Alvah Parker

Article Summary:

Not all employees are motivated by the same thing: what’s your primary motivation?

Motivation: One Size Does Not Fit All

“I’m not someone who is motivated by money”, said an attorney who was in one of my workshops. His comment was his reason for not doing the marketing he knew he needed to be doing. It is hard to gear up to do something when you can’t visualize a compelling reason to do it. His point was that he just didn’t get around to doing things he knew he “should” do but really didn’t want to do. Still his practice wasn’t growing so the issue is how does he motivate himself?

Some people use money as the score card for success. If they are earning more than the vast majority they feel good. We usually call a person like that very competitive because he or she is motivated by winning. Not everyone is motivated in this way however. One person who is motivated in this way is Jack Welch former CEO of GE and co-author with his wife Suzy Welch of the book Winning. (Appropriate title!)

In a recent issue of Business Week Jack and Suzy Welch wrote a response to a question posed by a reader who asks, “In our business, the biggest challenge we have today is motivating our people. What is the best way to do that?” Their response was: “Besides money, you mean? We assume you do, because as a boss, you surely have seen how effective money is in lighting a motivational fire – even in employees who claim money doesn’t matter to them. Indeed, money’s power to energize people is so tried and true we won’t dwell on it.” The Welches go on to say that maybe some people aren’t motivated by financial reward but those people usually don’t gravitate toward business.

This kind of assumption makes me see red! First it assumes that people are all motivated by the same thing – money. Sure I think the vast majority of people can be motivated by money to a point. They want to provide a comfortable living for themselves and their families. Of course everyone has a different definition of “comfortable living” so for some money is a motivator for a long time. Once a person gets to their own threshold of “comfortable living” however what makes them want to continue to work on a project or their own practice? These are the true motivators and they come from within each person.

According to Ginny O’Brien, author of Coaching Yourself to Leadership, her research shows that men are motivated by career development, professional recognition, and financial compensation, while women were motivated by relationships, quality of customer focus, and communication with colleagues. According to their Business Week article therefore it seems Jack and Suzy Welch think then that women would not “gravitate toward business.” In a sense using money as the carrot is a subtle discriminatory practice.

One aspect to leadership that O’Brien talks about is having a deep understanding of self. This is part of what is called emotional intelligence. Knowing what motivates you is one aspect of understanding yourself. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if business leaders got this? The major responsibility of finding your motivators is yours but how helpful it would be if managers coached employees with the goal of helping the employee find his or her key motivators.

It is important to differentiate internal from external motivators. Someone who is internally motivated finds the feelings within him or herself that really ignite passion. External motivators would be something outside the person like money and other tangible recognition methods. The external ones provide a burst of energy but don’t have sustainability.

What if companies provided a questionnaire to all new employees on their first day to determine if they knew what motivated them? The questionnaire might list lots of external motivators and have a question about internal ones too. Now if someone asked you those questions on your first day in the office, wouldn’t you think you had found the perfect place to work?! Of course the manager would need to follow through with appropriate coaching and rewards.

It is important to remember that a manager’s role is to create an environment in which the employee works effectively, creatively and productively so the business makes a profit. In that kind of environment employees have the freedom to explore what motivates them and the trust in their manager so that they share their findings.

Being self motivating is of course ideal but that can only happen when an employee is given the space and encouragement to figure it out for him/herself. If managers assume that one size fits all, they limit the possibilities of the business.

Take Action
1. Start with yourself. What motivates you? Take a piece of paper and write a story about a time when you were driven to keep working on something. The work was so engaging you would have done it without pay. See if you can determine what it was about the work that pulled you.

2. Knowing what your values will help you to know what is most important to you. That may be a clue as to what motivates you.

3. Read Coaching Yourself to Leadership by Ginny O’Brien and Winning by Jack and Suzy Welch

Alvah Parker is a Practice Advisor for attorneys and Career Transition Coach as well as publisher of Parker’s Points, an email tip list and Road to Success, an ezine. To subscribe send an email to join-roadtosuccess@ Parker’s Value Program © enables clients to find a way to work that is more fulfilling and profitable. She is both a Practice Advisor and Coach to attorneys, sole practioners, and works with people in transition to find a fulfilling career. Alvah is found on the web at She may also be reached at 781-598-0388.

Read all advice by Alvah Parker; Find more Management experts

More advice on Management
» Business Success by Trusting Intuition
» Employee Engagement Strategies
» all Management articles