Not a day goes by without one of our clients asking, "How do I motivate my people?"When I was younger and more apt to answer questions than ask them, I'd launch into a listing of ideas and activities that we've seen motivate teams in the organizations we serve. These ideas and activities have value, and I'll share them in my next article, but first, let's explore the most important idea I have to help you motivate your people: Ask them!

Why? Because your people know what motivates - and deflates - them. They are the best ones to guide you in your quest to develop an inspiring, maximally productive work environment. And motivation is a highly individualized, very personal thing. We see this in our work environment and in the partner, key leader and staff groups that we coach. It's a hard but simple truth - what motivates you to perform does not necessarily motivate me.

For instance, if you want to motivate your people to meet a very important objective for your firm, Betty may prefer to be compensated with a cash bonus for her part, Bob may want to receive a floating holiday for his contribution and Pat may want to be considered for a promotion.

The bottom line is that there are six professional motivators, and while we are all motivated to some degree by all six, we do not value them equally. 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 motivators

So, what are the six professional motivators? According to (and adapted from) the Journal of Career Planning and Employment, they 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. It is ensuring that you treat your people with dignity, and honor them for their part in fulfilling your firm's vision.

It is the least costly motivator in terms of time and money, and is often the one we forget. Acknowledgement and respect can be as simple as an e-mail 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 teambuilding, relatedness to others at work, activities to promote socializing, and the elements of laughter, play and fun that you promote in your work group. It also includes the level of enjoyment that your people derive from working with the others on your team and with your clients.

* Compensation. This encompasses base salary, commissions, financial incentives, stock options and other income-based pay. This 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!

* Flexibility and time off. You appeal to this value with the range of choice that 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 on the additional skills, 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.

What do you value?

To really motivate your people, first work to understand what motivates each individual by asking them to share their values and their priority order for these six motivators with you in a risk-free, non-judgemental 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 them to share the value they place on each of "the Six," using a rating from one to six, with one being the most important and six being the 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 value order with you at any point in time, so their rating today is not written in stone. Commit to asking 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 six 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 firm-wide human resource programs in the top two or three areas of most importance to your entire group.

In my next article, we'll explore actions and ideas for appealing to each of the six motivating factors. Meanwhile, rate them yourself, find out what motivates your other leaders, and then begin asking other team members. You will be surprised by how positively your team responds - and by how much you learn. The process will be truly motivational!

Jennifer Wilson is co-founder and owner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC (, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that specializes in helping CPA and IT firms achieve success.

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