How do you manage people who have no interest in learning new skills, or advancing their careers?
When I talk about low ambition, I want to clarify that I am not referring to poor performers. I am referring to people who may be really good at what they do or may be in highly-skilled roles – but they are happy where they are in their careers – they’ve learned the skills needed to do their jobs well, and they don’t wish to add to their responsibilities by climbing further up the corporate ladder. In fact, if you think about the people in your teams, you’ll realize that not everyone is willing to learn new skills even if it will help them advance their careers.
In this video, I share some insights to help you manage and motivate such employees.
You may ask, why should I be bothered if they are happy where they are right now. The challenge with managing people with low ambition is how to keep them motivated so that they continue to deliver high-quality work and not just go through the motions. Since they may not be motivated by learning opportunities, greater responsibility, or challenging projects, so you will want to have a strategy in place to ensure that they stay motivated.
Another challenge with such people is around loyalty and retention. If they have no ambition to build their careers or to progress through the organization, then they’re more likely to jump ship if they’re not enjoying their work. This can be disruptive for your organization. Employee turnover has related costs.
So, what can you do?
Start by examining your own assumptions about your team members, because your perception about them affects the way that you behave with them. For instance, if you believe that someone is simply coming to work to earn a paycheck, then you may unconsciously adopt an authoritarian management style with them.
To help you get a more realistic understanding of your team member’s motivation drivers, you would want to take interest in them and build a relationship. The more you know about their personal lives and goals, the better you’ll be able to structure rewards that keep them motivated.
Understanding where their fundamental needs stem from in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs will allow you to customize your motivational approach for maximum impact.
I also find that McClelland’s Motivation Theory works well. According to this theory, people have different dominant motivators. These are:
• Needs for achievement
• Need for affiliation
• Need for power
Once you know which is the dominant motivator for your team members, you can structure their work and rewards effectively.
For someone who has low ambition, you may want to explore what they find meaningful and where they think they will enjoy their work more. For some people, moving up into roles with more responsibility may not be the best way forward. Instead moving laterally into a field that excites them and uses their talents better would be more beneficial.
Having control over what we do is a major source of job satisfaction for most people. Whenever possible, give your employees the opportunity to choose their tasks and projects. The more control they have over their work, the more they’ll own, and take responsibility for, their tasks.
Another reason why someone is low on ambition could be that they lack confidence in their own abilities. Doing what you can to boost their confidence can be a great motivator, and can lead to significantly increased productivity. Recognition and appreciation for a job well done can be an incredible motivator.
People with low ambition are often responsible for doing work that everyone else in the organization considers “low status.” If this is the case in your team, make sure that they are treated equally, especially when it comes to company perks and recognition programs.
Investing your time and energy in your team can help build their capabilities and also their vision of where they can possibly go. That’s a win-win situation.