end of your day!

In part one of this article, we looked at using the procrastination equation from the University of Calgary researcher Piers Steel to look at motivating yourself. This time, we will flip it to motivating employees.

The formula is this: Procrastination, or as Steel also suggests, Motivation equals Expectancy times Value over Impulsivity times Delay. This is what the equation looks like:

In a nutshell, Steel’s motivation equation says this about motivating employees:

  • EXPECTANCY - Increase your employee’s expectancy that they can do the task
  • VALUE - Help your employee see the value in completing the task
  • IMPULSIVITY - Reduce things that might distract your employee
  • DELAY - Break tasks down into smaller chunks so that deadlines, targets, and goals are shorter

One challenge leaders have is getting employees motivated to do routine paperwork. Let’s use that as an example to consider how to motivate employees while moving through the motivation equation.


Does the employee expect or believe they can do the paperwork? While this seems to be a silly question, it’s worth exploring more. Does the employee believe they have the skills, time and resources to complete the paperwork? Skills are one area that is often overlooked.

  • English-as-a second language individuals or people with dyslexia may struggle to write contact notes.
  • Employees who are challenged mathematically may not expect they can do timesheets and spreadsheets correctly.

Here is the thing; an employee won’t tell you that they can’t do it! No one wants to admit a weakness, especially to their boss. It’s your job to be curious and take the time to really consider their skills.

If the paperwork is only required internally, you may reduce your expectations, increasing your employee’s expectancy that they can complete it.

  • Create checklists
  • Encourage employees to write in point form

If the paperwork is for external purposes, you may have employees write a draft version and find someone to edit the document.

Come back to what is the point in getting the documentation down. What is it that you really need? Considering the point in completing documentation brings us to the value part of the equation.


What is the value of doing the paperwork to the employee? When considering this part of the equation concerning routine paperwork, there is one stark reality; you would be hard-pressed to convince most people that routine paperwork is valuable. While you might need the data to complete month-end, the employee does not. They don’t see the value in doing the report. In fact, for the employee, it often is perceived as a make-work project. Additionally, CYA (cover your butt) does not hold enough weight to motivate people in a world full of other, often more pressing demands.

The problem is that many leaders continue to stay here, nagging and reminding staff about the importance of completing paperwork. With the idea that, in the employee’s mind, it isn’t that important, , you may need to focus on the other three components of the motivation equation to increase an employee’s motivation to get their paper work finished.

However, don’t let realism dissuade you from focusing at all on this area. There is merit in increasing or perhaps changing how you communicate the value of routine tasks, as well as trying different things to help the staff see the worthiness in getting the paperwork completed. To increase this score on the equation, you could try things such as:

  • Sharing combined stats with employees to bring both concerns and successes into awareness.
  • Having employees assist with the compilation of statistics so they can see the outcomes and insights from their work.


Everyone struggles with distractions, especially in today’s world. Trying to get employees to write reports or do routine paperwork in the middle of a busy office with chatter going on doesn't help. To combat impulsivity, consider how you can help you employee stay focused on their paperwork.

  • Create quiet zones where people can work on their paperwork
  • Implement paperwork days
  • Set up a system where one employee answers the phone while the other one does paperwork.


In many cases, the delay is about the due date, but it is more than that. How long before someone sees the impact of their efforts? For paperwork, that is often never. Let’s be honest, most paperwork in organizations is never looked at again, especially by frontline staff.

If your employee knows that you aren't even going to look at that paperwork for months down the road, they are less motivated to get it done. There is a vast disconnect when you come to them with questions about a document that they completed 6 months previously. Therefore, look for ways to break tasks down into smaller chunks so that deadlines, targets and goals are shorter and employees receive feedback earlier.

It doesn’t always have to mean that you are looking at their work individually. Paperwork can be reviewed at client meetings, program updates and during strategic conversations. If you require it to be documented, make it a requirement that it also be reviewed.

Recapping the Motivation Equation

Whether it is motivating yourself or your employees, it’s critical to realize there are many factors involved. Using Steel’s equation, you can choose which of the 4 areas you can address, which gives you flexibility about where to start.

  • To motivate an employee to attend First Aid training you might find one taught in their native tongue increasing their expectancy to succeed.
  • To motivate your team to take on roles at staff meeting you might talk to them about the value of learning new skills such as public speaking and how that fits in with their long-term career goals.
  • To motivate staff to clean the lunchroom you could reduce distractions like the demands of the “real job” by creating specific times for someone to take on cleaning the fridge.
  • To motivate staff to embrace new computer software, instead of only setting a date for the transition to be completed, set shorter deadlines for specific segments. A word of caution, think even shorter! What will you accomplish this week?

Motivation is not a simple a one, two, three-step strategy. It takes in many factors, which, in some ways, makes your job as leader harder. But it doesn’t have to. Knowing there are many places to start as you look to increase motivation in your self and your employees gives you more freedom. I challenge you today to run the equation through any of your specific motivation challenges and see if you come up with some new insights that you could apply to yourself and your team.

Leaders often hit a point where they find themselves in over their heads and wondering if they have what it takes to lead. In Kathy Archer’s online courses and leadership coaching sessions, she teaches leaders the inner and outer tools to restore their lost confidence so they can move from surviving to thriving in both leadership and life.

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