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Dear HR Professional,

For the first time in my career, I’m in a managerial role.

Unfortunately, my direct report isn’t particularly driven and skates by doing the bare minimum. My boss has tasked me with finding ways to motivate this person.

We’re close in age, so I don't think he fully respects me as his superior. How can I assert myself as his manager and help him become more motivated, while still maintaining a friendly rapport?

Signed,
Show Some Respect

Dear Show Some Respect,

That’s a great question–and it’s a fairly common situation for first-time managers.

While your initial instinct may have you feeling like the bad guy, in reality your job as a manager is to help your direct reports reach their full potential. If you remember that you’re there to support—not discipline—you can do this in ways that are friendly and genuine.

So how do you support an unmotivated employee? Start by asking yourself these four questions:


1. Have You Set Expectations?

Communication is key. When you move into a management role, it’s tempting to jump right into the work without making time to sit down and get to know your direct reports. However, if you want to be an effective manager, you’ll need to understand the different communication and working styles of your team.

Make time early on to host introductory meetings with your direct reports to set clear expectations for important things like communication and deadlines. The more explicit you can be, the better.


2. How Often Do You Have One-on-One Meetings?

If your direct report remains unmotivated, step back and ask yourself if you’ve been offering the right level of support. If you don’t have regular one-on-one meetings, you’re likely missing out on important motivators—like what they really enjoy doing. Employees want you to take an interest in them, both personally and professionally.

Take the time to have these career conversations and learn about their aspirations and what work matters to them. New managers rarely make these discussions a priority because oftentimes they’re not receiving any formal management training. Everyone is driven by different things, so ask what excites your direct reports and what they want to get out of their role.


3. What’s the Bigger Picture?

Employees are most motivated when they feel a stake in the success of the company and you’ll need to help them understand their contribution to the larger team and company. If your direct reports don’t see their part in the bigger picture, they can feel like they’re doing mundane busy work.

At some companies, this is done in a formal company-wide goal-setting process that helps every employee understand how their work ladders up to core objectives. But if you don’t have a good understanding of the bigger picture, go to your own boss and ask. As a manager, you should be able to clearly articulate the priorities of the company and how your team’s work fits into that success.


4. Is it the Right Fit?

If you go through all of these steps and find that the person remains unmotivated, you should now have enough understanding of their career aspirations and working style to recognize if it simply isn’t a good fit. Maybe they’re in the wrong role or their goals have changed. At this point, you should talk with HR or your own manager to seek additional guidance.

If the employee has historically been a high-performer, you may be able to find a more suitable role for them in another department.

However, if their goals no longer align with the company, it may be time to consider parting ways. As a new manager, don’t try to tackle it alone. An HR representative or more experienced manager should be there to support you in finding the best solution.



Being a manager is like being a coach, and your job is to help employees be successful. These questions will help you get to the root of the problem in a kind and authentic way. More often than not, your direct reports will thank you for taking the time to listen and support them.



This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask an Honest HR Professional in the subject line.

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