Motivational Interviewing: How To Help Employees Set New Goals – ForbesApril 24, 2020
As a partner at a law firm, I used to train new associates in the most effective way I knew how (which, I now realize, wasn’t always the most motivating). I often said, “Write down everything that is preventing you from meeting your monthly billing goal.” Then I’d wait while my associate jotted things on their notepad for a few minutes. Once they would hand it back to me, I’d set the paper aside and say, “Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get to work.”
Back when I had my first employees, I didn’t care what they had to say or what excuses they had for unfinished work. I just wanted to get the work done. But I recently read an article by Juan Ortega directed toward fitness coaches titled “Solving Your Clients’ Problems with Motivational Interviewing,” and it changed how I approach my employees.
I learned that motivational interviewing refers to the method of helping someone resolve feelings of ambivalence so that they can find the internal motivation they need to succeed. It still requires some coaching and intervention from the professional, but the underlying motivation comes directly from the person you are trying to help. Why does the person want to change? What is motivating them?
Although the article I read discussed the concept of motivation in relation to fitness goals, I believe motivation is motivation, so the same concept can be applied to the field of law — or any industry for that matter — when helping employees set a new goal. I’ve begun practicing motivational interviewing in my own workplace, and below, I’ve outlined how I use motivational interviewing when helping employees set new goals (and how you can, too).
Have your employee set up their own goal.
The first step to motivational interviewing is to get the employee to establish their own goal. It’s important to avoid imposing your own suggestions on your employee. The goal of emotional interviewing is to encourage the other person to make their own commitment to change.
For example, if one of my associates were always late to court, it would be easy for me to say, “I always get to work an hour early and set my schedule before the court gets started. That way, I’m organized and ready to go. You should, too.” But our job as leaders in this situation is to guide employees, not tell them.
Instead, I could adjust my wording and say, “Some associates come in an hour before court starts to organize their day. What do you think about doing that?” Now, you are helping support them and becoming more of a team.
Once your employee has established their goal, in the beginning, I’ve found it to be helpful to meet one-on-one every day until you can see that progress has been made. As the employee progresses, I move the meetings to once a week and then once a month. After the goal has been met, we still meet monthly to discuss their achievement and to discuss any problems they’ve encountered during that past month.
What should you do if the goal is not attained?
Instead of making your employee write down their excuses for failing to meet their goal and then throwing the paper in the garbage, I ask, “Why didn’t you accomplish your goal?” Then, I ask them how I can help eliminate what’s keeping them from their goal. Make sure you listen to what your employee says, and reiterate what you heard to ensure you’re clear on the situation.
For example, at my firm, I might say, “You said that you would bill five hours a day so you could meet your monthly goal, but yesterday, you only billed two hours. What went wrong?” In this discussion, I am finding out why the employee was unable to meet the goal and seeing what can be done to fix it.
It is important for the employee to recognize what is keeping them from their goal so they know what needs to be changed. Getting angry defeats the process, so ask them what happened and how you can collectively reach a solution.
You also don’t want to make the employee defensive. If they made a mistake, help them solve the problem to avoid making them feel bad about their error. Sit down and have them flesh out why and how they should prevent it from happening again in the future. Your goal isn’t to shut down ideas, but to encourage them.
Motivational interviewing has helped me examine how I treat my associates and, better still, what I can do to change my own behavior. Changing my behavior allows my associates to feel that they are a part of the team, and I believe it can do the same in any organization. As a result, you might find that employees want to stay with your company, which is a win for everyone.