A person sitting at a desk with a keyboard.

Do you know what motivates your employees?

Mark tossed and turned in bed all night and was happy when the alarm finally went off.  His 11 o’clock meeting with Jason kept looping through his mind. He was thinking about the words he would use to let Jason know he was resigning.

Sure, he was super excited about the position that Harbor Entertainment had offered him to run their entire marketing division. But he felt that he was letting his current company – and staff – down by moving to the competition.  But what was he supposed to do?  He was hired six years ago as a product manager and two years later received a promotion to marketing manager.  And that’s where he has been stuck ever since.

So what would he tell Jason? Mark figured the best thing to do was to tell it likes it is: he didn’t see any growth opportunity at Knight Entertainment and decided to accept an outside offer.  Mark was also frustrated that Jason didn’t seem to appreciate the work that he was doing for the company. It wasn’t that he necessarily wanted more money; far more important – and motivating – would be some recognition, such as:  “Thanks Mark, you really did a good job on that project.â€

The meeting with Jason didn’t go well. He complained that he felt “blindsided†by Mark and that he was letting the company down. Jason was also surprised to learn that Mark thought he was in a dead-end job and didn’t feel appreciated.

Mark thought that Jason would want him to complete his 2-week notice period but at the end of the meeting he was told that he could turn over his employee ID and key to HR before the end of the day.

Losing an employee is a very common occurrence that all companies experience. In fact a recent Gallup survey found that more than half of all employees (51%) are actively searching for a new opportunity.

What can a company proactively do to slowdown the revolving door, thus lowering the high- cost of employee turnover?

I’d argue that a better understanding of an employee’s key motivators might be a starting point. As we saw above with Mark, a bit of praise and recognition would have gone a long way to show him that Knight Entertainment considered him a valuable employee.  But even after being his boss for over four years, Jason wasn’t sure of Mark’s key motivators.

An individual’s behavioral traits and behavioral profile can be understood using a good behavioral assessment tool. And based on a person’s behavioral profile they will be attracted to certain motivators. For example, someone with high dominance might well be motivated by new opportunities, challenge, money or status and be turned off by external controls or a highly structured environment. An employee who is highly extroverted might be motivated by travel, unusual assignments and group activities and demotivated if they believe they are being left out.

Once we know a person’s behavioral profile we can generate a list of typical motivators and then let them select the top motivators out of the list. Finally, we have the employee rate the motivators that they have selected (maybe the top four or five). This might look as follows:   

  • Yes, I’m receiving this motivator (+)
  • No, I’m never receiving this motivator (-)
  • Sometimes I’m receiving this motivator (S)

Once a manager understands what his or her employee’s key motivators are, he can find ways to tap into them.  It will also serve as a warning sign: if an employee has selected, for example, “Opportunity†as a key motivator and rated this motivator with a minus, then you know that you run the risk of losing a top performer and need to act fast to right the ship.

More money or a fancy title might motivate some employees. Others might be thrilled to get a hand written “thank you†note or just a verbal “that was a great job, thanks!â€

As a new year approaches, how we motivate our key employees will also dictate if our key employees stay with our company for another year.

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