Motivators: The Keys To Retention

A client recently called with exciting news. “Joe,” she said, “you won’t believe this when I tell you, but…” Naturally she got my attention. Laura was elated to tell me the story of how one of her top programmers told her that he was offered a job by a huge database-software firm, but turned them down &mdash even though they offered nearly double the pay and much better benefits. So I asked her, “Why do you think he chose your firm over the other employer?” “You know, I really can’t figure it out,” she said. “If it was me, I would have taken the offer.” I asked her to find out WHY he didn’t take the job and to call me with her findings. When she asked him why, the programmer responded simply, “I like it here. You treat me with respect and you challenge me.” Congratulations! You now know one of the primary keys to retention: MOTIVATORS. Key Motivators The key to retention is to identify each of your top performer’s key motivators (job hot buttons). Many employers make a gross mistake by generalizing that they need to throw more money at an employee in order to retain him or her. But this is only true for employees whose primary motivator is money. You will eventually feel the pain of separation no matter how much money you throw at them. Here are a few case studies that highlight different motivators: Case 1 I watched one employer raise the salary of his top programmer from $75,000 to over $250,000. Scott still left three months later after receiving a $50,000 bonus. Ouch!! This employer “assumed” that Scott was motivated by money, when in reality Scott was motivated by an entrepreneurial bug that couldn’t be satisfied until he worked for himself. No amount of money was going to keep him from his dream. Today he has his own software firm and is very happy. Scott’s Motivators: Independence, freedom, creativity, challenge and recognition Case 2 A global rental car company hired pricey consultants to come in and study their customer service position in order to improve retention. They concluded that the company needed to split the position into two jobs, since the current job description involved everything from preparing the cars (cleaning, washing, et cetera) to completing the rental contracts. They concluded that college-educated employees were quitting soon after starting because they found the work below their “educational level.” Sounds reasonable, right? Perhaps. It only took one question to put an end to this argument (and the pricey consulting firm). I asked the CEO, “Don’t you have any long-term, college-educated employees performing ALL aspects of the job including washing the cars and completing rental contracts?” “Why of course we do, but…” he said. I responded by saying, “Find out what motivates them and see if other successful hires have these same motivators.” An interesting thing happened after we spoke with a few of the “star performers.” We learned that they LOVED meeting and working with people. Renting cars simply provided them a way to interact with people (read-key motivator being satisfied). They loved the constant change and interpersonal stimulation. Key motivators: Interpersonal stimulation and frequent change (thriving on chaos). Dating 101 and Retention Okay, my motivation theory might still be a bit abstract, so here’s an easier model dealing with dating to help me make my point. Take this quick quiz:

  1. Have you ever bought your significant other flowers and received a mild reception?
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  3. Have you ever bought him or her candy and got the same mediocre reaction?
  4. Have you ever taken him or her to an expensive restaurant and ended up disappointed?
  5. Have you ever bought a special gift that they rejected or returned?

If you answered YES to any of these dating blunders, then you undoubtedly failed to identify or understand your partner’s key MOTIVATORS. All you had to do was ask him or her: “In order for YOU to feel loved and appreciated, what must I do?” Some will say, “Take me out to an expensive restaurant,” while others will say, “Make me breakfast in bed,” or, “Send me fresh long-stem roses.” What works for one person may not work for another &mdash you must know each person’s specific motivators to win points. Knowing what motivates your partner is the KEY to your partner’s heart. The same holds true when it comes to retaining top employees. RETAINING your top talent can be as simple as asking each employee WHAT your company must DO to help him or her feel valued and appreciated. You’ll be surprised how many employees simply want to be recognized for their efforts (letter, gift certificate, personal praise, challenging project, etc.). Remember, turnover increases when key motivators go unmet. In Conclusion Based on the above discussion, RETENTION improves when you understand and MEET your employees’ work motivators. You can’t hire one type of person and expect him or her to work out if his or her key motivators aren’t in line with the job they’re performing. In other words, you can teach someone to run a cash register, but you CAN’T teach him or her to like customers. Hire those who LOVE working with people and teach him or her how to run a cash register if necessary. Long-term retention begins at the point of SELECTION! Hire wisely. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Joe Stimac ( is President and founder of and a frequent speaker and trainer on recruitment and selection issues. He is often quoted by leading business press including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Employment Review, and is the author of Winning Career Strategies and other books. Mr. Stimac and his team are the creators of AccuHire HCMS, the first Internet-based applicant screening solution that pre-screens applicants against position-specific criteria and automatically generates highly targeted, performance-based interview questions for recruiters and hiring managers.


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