Motivation through a Kick in the Ass

woman high kicking dressed in a suit

Here is an idea that still holds water…..The psychologist Fred Herzberg argued that it is possible to generate ‘movement’ (i.e. getting someone to do something) through what he called KITA management – Kick in the Ass.

Fred Herzberg  was one of the most influential names in business management.  His 1968 publication One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees? has sold more than 1.2 million reprints.

Motivation, or movement?

He classified KITAs into positive and negative, a bribe or a threat!

  • Positive KITAs = rewards, bonuses, praise
  • Negative KITAs = restricted pay, disciplinary action, criticism

What Herzberg recognised was that there is a difference between getting people to do things, and people wanting to do things.

Getting people to do things through KITA management creates movement.

What if we want people to do something again? We have to give another KITA!

Of course, both types of KITA create movement.  But movement is not motivation. Motivation comes from within the call centre employee.  This is why bonus systems rarely create long-term personal loyalty to organisations, and critical cultures result in high staff turnover rates.

The employee who wants to achieve is motivated. As human beings we are all driven by an urge to achieve. It’s the way we are psychologically and genetically wired. The challenge in a call centre environment is to provide a working culture in which employees can aspire to meaningful and tangible ‘achievement’.

Goals of Significance

Alfred Adler, the prominent psychologist, recognised that humans work most effectively when they have a goal or ambition they are striving for.

This is the basis of Adlerian therapy, a discipline of behaviour therapy that helps people by encouraging them to map out achievable and stretching goals to give purpose and drive. Adler described it as ‘future-oriented striving toward a Goal of Significance’.

The goal for any success-focused call centre manager is to create opportunities for employees to have ‘a Goal of Significance’ to strive for. Adler’s ideas on teleology suggest that we design a goal so that a team may be directed toward a final result.

What are the ‘Goals of Significance’ for you and your team members? Maybe they include call volumes, first-time resolution rates, average handling times, wrap times, customer satisfaction ratings, service-level targets, conversion rates, sales targets, etc? These performance criteria can be celebrated (or ‘mourned’) collectively and relatively easily at a team level.  Call centres’ electronic wallboards often provide information on performance against some of these indices, providing a constant update on how well the team is performing.

But what about the individual employee?  How can he or she become motivated to ‘do a good job’?

Feeling good

I have spent the past nine years helping businesses staffed by customer-facing employees, including contact centres, to recognise the importance of ego. By ‘ego’ I don’t mean the vacuous over-inflated opinion of oneself sometimes associated with the word. I mean the confidence and self-assuredness to know that you are good at your profession, that you are ‘able’ and talented in your vocation.

When employees feel good about themselves, and when their ego is strong, successful performance has the habit of reinforcing confidence and professionalism. It creates an upward spiral of ambition. When people feel confident they are more open to stretching themselves even further, to become even better.

The global B2C brands I work with recognise the value of ego strengthening as a means of helping people consider how they could become even better in their role.

By using a structured set of performance criteria it is possible to identify and measure the specific parts of a call centre employee’s activity that are going well, and where they could operate in a different way, perhaps ‘even better’ than they do now.

By establishing a set of ambitions, measured through recorded calls, it is possible to build up a personal “Goal of Significance” that is meaningful for the team member.  The “Goal of Significance” will include a series of mini ambitions about excellence to be maintained, and a few performance issues that the team member is striving to make even better.

Celebrating existing excellence is important

Team leaders and managers need to help call centre employees recognise the specifics of their excellence, through coaching.

Too often team leaders and managers resort to lazy ‘chocolate praise’ in the form of a “well done” which, like chocolate, provides an immediate short-term buzz, but is unsustainable because the team member is unclear about what specifically they did that made their performance so good.

For example, the structure of a successful inbound call might include some or all of the following elements:

1. Welcome and rapport build
2. Understand customer needs
3. Good questioning
4. Offer solution options
5. Gain agreement on next steps (including conversion if appropriate)
6. Reaffirm rapport
7. Close the call
8. Time invested

It helps if you can add a definition to each of the elements to ensure clarity of meaning.

For example, what does ‘good questioning’ mean? A decent definition might be:

Good Questioning

The team member must ask at least three open questions regarding the caller’s enquiry, at least one of which should be followed up with a ‘probe’ question.

Motivation from Within

Old Fred was right, people at work will ‘move’ when given a KITA, but they won’t perform because they want to. They perform because they have to.  By contrast, if you can help your people to develop their own “Goals of Significance” you will create personal teleological ambition and motivation from within.

That’s true motivation.

Nick Drake-Knight

Nick Drake-Knight

Nick Drake-Knight MBSCH is an author and change consultant with NDK Group. He is a qualified clinical hypnotherapist (DHyp) and author of business books on customer service management, coaching, and sales process management.  His book Boomerang! Coach Your Team To Be The Best (Pollinger, 2007, is available via

© Nick Drake-Knight 2009 , Goals of Significance™ is a trade mark of the NDK Group.

Author: Jo Robinson

Published On: 27th May 2009 - Last modified: 3rd Jan 2020
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  • A very good article on encouraging improvement and ambition to achieve motivation. I started in my current role a year ago and found that the contact centre staff had no perfromance measures, nothing to work towards or indicate how they are doing. This generally created a very un-motivated and ‘dead’ atmosphere.

    Over the year I have introduced performance measures, regular 121’s and coaching session as well as providing guidence on general expectations for a professional environment. This has led to vast improvements in performance, morale and motivation across the board and goes some way to quantifying your article.

    Carl Nightingale 28 May at 13:14
  • Motivation is the capacity to see the invisible that inspires us to do the impossible, a guiding image of success. If compelling, that motivation can change your life, family, business, community, and humanity. In fact, motivation is the only thing that has spurred these types of major changes. Throughout history, great accomplishments have begun with the motivations of a single individual.

    Everything Counts 11 Jun at 17:54