Leaders: It’s Not All About the Money

Obsessed with Money

It is time that all of us get into the 21st Century about motivation and driving high-performance in the workplace.  

Over 20 years of research about what motivates people and teams to perform at their highest levels, have consistently shown that it is not money.

What Motivates Us

Yes, it’s true.  Money is not a primary motivator for a highly engaged and high performance workplace.  There are many Organization Development, Human Resources, and other professionals that understand this fact.

The research that leads us to this conclusion includes, but is not limited to:

Research from the Daniel Pink’s book, Drive:

  • Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives.
  • Mastery— the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
  • Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves; not money.

Research conducted by, The Coffman Organization:

As a matter of fact, it is likely that the pursuit of money alone is a motivator that leads people and organizations down the wrong path (see EnronWall Street, Jimmy Hoffa, etc.).

It could be why leaders layoff instead of innovate, or why employees skip safety for speed.

 Is money important?

Yes, but it will not encourage those elements that turn into an organization’s strategic advantage(s).

No Money?

Money plays a factor only in that people need to be paid a fair wage.

If employees are fairly compensated for the work they do, and it is clear that this is the case, it generally is not a primary motivator.

The underlying issue regarding money and pay is that people really base what they believe about pay in relationship to those around them (or in their industry).

If you are paying one engineer $10 and another $100 for doing the exact same job, then money is a demotivator.

However, if everyone is equally paid, relatively speaking, then pay alone is not going to make people work harder, smarter, or produce more results.

 So Now What?

The solution is not as simple as pointing out that money is not a motivator to an engaged and highly productive workforce.

There are some awesome lists of actions to take created by some excellent organizations based on heaps of research.

I encourage leaders and companies to do some or all of the things they suggest.

Here are three things to keep in mind:

1. The Money Cop Out 

Do not let managers/leaders say that the reason people don’t perform is their pay.  That is a cop out.  It is a way to say its not their fault when in fact they are the people that can create a motivating environment.

2. Meaningfulness

Make sure that every single person understands what he or she does to gain and retain customers.  They must have a clear line of sight to the end customer to understand their impact.

3. Make Sure Money is Not a Factor

Calibrate pay against your industry and ensure that you are paying employees fairly.  Make that known. Do not ask about it on employee engagement or opinion surveys.  No one thinks they are getting paid enough. It is not a differentiator between low and high performance teams.

Once money is off the table as “the reason teams aren’t productive” or “the reason morale is low” the real work of creating a highly engaged, productive, and profitable organization can begin.

How do you deal with the question about money as a motivator?  What have you seen as factors in highly productive workplaces?  Let me know!


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Anil Saxena
 is a President & Senior Consultant Cube 214 Consulting
He helps organizations create environments that generate repeatable superior results
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog | (847) 212-0701

Image Sources: static.coindugeek.com

2 responses to “Leaders: It’s Not All About the Money

    • Appreciate it Alan. I just got tired of some managers griping that their people would work harder if the company just paid better. But, the manager two doors down at the SAME company was exemplary.

      Thanks! Anil Sent from my iPhone


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