Understanding employee motivation(s)

Updated: Oct 9

If you are in a managerial position in charge of people and you catch yourself with a thought - If I just had the right people around, the business would be different - read below.


Execution of all brilliant visions will stumble upon or get supported by a dis/well-functioning group of people, your employees.


In this note, we won’t be talking of firing/hiring, because there are always lessons to be learned first, with resources you have on hand. A rushed decision tends to bear the risk of having undesirable drama, a daunting process of finding the new talent which in six months or less would result in you finding yourself in the same place - not understanding "WHY can’t they just be committed and do what they are supposed to do?"


In the simplest and quite rough manner, most people constituting the modern workforce have three distinctive motivations of why they are in a particular job, with a specific enterprise. One would argue that there are much deeper motivations that each individual has - and will be correct, yet how many CEOs who have degrees of psychoanalysis have you met in real life?


The three buckets of strong motivations would be:


  1. Financial stability or gain (we are not talking of so-called greedy people. As banal as it can be in the current life circumstances for these people this particular job provides means to meet the needs).

  2. Ambition (career growth, conquering the highs, overcoming industry challenges, finding solutions)

  3. Power (execute power over other people, over the sector, outside of work - e.g. a person holds for a particular position because this allows him to position him in certain matters inside his family or society)

In some organizations ambition and power are linked, especially when there are no strong career growth opportunities, this is where even junior resources could be aspired to grow their power over others, over the organization itself not from a hierarchical perspective, but psychological, emotional. Remember corporate politics exist in organizations when the prize of the game is not gaining a particular position or obtaining an annual bonus rather fulfilling some individual psychological needs of a manipulator who does it consciously and not.


The longer list of weaker motivations (which are short-lived / or linked to the main 3) could include :

  • Intellectual development, learning

  • Pursuit of novelty

  • Affiliation with a particular individual aka role model

  • Affiliation with a particular cause or community

  • Friendliness of people around

  • The flexibility of work schedule


Hence as a business leader, you ought to understand the motivations of YOUR people and based on that structure job responsibilities, control power dynamics and decision-making process:


An example of a matrix of motivations for one specific company:


1. Attracted by CEO charisma, his character, and conduct

Usually most volatile in performance, risk of taking business leader in hostage of their expectations, tend to make things personal.

However once they are framed with very specific job duties (clearly defined with precise requirements, things that can be tracked and quantified) with time they could show a tendency to develop one of the 3 strong motivations listed above or, if not, they will ultimately leave the organization, likely with drama.

Should be given very specific job duties with quantifiable KPIs.


2. Like the idea “of being involved in something”


These people are the first people to lose the fire of engagement. While the first category we outlined above will make their disengagement in a clear, loud, personalizing the matter - “I am demotivated because CEO disappointed me, he is not who I thought he would be” - these group of people will show dissatisfaction by becoming quite, ghosting the firm.

The people who like the idea of “being involved in something” just lose the spark and will struggle to articulate why they don’t want to show anymore up.

Should be given jobs and duties that are customer-facing or related to customers, communities, communication.


3. Financial stability or gain


This is the most reliable group of employees who you could rely on in operation and execution.

It is important to leverage salary expectations from day one and also understand that if they are to receive a better salary-wise offer they will leave. Important to agree on specific leave notice with these employees early in advance, as they are vital for operations and running of the business.

Btw these people might be the least attracted to business leader personality, unlike the category 1 and 2. This might hurt CEO's ego, and takes time to realize.


4. Ambition and/or Power (title)


These people could run an extra mile and put extra hours in business without questioning it, when they are in charge. Some employees position themselves as ambitious leaders-to-be, but once given the real responsibility - the spirit vanishes.

For you as a business leader, it is important to “qualify” the gems, the ones who would have the aptitude and stamina to share business with you and grow it in the future.

This group is the most important when we think of the future, the loudest in the meetings and behind the back of the CEO. And it requires parallel thinking from the business leader to think several steps in advance about what he has to offer to these people in the mid and long term.


Interestingly, when I discuss such questions with CEOs many of them to their great surprise realize they they have been “betting” one the wrong horses. But as they say: being aware - becoming prepared for a change.

Lastly, bear in mind, human nature is evolving, sometimes your employees don’t know what they want, and none of them is absolutely suited for the job 100% of the time (just like yourself). But it is the duty of the skilled business manager to work with this intricate manner of human beings' professional potential while running and growing the business.



37 views