Corporate Culture: What’s My Motivation?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On October 5, 2015

Corporate-culture-what's-my-motivationWe’ve all seen the movie scene in which the cheesy (and not particularly gifted) actor dramatically asks the director: “What’s my motivation?” It’s kind of pathetically funny, because as the audience, we know that motivation isn’t the real problem.

In corporate culture, however, motivation is no laughing matter. It’s virtually impossible to grow a business in which the employees aren’t motivated. In fact, disillusioned employees don’t just keep a business from growing— they can kill it.

Is employee disengagement really that big of a deal? When the Gallup Organization polled workers from around the globe in 2013 they discovered that close to 90 percent of them were either “unengaged” or “actively disengaged” from their jobs.

Author Barry Schwartz speculates that a big reason for this problem is that many businesses have bought into the business thinking of Adam Smith, who penned the classic tome The Wealth of Nations—in 1776!

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but business has changed a lot in the last 239 years. Not only do we have industries that didn’t exist back then, but we also have a society that people around the Revolutionary War times couldn’t even imagine. And yet, in many regards, business leaders try to motivate employees in much the same way—with monetary compensation: You put in your time and you’ll get your money.

Don’t get me wrong: Employees are motivated by adequate compensation. Under-paying your workers may save you something on the bottom line—temporarily. It won’t pay off in the end. One of the key principles in The Rockefeller Habits™ 2.0 is that you need to get the right people in the right positions in your company—and keep them. You’re not going to attract the right people with the wrong (inadequate) salary.

You’re also not going to draw A-level people to your business with empty promises. In the halcyon days of the dotcom boom, it seemed that everybody was willing to work hard and sacrifice for options. A lot of employees were banking on a big payoff when a company would (finally) have its IPO. With very few exceptions, that didn’t happen. Many of those companies are gone and forgotten—and the employees are a little bit wiser (or more skeptical).

So what does attract and keep and motivate good employees? A while back, published The Top 9 Things That Ultimately Motivate Employees to Achieve. You can read the whole article here, but let me give you the list:

  1. Trustworthy Leadership
  2. Being Relevant
  3. Proving Others Wrong
  4. Career Advancement
  5. Career Advancement
  6. Stable Future
  7. Self-Indulgence
  8. Impact
  9. Happiness

It’s pretty interesting that of the nine things listed, only one really has anything directly to do with money (self-indulgence), and even that is qualified and tempered in the Forbes article.

It would seem that Adam Smith’s approach is a little outdated. Compensation may still be an important thing—but it’s not the only thing. What about you? What’s your motivation? And what have you found to be a good motivator for your employees? Leave me a note in the comments section below. I’d love to pass that on to others.