Motivational factors run deeper than the dollar

So, you’ve decided that you need to stimulate performance in certain members of your team. You sit down at your desk and work up formulas for money incentives that will fit the budget. Next, you go to the affected employees and describe how much money they can make under this new program. Then you sit back and wait to see great performance improvements. Right?

This is the American way in business culture. Throw money at them and they will perform. It is ingrained in our culture — heck it’s in our genes. So why doesn’t it always work? Why do some good employees not respond to the opportunity to make more money? What’s wrong with these people anyway?

The issue is not necessarily that there is something wrong with the people. It may well be that money is not what motivates them. Surprise!

Technicians are a classic example. Would it surprise you to learn that most techs are not primarily motivated by dollars? When we do motivational studies on them, we find that things like recognition, feeling self-worth or having a job that keeps them interested are often much higher on their scale than money.

Here’s another thought to ponder: Why do we try to use the same compensation and/or incentive programs to motivate a diverse group of people? Because it is what we’ve always done? Because we don’t know what else to do?

The first dealership that hired me as a tech had a pretty savvy boss. He offered his techs their choice of three different compensation programs. One was based on flat rate — no base salary and no cap. The faster you could work, the more money you could make. We had one fellow that took that program. He could blow away most flat rate times … as long as he only had to do the job once.

The second pay plan had a base salary with an incentive that kicked in at a certain level of performance. Two of the techs were on that plan. The third plan was straight hourly. That’s the plan I opted for. My motivational factor was security. Knowing what I was going to take home each week meant I could plan my expenses and save money for the future. Besides, I was slow and meticulous. I rarely beat flat rate … but I had zero comebacks.

If you want to get off this merry-go-round and try to find better ways to motivate your people, I can provide some help. In our management training classes, we do an exercise using a tool we call the “Motivational Factors Worksheet.” The purpose of the exercise is to make the point that not everyone is money-motivated. We provide participants with a list of 12 common motivational factors. We ask them to choose their No. 1 motivator from the list. Next, we have them choose their second and third strongest motivators. We have yet to have a single class where the majority picked money as their No. 1 motivator.

You can create a similar tool to help you find out what flips your employees’ switches. Once you have an idea of their motivators, you can devise individualized incentives or rewards that will stimulate people to improve. Start by putting together a Motivational Factors list. Below are a few suggestions with some motivating ideas in parentheses and italics:

• Having job security (High base salary, team-building, praise and encouragement)
• Receiving special recognition for a job well done (Plaques, certificates, etc. – present in public or post in the department)
• Making good money (Spend the bucks)
• Family situations/needs (Sponsor family events, dinner certificates, etc.)
• Having an opportunity for career growth (Provide a career path, or you might lose them)
• Feeling like I’m part of the team (Team-building events and activities, team incentive programs)
• Possessing a job that keeps me interested (Lots of variety, new task opportunities)
• Working for someone who is fair and honest (No gray areas in your business)
• Knowing that I’m doing a good job; feeling self-worth (Praise and reward)

Once you have the list put together, go through it with each employee one-on-one. Do not do this as a group exercise. Hand them the list and ask them to place No. 1 next to the motivator that personally motivates them the most. Then have them put No. 2 next to their second greatest motivator and No. 3 next to the third greatest motivator. When complete, they should have only three selections marked. Caution: Do not do this exercise if there are any rumors of compensation plan changes. That will influence their choice.

Keep in mind that these factors will change because life happens to us all. Imagine how someone’s motivators might change if he or she is adding a child to the family. You should re-do this exercise with them every few months, so you have the best feedback.


The point of this is to improve productivity or stimulate positive behavioral changes. This tool has been used by many successful businesses to develop more effective compensation plans as well as incentives and rewards that truly mean something to the individual.

Steve Jones is senior projects manager at Gart Sutton & Associates. He has worked in the powersports industry for more than 30 years, for dealerships and manufacturers, and as a consultant and trainer. Contact him at


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