Keeping good employees…It’s not just about the money

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Money can be a motivator. Or a de-motivator if done poorly and people perceive it to be unfair. However, we also know that it’s not just about the money. Ask anyone who’s ever worked for a complete asshole (sometimes that’s just the best word to use) and they’ll tell you.

Wait a second. Last week I suggested that perhaps one of the reasons we have a hard time attracting enough good folks to a contracting business is because we don’t pay them enough. As a general statement, I stand by that assertion. The work can be demanding, and in tough environments. If an employee spends most of her day, sweating in an attic or shimmying into corners of a crawlspace, she deserves to be paid well. Wanting to be fairly compensated for that is understandable. Making a decent living is important. How much we’re paying—and how much we’re paid—matters for most of us!

I also talked about commission-based sales compensation, a classic do this, get a reward, compensation scheme. I recommend it because I’ve seen it work well!

And now I’ll throw a wrench in those thoughts. Or so it might seem. Really though, I’m not contradicting those points, just adding to them for a more complete picture.

Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, suggests that our traditional thoughts of paying, giving rewards, for X, and punishing for Y, doesn’t work as well as we’d think in a lot of jobs.(See also this Ted Talk.) He points to three key elements to make the job itself more rewarding:

  • Purpose, the sense that we’re making a difference or making a contribution, that our work is meaningful;
  • Autonomy, the desire to direct our own work; and
  • Mastery, wanting to do something well, and get better at it.

The more we can build these intrinsic motivators into people’s jobs, the more motivated they will be. The more they’ll want to stick around. And this applies not just to researches in an Apple lab, but to technicians crawling around attics and staff who answer the phones.


With respect to Purpose, this can start with remembering to discuss not just what we’re doing, or how we’re doing it, but also why. “Why” not just in terms of the task—that’s important, too—but why in terms of the bigger picture, what we’re trying to accomplish together for our customers and our missions.

A corollary to this is to recognize people when they’re making that contribution. A “thanks”, for the small but critical things that people do every day. And publicly. (If you need to make a correction, it’s often better to do it privately.)

I’d like to call out two points on Mastery. We need to train our folks—and ourselves—constantly. At a minimum, I think that means 50 hours a year for every person on the team. Better, 100 hours per year. And we need to give feedback frequently. Once a year on an annual review doesn’t cut it (and some folks don’t even give reviews that often!). Feedback when things are working. And feedback when they’re not. Feedback that comes organically in the course of business, not a that uncomfortable, stressful annual review. Feedback as conversation not judgement.

The last of Pink’s point may seem strange coming from me. “But Mike, I thought you said we should be standardizing what we do?? Now you’re telling me to give them autonomy instead? Which is it?”

Well, it’s both. For a contracting company, “autonomy” for installation techs obviously can’t mean work from home, when you like. Think of it instead as self-direction. And self-direction not in the form of chaos or everyone does it their own way. Rather, lead the employees be integral to setting the standards themselves. And continually refining the standards as they find things that don’t work, and find way to do things better. Standards don’t get handed down from above. The guilt built from the bottom, but your team who understands the purpose (see above!) and who has some mastery (see above again!). The great news here is that not only does this help keep employees motivated about their work, it also leads to better standards, based on the reality of the gemba, where the work gets done. And it leads to better buy-in, and better compliance with the standards. What’s not to like about that!?

Help your team become invested in their work, and you’ll find…that they’re invested in their work! Yeah, paying well is important. But it isn’t enough, for your team or for the company.

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About the Author:

Mike Rogers is the President of OmStout Consulting. A nationally recognized expert in residential energy-efficiency, he works with contractors and programs to scale sustainable market approaches to improving homes. More on Google+

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