Can you motivate without throwing money at people?

It’s all about the money, money, money. Or is it? Bryce Sanders investigates.

Keeping staff motivated and reducing turnover are two of the toughest jobs faced by managers. In addition to increased training costs, frequent staff turnover can put client relationships at risk. If your people aren’t happy coming to work, their lack of motivation is apparent to clients. Internally, it reflects badly on managers.

Innovative ways to motivate people

Here’s an exciting story. A law firm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania did some really cool things. They send a holiday greeting card to all clients. One year, the staff all were positioned on a staircase with a live tiger at the base! No employees were eaten and no animals hurt in the production of this card.

They close their office on the first day of baseball season, presumably so everyone can watch the season’s opening game. On Friday afternoons during the summer, they serve cocktails in their parking lot, featuring a different drink for their staff weekly. Once you reached a major milestone anniversary with the firm, they rewarded you with a vacation to a destination of your choice. (Obviously there were restrictions.)

If your people aren’t happy coming to work, their lack of motivation is apparent to clients.

Was turnover a problem? No. Did they have a waiting list of people who wanted to work there? Yes.

Using money to motivate and retain talent

Before considering non-monetary motivators, here are the major ways money is used.

  1. More money forever. The obvious answer. Give them a salary increase. This causes problems because it increases overhead and benefit costs.
  2. More money now. Award annual bonuses based on performance. They can change or even be eliminated if the firm doesn’t have a good year.
  3. More money later. Develop a deferred compensation program requiring vesting. It provides an incentive to stay with the firm.
  4. Matching retirement plan contributions. A variation on ‘more money later’. Employers match employee contributions to defined contribution plans. The employer may also be making payments even if the employee chooses to contribute their own funds, getting additional funds as a match

Other ways to motivate and retain talent

In theory, we know money isn’t everyone’s sole motivation. Here are several others.

  1. Respect. Treating people as equals and taking time to listen to their concerns can build incredible loyalty. People feel they are part of a team or family, not simply a replaceable part in a machine.  Respect costs nothing, yet carries great value.
  2. Mentoring and coaching. Some people like to teach. Every office needs to bring new people aboard and teach them the ropes. Although firms run new hire training programs, new hires often need attention at the local level.
  3. Promoting from within. Some firms use executive search firms to find talent. These new faces often hire their own teams. This can be demoralising to internal managers who have demonstrated loyalty. They might think if you can’t move up, the only other option is to move out. Companies that develop leadership and promote internally should find it easier to retain talent.
  4. Leadership. Some people want to climb the corporate ladder. Although people are often identified early and brought into programs rotating them through the firm, many offices might have informal sales manager roles. This gives people considering management some experience along with an opportunity to prove themselves. They might receive a modest amount of additional compensation.
  5. Flexible hours. Some people prefer to work from home. Others have responsibilities outside the office needing attention. Designing a position with these factors in mind lets the employee know the company cares about them.
  6. Educational opportunities. Some people want to earn advanced degrees. The company likely has a program making this possible. Be accommodating and flexible with their schedules when studying or testing is involved. Your employee sees a path to higher education, supported by the firm.
  7. Industry expert. Other people enjoy representing the firm at conferences. They willingly staff exhibition tables, attend workshops and sit on panel discussions. Building a reputation for themselves in the industry is important to them. Make these assignments available.
  8. Celebrity. Companies often use internal spokespeople to interact with the media, appear on television and give interviews. Larger firms have PR departments, smaller firms don’t. They often feel the publicity is a great way for the firm to gain brand recognition. Someone on your staff might be an ideal spokesperson.
  9. Creature comforts. There’s an established pecking order in most offices. What’s the cost of giving someone a better office or a dedicated parking space? Not much. It can have a sizeable impact.
  10. Recognition. The list started with respect. It ends with recognition. People want to know their work is seen and appreciated. They want to get to the attention of senior management. Winning an award or getting a letter from the president can have a big impact.

The final ten strategies don’t involve large costs, yet motivate people by identifying what’s important to them. This helps retention and can also help cement client relationships. We are all on the same team.


About the author

Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. 




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