As my partner, Jennifer Wilson, said in her blog post How Important Is HR Now, Anyway? on July 29, 2009, HR is as important as ever while firms are focusing on building their sales pipelines and managing their costs.  Your people remain your greatest asset and are the key to your success during these uncertain times, so it’s important to understand what is motivating them right now.  You may have thought you understood what motivated them in the past – even earlier this year – but as times are changing and organizations are focusing on business development activities to sustain their top line revenue, your peoples’ motivators are likely changing, too. 


During these times of change, it’s critical that you communicate – even over-communicate – with your team as I suggested in my August 12, 2009 post Are You Managing Change?  Communication is the first step to help you motivate your people.  Meet with each of your team members and ask each one what motivates them in their career today.  Your people know what motivates -- and deflates -- them. 


The Six Professional Motivators

To begin the discussion with each of your people, you must first understand that there are six professional motivators according to (and adapted from) the Journal of Career Planning and Employment, and while we are all motivated to some degree by all six, we do not value them equally, and they change over the course of our careers.  The value and order I place on my six is likely to be very different from the value and order you place on yours. The six professional motivators are:

  • Acknowledgment and respect.  This is the act of communicating your appreciation for your people’s efforts and showing them courtesy and kindness in the work place – and it’s free!  It is ensuring that you treat your people with dignity and honor them for their part in fulfilling your firm’s vision. While it is the least costly motivator in terms of time and money, it is often the one we forget and critical during turbulent times of uncertainty.  Your people need to know you care about them and value them as key contributors to your team.  Acknowledgement and respect can be as simple as an email or stopping by someone’s cubicle to tell them what a great job they did on a project.
  • Camaraderie and fun.  This is the level of team building, relatedness to others at work, activities to promote socializing, and the elements of laughter, play and fun that you promote in your organization. It also includes the level of enjoyment your people derive from working with the others on your team and with your clients. People like to work with other people they enjoy being around, so even in these economically uncertain times, make time to have fun together.
  • Compensation.  This encompasses base salary, financial incentives, stock options, benefits and other income-based pay.  This traditionally is the one area where most firms focus their motivational energies – but, as you can see, it is only one of the six motivators and surprisingly isn’t always the most important one! And now, with the financial constraints and even cutbacks some firms are experiencing today make the other five motivators become even more important for you to focus on while you temporarily may not be able to appease those whose top motivator may be compensation. 
  • Flexibility and time off.  You appeal to this value with the options you provide your people to schedule their own time, choose their work hours and days, work from home, take time off for personal activities and earn time off.
  • Increased responsibility and challenge.  This is the process of providing your people with expanded duties and responsibilities, where their work is increasingly complex and the importance of their work to the firm and your clients grows, too.
  • Personal and professional development.  In this area, the focus is the amount of additional skill, ability and market value that your firm adds to your people during their employment via continuing education, investment in certifications, mentoring programs, leadership development and more. Don’t pull back on the leadership development investments you’ve been making over the past several years!  You will need to accelerate the speed at which your leaders grow and mature in your firm to fill the gaps in your succession plans.


To really motivate your people, ask each individual to share their values and their priority order for these six motivators with you in a risk-free, non-judging environment.  Be genuinely interested.  In your next one-on-one meeting with each of your people, explain that your leadership team is committed to understanding what motivates them and the rest of the team.  Share that you would like to develop individualized programs, where allowed by your state laws, to motivate your team members. 


Ask each person to share the value they place on each of “the Six,” using a rating from 1 to 6, with 1 being most important and 6 being least.  Some possible tips for getting your people to share their most honest answers:


  • Share your value rankings and those of the leadership team for the six motivators with them first (lead by example!).
  • Indicate that there are no right or wrong answers and that all people value “the Six” differently at different stages in their careers and personal lives.  Share that their order is important for you to know so that you can motivate them appropriately and work to construct programs that most appeal to them. 
  • Share that they can update their order with you at any point in time, so their rating today is not written in stone.  Commit to ask them to re-evaluate and share their then-current rating at least once per year.


We have developed a simple spreadsheet to track the inputs you get from each of your team members.  This grid, which is available at, enables you to look at the individual appeals and also the average value rating that your whole team places on each of the motivating factors.   The most important professional motivator for your firm is the one with the smallest average value rating.  Knowing your “corporate” motivational values can allow you to focus your limited firm-wide human resource programs in the top two or three areas of most importance to your entire group.


In next week’s blog post, I’ll share actions and ideas for appealing to each of the six motivating factors.  Meanwhile, rank them yourself and share your rankings by posting a comment.   Then, find out what motivates your other leaders and begin asking other team members.  You will be surprised by how positively your team responds – and by how much you learn.  The process itself will be truly motivational!




Tamera Loerzel