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Chris’s situation could not have been more different. He had only fifteen students in his class, plus a teaching aide for fifteen hours a week. He also had a modern and well-lit classroom, a well-stocked supply cabinet, six computers for the students to use, and a highly supportive principal.

Not surprisingly, at the end of their first school year, Chris had been considerably more effective as a teacher than had Robin. Did this have anything to do with Robin’s motivation? Of course not. In this instance, Robin really wanted to do a good job, but lacked the proper support system.

However, performance (good or bad) is often associated with motivation, and motivation is about attitude. There might be several reasons for a lack of motivation. It’s possible that the employee in question could simply have a poor attitude, so that it really is a motivational issue. Perhaps in their previous work, employees were unrecognized for high performance. Maybe they were burned out. Perhaps they were unhappy with their previous manager or job. You can also start out highly motivated, but get knocked down enough that you end up not so motivated.

Another thing that we have to understand, though, is that there are two other key reasons why an employee might not be performing. One is ability – they literally don’t know how. In this case, perhaps there was a lack of instruction, training, or feedback. You need to look at a person’s role and ask whether they know how to do their job. In
the above case, Robin probably did.

It could also be, third, that there are obstacles preventing the employee from being able to perform at their best. Something or someone keeps them from doing it well. In the above case of Robin, what were we looking at? Physical restrictions might include not enough time or not enough materials. Perhaps the employee doesn’t have access to the right resources or the right people. Perhaps their computer is broken. These would all be reasons why an employee might not be able to do a good job.

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