Discovering the Unique Motivations of Your Key Employees

Most business executives think about motivation in terms of actions we take or words we speak to inspire the performance of others. The objective of our words or actions is to get employees to work harder and smarter.

Secondarily, we might think about motivation in terms of why other people do what they do and what they want to get out of their jobs. This is often in the context of how to incentivize or reward employees. In this context, unwary executives often make two classic mistakes:

1) We project what we want onto others

2) We make assumptions about what others want (money, power, personal recognition) –that are either misleading or not specific enough to be helpful

A Profound Truth About Motivation

The root cause of both of these classic mistakes is not realizing a little known but profound truth about motivation: Motivation is unique for each individual.

If you’re a CEO, executive leader, or boss, discovering the unique motivational drives of your key employees or managers can have a tremendous positive impact on your profitability, effectiveness, and success.

Money Talks But Often Isn’t The Most Influential Voice

Through my work with SIMA International, I’ve seen key employees underperform because their boss is trying to motivate them with money, recognition, or power, when what they really want is something completely different. Some desire the opportunity to work more independently. Other employees are highly motivated by hands-on interaction with their fellow workers. Still other key employees greatly improve their performance when the boss motivates them with a specific goal or financial metric. Everyone’s motivated in different ways. I’ve worked with companies where a team or an employee is far more motivated by the company’s need to overcome a significant challenge or obstacle, regardless of the financial implications. Money talks but it’s often not the most influential voice.

The Successful CEO Who Had To Leave

One of my recent clients was the CEO of a very successful and profitable construction company. He was miserable. This CEO had reached his goal by creating this successful company and now lacked motivation. Through the SIMA® process we discovered that his primary motivation was in completing a task, delivering on a promise, and seeing it through. He’d accomplished that at his construction company and had little more to strive for.

 What’s fascinating is that this CEO needed to leave the company and begin a new venture. He launched a non-profit and built it into a global philanthropic organization meeting needs in 25 countries.

This is why motivation is critical to business success. It’s why motivation is so interesting and intriguing. Motivation is different for every person. And if you can zero in on a person’s primary motivation you can greatly increase their job satisfaction while advancing the business goals you need to reach.

Gain This Powerful Leadership Asset

Think about this. How many times have you heard executives make comments like, “You know what sales people are like” or “All entrepreneurs are (fill in the blank).” These stereotypes mislead you and impede progress. Generalizations about what motivates people are rarely relevant or true for any specific person that you’re dealing with. And making assumptions about a person’s motivation has profound implications for how you handle your key employees. When you truly understand what uniquely drives each of your key employees you gain a powerful management and leadership asset.

At an organizational level, ask yourself how much potential creativity, sales, or growth your organization could unleash from your key employees if you knew exactly what really motivated them.

I welcome your feedback, thoughts, or experiences on motivation, so please let me know if this topic has piqued your interest. E-mail me at or visit


SIMA® International is a worldwide group of consultants who use the proprietary assessment technology, SIMA®, to help our clients make the best possible “people decisions.”

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