Ultimatum: The Poorest Form of Workplace Motivation

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Ultimatum: The Poorest Form of Workplace Motivation

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Many organizations try very hard to engage their workforce. Often frustrated, organizations believe the path to performance improvement might be inspired by delivering an ultimatum. That’s unfortunate.

Ultimatum forgotten respect

You might give your dog a treat for good performance or when they demonstrate a desired behavior. This might sometimes work for people too. At least it seems that way until the size of the reward is not desirable enough to create the act.

This is why pay raises used as a motivator seldom create long-term engagement. Sure it works in the short-term, but so does free pizza when people are really hungry.

Reasons for Motivation

The biggest reason why ultimatums are an even poorer choice for motivation is largely because the ultimatum removes any choice. Choice is typically a sign of respect. Respect is sometimes given, but most would suggest that it must be earned.

Recent SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) reports have indicated that respect is one of the most important factors in workplace satisfaction.

I’m not surprised. From my experiences respect is more responsible for organizational culture than any other single factor. It’s why I wrote a generational diversity book bearing the word in its title.

Leadership styles or cultures that try to force motivation through fear often succeed—temporarily. It’s because motivation is an emotional factor. It comes from what we feel, believe, or desire.

Maslow (circa 1943) taught us a lot about motivation and its connection with needs. Still today many believe and use his theory as a guiding principle. They see truth in it.


When you attempt to motivate through fear or by giving an ultimatum you’ve evoked a negative reaction in an attempt to get a positive response.

When you connect people with purpose you’ve evoked a positive action because you’ve connected them with a positive emotional response.

Positive emotions will work every time, even in the long run.


Dennis E. Gilbert is a business consultant, speaker (CSPTM), and corporate trainer that specializes in helping businesses and individuals accelerate their leadership, their team, and their success. He is a four-time author and some of his work includes, Forgotten Respect, Navigating A Multigenerational Workforce and Pivot and Accelerate, The Next Move Is Yours! Reach him through his website at Dennis-Gilbert.com or by calling +1 646.546.5553.

Dennis Gilbert on Google+

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