– Thoughts on Strategy and Management

The ultimate guide to frustrate your staff members

According to various management journals, management speeches, and scientific studies we know that employees can be one important source for innovation, corporate value and competitive advantages. Hence it is very easy to find a number of publications “how to motivate” and “how to manage” (your staff). Well I won’t discuss the question whether it is really possible to motivate your people. You should have in mind, there is one famous guy and bestselling author from Germany (Reinhard K. Sprenger), who argues that is not possible to motivate people; instead you can only stop demotivation.

But I will not wander from the subject. There is a huge number of articles, books and trainings related to motivation. But how about the opposite matter? (at the time of writing – Google hits for demotivation: 81.400 – Google hits for motivation: 7.360.000. That is a huge difference! ) What do you do if you have to stop or to slow down your staff members? For this situation we can offer some advice – our ultimate guide to frustrate your staff members. We have collected a wide variety of approaches to create frustration. Of course each of these items can be mixed up with other items in order to use their full potentials. To give a little bit more structure I have divided them into their objects: tasks, communication, and change management and intelligence related issues.

1. Tasks

Change priorities. In a typical situation you will confirm tasks, budgets and priorities on certain jobs and projects with your employees. For “demotivation beginners” I would recommend to change priorities suddenly after a certain period of time. Your good sense of time will know when certain projects have started and now it up to you: Change the priorities. Explain that you have the impression that project B is more important than project A now. But avoid to get into details.

Set the same priorities to different departments. That is a classic concept and requires some understand how your informal organization runs. You can test your staff’s ability to identify problems and to solve them. Give different tasks that require the same resources with the same priorities to different departments. That’s very easy. Stress your expectations in personal discussions with the departments that they have to get the job done on time.

Start the same tasks twice. That is classic, too. Give the same job to different departments. Compare the results and let them check two-way. Put an emphasis on the identification of errors. It is a good tool to identify which department (or employee) is able to submit error-free results.

2. Communication

Change reporting directions. That is quite similar to the first approach (change priorities). In most cases your department has specific rules how and what to report to you. You should change this, but you should not explain too many details about the pro’s and con’s of your change. A nice approach is to shift from “reporting only exceptions” to “reporting every detail in a specific field” to “reporting the important issues”.

Confusing e-mails. That is an approach that requires some communication skills. It is only recommended to indirect communication (e-mail) and works best with Blackberry users. Write unspecific emails to your staff to express your expectations in terms of their contributions to specific projects. Use a very broad perspective to explain your opinion (e.g. the marketing department has to be creative…is specific enough), your expectations, and your impression that other departments obviously perform better. Avoid any kind of details that might help your receiver.

Never praise. That is classic, too. This approach helps to establish a good discussion position for feedback and bonus discussions. Too much praise can cause to request for raising salaries from your staff; a situation that can be avoided from day one. Furthermore if your employees think that they make good job, they might apply for a new position. It is part of your job to be challenging!

Talk bad about everyone. That is linked with the last approach. To stress your challenge and your dissatisfaction with your corporate environment you can explain how unsatisfied you have been with employee A. You explain B why A is not capable to do his / her job and what his / her limits are. Don’t forget to discuss the reverse issue with A about B, since nobody should gain an advantage!

Never backup. Your staff is under attack in a discussion (whatever) on projects you did agree on? Well, your staff consists of adults and hence they can defense themselves. Taking a point of view would make you vulnerable.

And now the ultimate communication tool:

Compare your staff against unknown third parties and extend this comparison to the future. That sounds difficult, but it is that easy. All you need is an external object of comparison. Your marketing staff does not meet your expectations? Then explain your dissatisfaction this way: (1) The marketing department in my former organization was more creative then you. (You have to be sure that nobody knows that department). And then you have to interpolate this assessment into the future: (2) I guess, you guys will never be that creative in the future.

Of course, you can use this communication tool for private discussions with your wife, husband….

3. Change Management and intelligence related issues

Be viewless. Did you read your job description? There are a number of items (e.g. set priorities, make decisions, and budget supervision), but no item to have a mind of one’s own. You prefer to listen to your staff members and to raise various questions (see also next item). You never establish a viewpoint without speaking to at least two people. You summarize and assume opinions. If something goes wrong, it was not your failure.

Raise dump questions / check it! This is the cadet of the previous item and linked with the next item, too. It works best with fundamental topics. You express your doubts about an issue and that the answer would have a high impact on the company’s future (whatever you like). A subtype is to distribute external drafts on legislative projects (paper should have at least 25 + pages) and order to check it. Please don’t be too specific, in most situations “check this” is enough information for your staff.

Request endless analysis. This is another cadet of “be viewless” and has some relations to change management. It is a very useful approach to slow down your staff politely (e.g. in the case that you do not like a specific project or that you expect some kind resistance in your organization that you want to avoid).

Copy and re-submit text phrases. That is a very difficult one. Let your staff submit some kind of written analyses to you. Rewrite some paragraphs (just some), copy and paste them to a new file, send this file back and order your staff to consider your findings (file) in their analyses.

Limit the intelligence. That the opposite from “endless analyses”. You did receive a brilliant analyses or business simulation? In that case it is recommended to exclude some of the ideas, calculations, and findings. Explain that these parts would confuse others and make the analyses unreadable. Don’t get into details.


May be you are not fully satisfied with my guide. Well, then you might have a look at this website “demotivation” and the book “the art of demotivation” (it really exists….)

I did not convince you? You are still a believer that motivation is important. Well, in that case do the opposite from our recommendations and keep your employees motivated!