What Really Motivates Key Employees?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On August 19, 2013

Any decent business leader will tell you that a huge amount of their business success depends on their employees. But great business leaders know how to find the right employees for the right positions. And beyond that, great leaders know how to get the maximum performance out of the people they choose. A lot of it has to do with motivation.

You might think that if you hire the right people to begin with that you wouldn’t need to motivate them. And there’s a certain truth to that. We all want team members who are self-motivated. But the business race is a long-distance race. Sometimes motivation can lag when you’re slogging through tough times, and a good leader needs to keep his key employees motivated.

Ah, but how do you do that? Companies offer a variety of performance incentives. Some offer bonuses. Others reward performance with gifts. Some companies have competitions (especially for sales people) that award vacations or other perks to the top-performing employees.

You can probably increase sales with some of these tactics. But are these really good incentives for great employees? Do gifts and SPIFFS and vacations generate the kind of loyalty, creativity, and dedication a business needs in order to stand out from the crowd?

Recently, Jeff Haden wrote a very interesting post for Inc.com entitled, 10 Things Extraordinary Bosses Give Employees. You can read the whole post here (And I strongly urge you to do so!), but I’d like to draw your attention to the key bullet points. And I’d also like to draw your attention to a key word in the title of the post: extraordinary. Any leader can dole out prizes to employees who perform. But extraordinary, exceptional, leaders take things to a whole different level.

Here’s what Haden says extraordinary bosses give every employee:

1. Autonomy and independence.

2. Clear expectations.

3. Meaningful objectives.

4. A true sense of purpose.

5. Opportunities to provide significant input.

6. A real sense of connection.

7. Reliable consistency.

8. Private criticism.

9. Public praise.

10. A chance for a meaningful future.

That list looks a little different than one that contains things such as bonuses and vacations. It’s not really surprising, however, since exceptional leaders are looking for exceptional employees. And when it comes down to it, you can’t buy exceptional employees. What motivates an exceptional employee is part of what separates him or her from the ordinary. And exceptional employees are part of what will separate your company from ordinary companies.