What About the Employees that “Don’t Care?”

Email from a manager we are working with:

“I think I may be missing something when it comes to this segment of our workshop. What happened to people with a good work ethic doing a good job because they’re proud and care about the product they produce?

Honestly, I’m tired of trying to motivate people that don’t care. So I have a question, and it’s not directed at you, just something I go over in my head on a weekly basis.


Why should I try to motivate people that don’t care? Shouldn’t we let them go?


I don’t believe you can engage people who don’t care. They may put on a façade long enough to pass their 90 days, or a talk with senior leaders, but they always revert back to being a low performing, high maintenance employee.”

My response:

Good morning!

People showing up with a solid work ethic and doing a good job because of personal pride…it’s a wonderful idea. I believe the expectation of this happening without some level of support and leadership is pretty far-fetched in today’s world.

As leaders, we motivate through the principles we know to be true.

  1. Autonomy: People want to self-direct their lives. As leaders, our charge is to CLEARLY identify what the end state should look like. Partnered with some behavioral standards that should guide how work gets done, (organizational commitments) our team members should be empowered to go and accomplish.
  2. Mastery: People want to get better at stuff. This is why a leaders ability to coach, teach and develop others is so critical. The higher learning orientation a leader displays, the more capable that leader is viewed as, and the more the team members begin to establish and abide by their own standards.
  3. Purpose: People want to be a part of something bigger than their job.  Effective leaders provide context to the tasks their teams execute; providing a worldview of why each and every job is important and how it contributes to the overall success of the enterprise.


When we as leaders understand the principles of motivation, I believe it’s easier to see how we fit into serving people in a way that works.


I believe the heart of your communication is striking more at accountability. In our experience, most people who show up to work do so with an expectation of succeeding or doing well. They are also more likely to put forth the effort once they know their personal values are aligned with those of the organization. This is why the commitments for an organization are so important.  The commitments are values placed in the context of actions.  When leaders treat values as a commodity, or unimportant, everyone else will too.

High performance leaders:

  • Live the purpose every day
  • Hold values dear (organizational commitments)
  • Act based on values (organizational commitments)
  • Establish crystal clear operating standards
  • Measure the operating performance
  • Coach and teach often
  • Use the defined processes for holding those who underperform (behavioral or operational) accountable

If we are living the organizational values, and a team member does not align…both parties are better served by parting ways. What has to happen for there to be confidence in the process is the evidence that the values are being communicated and observed.  The willingness to document and coach underperformance is a challenge in most organizations. Plenty of leaders are ready to cut bait with a new employee, but we don’t find many who are willing to invest the time for coaching and documentation to make separation simple.

I hope there’s something in here that helps a bit. I appreciate your candor and feedback. To take a deeper dive, check out my guide to intentional leadership HERE. 

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