6 Ways to Inspire a Dull Employee

With a little creative nudging, you can redeem a complacent colleague.
Senior Writer - Freelance, Killer Aces Media
July 16, 2012

Do you have an employee who goes through the motions of her job? Does she lack inspiration for her work and your clients? Is she motivated by completing a checklist and then collecting a paycheck? If yes, her lack of enthusiasm may be slowing down the rest of your team.

Before you take disciplinary action against her dullness, consider these six ways to inspire the unimaginative.

1. Match her with a creative colleague. Arrange collaboration between the dull and inspired, the cautious and the courageous, the disconnected and the engaged. Assign a project that needs an innovative approach.

Show full support of the dazzling employee so that his shine isn’t smudged by her insistence on using what she perceives to be tried-and-true techniques. Let the lackluster employee see firsthand how new concepts can shape the design of a product or how market feedback can be applied to program updates.

2. Get her involved with an enthusiastic, innovative team. Similar to matching her with a creative colleague, make her part of a team that is passionate about a shared mission and eager to take practical steps toward fulfilling a common vision. Get her involved with a group that works collaboratively from conceptual phase to implementation for a specific engagement, whether packaging a suite of services or promoting a new product category.

At first, the tedious thinker may feel out of place. She may perceive her role as being to rein in rather than release artistic energy. Have the team show her how ideas are launching pads for fruitful discussion. Allow her to see how team members:

  • Readily pitch proposals for pioneering products or service offerings

  • Build upon ideas

  • Suggest refinements to achieve closer alignment with the mission

  • Provide each other with full support for execution

3. Raise awareness of new possibilities. Share your vision for innovation throughout the organization. Be specific about ways that highly visible programs can be improved and back-office operations can be made more productive. Let her know that although you may give precise instructions in certain areas, you’d like her to bring her own brand of inventiveness to work.

One-on-one sessions may be helpful, but they may not motivate the reluctant employee. So, talk about new possibilities in company meetings and impromptu conversations. Her coworkers will come to expect ingenuity. They’ll recommend and implement more effective approaches to operations and administration. They’ll push for newness in product offerings and service delivery. Your dull employee will need to sharpen her thinking to operate within the business norm.

4. Set a deadline. Ask for original thoughts on how to deal with an emerging opportunity or a longstanding problem. Give a short lead time from request to deadline (especially if longer timeframes have not inspired innovation).

Your generally boring employee won’t have time to over-think, second-guess and suppress a clever solution. She must conjure and deliver a response quickly, moving her focus from the potential of failure to the possibility of success.

5. Call her bluff. Give her free rein to create and launch new programs that she claims she would have started long ago if she had the funds, time or physical facilities.

Your humdrum employee may have given you a list of reasons why she hasn’t executed novel ideas in the past, and is now so complacent that she may have buried her ability to be imaginative. So, give her what she wants. She may stammer, backpedal and offer more excuses, asking for intangible resources like executive endorsement or coworker support. Again, provide her with what she needs, reassure her and watch what happens. Even the dullest employee may be surprised at her own creative capabilities.

6. Get her out of the office. Push your dreary employee into the world. Make her visit a competitor’s retail location, vendor’s facility or industry trade show. Get her to move out of her comfort zone, whether it’s participating in a teambuilding activity, helping with your company’s charitable involvement in the community, increasing her wellness or taking a class.

Let her see what others are doing to stay on trend in terms of technology, communication and more. Build her awareness about and confidence in trying new activities, exploring new ways of thinking and testing new approaches.

Dull employees often lead dull lives. Professional and personal obligations may keep them from natural types of experimentation. Providing such outlets at work, synced with actual business needs, can inspire employees to think and act creatively.

Julie Rains is a senior writer at Wise Bread, a leading personal finance community dedicated to helping people get the most out of their money. Get daily money tips by following Wise Bread on Facebook or Twitter.

Photo credit: Thinkstock