Today I’ve read an good article by Nigel Nicholson in the Harvard Business Review 81 (1) of 2003. In it, the author looks into the question of motivating “problem people.” Looking at manager-employee relationship in the traditional management context, he described his recipe for working with employees that are neither showing progress, nor benefiting the organization/team. His approach is based on the observation that “problem people” cannot be effectively motivated by extrinsic methods, but it is the motivation from within that the leader/manager should aim at. This is achieved by creating circumstances in which the followers’ “inherent motivation — the natural commitment and drive that most people have — is freed and channeled toward achievement goals.” Nicholson recommends starting with a dramatic change in leader’s own mind-set: going away from “prodding or coaxing” and focusing on methods and techniques that would aim at “removing barriers” that obstruct the employee’s progress “including, quite possibly, your own demotivational management style.”
Among the common mistakes that managers make, Nicholson points out to (i) managers’ belief that “people have the same thought process as we do,” (ii) ignoring the individual aspect, and approaching all employees the same way, and (iii) setting “an impossible goal” failing to realize that we “can’t change people’s character,” as the profound change always “comes from within.” To facilitate this change, a new approach to motivation should be adapted. It should encompass (a) an understanding that every follower does have a “motivational energy”, yet (b) “this energy is often blocked in the workplace,” and (c) “removing blockages” happens when leaders abandon the technique of “pushing solutions on people,” but rather “pull solutions out of them.”
Looking at this method through the prism of affiliate program management, and my own effectiveness as an affiliate manager, I see several implications in Nicholson’s method. As mentioned before, the main peculiarity of affiliates is that they are an independent workforce. Hence, when the problem lays in the affiliate manager – which is “one of the most common blockages” in a traditional management context – affiliates do not join affiliate program managed by such affiliate manager. It is important for me as an affiliate manager to keep perfecting my communication skills, introspection and self-criticism, sincere empathy and open-mindedness, continuing to develop more personal relationships with affiliates in informal contexts. While “employee termination” is an option in Nicholson’s context, it is not an option in the affiliate marketing context. In fact, it predominantly happens vice-versa, and affiliates are the ones that “terminate” relationships with non-empathetic and irresponsive merchants, or those that believe in motivation by fear, or exercise a top-down management approach. Nicholson makes an important statement, from which his whole approach stems. He says that “all available evidence suggests that external incentives – be they pep talks, wads of cash, or even the threat of unpleasant consequences – have limited impact.” In fact, “such inducements are most frequently effective with people who are “already and running,” while “the other folks” should be approached through a highly individualized approach that aims at discovering the “motivation energy” that they already have, and directing it towards “achievable goals.” This insight is directly applicable in the area of affiliate program management.