Money Isn’t Everything

5 Other Currencies to Motivate People

A surprising number of people are not primarily motivated by money. In fact, some studies have found that there is only a weak connection between job satisfaction and salary level.

And yet, the primary way that we attempt to motivate employees in the white-collar world is through extrinsic means: bonuses, stock awards, and benefits packages.

While these rewards may entice an employee to seek you out for a job, they are not necessarily what will make people stay, and prosper.

So what does work? Here are 5 strategies that I have found to motivate team members that don’t involve money. The gains to your team, however, are very real.

1. Identify their intrinsic motivators

Your first job as a manager of new people is to find out what your employees’ intrinsic triggers are. These could be the feeling of closure when you check something off your list; the glow that you feel when upper management praises your work; the feeling of warmth and well-being that results from helping solve someone’s problem or making their day; or something else.

Skills gaps in employees are can be fixed through training and on-the-job experience. They are teachable. However, a love for the work is not easily passed on to a person who is not interested. In journalism school we were told by our professor, “I can teach anyone how to write – I can’t teach someone how to ask the right questions.” The same goes for just about any type of work.

The trick as a leader is to find out how their passions and hobbies can be an asset to your team first and focus on skills later. Then, like a jujitsu master, use the their intrinsic triggers to pull them towards the work that will give them those rewards on the job.

2. Spend time with them

Nothing is more demotivating than a manager who never has time for the staff. Managers who don’t take time to meet with their employees send a message that the staff are unimportant, whether or not that was what they intended to say.

So, set aside time to meet with your direct reports every week for a one-on-one discussion and never cancel that meeting unless it is completely unavoidable.

If you have a very busy schedule, your team members may be waiting all week to talk to you about issues that could be blocking their work or agitating them. That means that you not only demotivate if you continually cancel these discussions, but you are also hurting yourself by making it harder for them to do their jobs effectively.

3. Recognition is often its own reward

A common complaint with employees is “no one ever acknowledged how hard I worked on that!” That’s easy enough to fix.

If you are middle management, take a few minutes to send an email to your own manager about the good work that your employee is doing, and CC that worker on the email. It’s a small gesture that can make the different for an employee between staying in a company and leaving for more encouraging pastures.

If this doesn’t come naturally to you, then I recommend setting aside 30 minutes every 2 weeks to spend on recognizing your employees. Successes are good to praise, but it’s also wise to praise them when they take risks or fail in a way that results in a valuable lesson.

The principle is simple: Praise them for good work, and they will continue to try and earn more praise.

4. Treat them like they matter (because they do)

I work in a company that employs many contract, consultant, and vendor staff. It can be tempting for the full-time employees to treat the vendor staff like disposable utensils. Tempting but costly. I don’t have the time to replace vendors who leave the job because they are not engaged with their work, so when a new vendor joins my team the first thing that we do is sit down for coffee and a career discussion.

These talks reveal to me what they are fully capable of and give hints about what truly gets them out of bed in the morning. For the vendor, knowing that someone takes an interest in them creates a stronger bond of loyalty between us and reduces my vendor turnover.

It’s not necessary or advisable to be deeply involved in the lives of your employees, but people are motivated to work hard for managers who show that they care. Remember two things: 1. They are the ones who can make you successful. 2. True progress is a lot more likely if you make them successful first.

5. Challenge, trust, and forgive

We all know that a little challenge is good for people. Equally valuable, however, is letting your employees know that you trust them.

Dreaded micromanagers, take note: You hired this person because they convinced you that they have the knowledge and experience that you were looking for. Now let them go and do their job without constant correcting and commentary from you.

If you have taken an interest in their lives and consistently meet with them one-on-one, they will feel comfortable coming to you if they encounter problems. Trust is motivating.

On paper this all sounds easy. In real life however the work day is filled with stress, some of your team members may have personalities that annoy you, and you don’t have time to meet with your 10 direct reports every week.

This is not easy. I don’t want to pretend that it is. But what it all boils down to is this: If you approach your employees with compassion and trust, they will respond with loyalty and motivation – quite apart from the money.

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