You can’t buy motivation…?

Your business has had a fantastic year…despite the economic environment, you have money to spend. You’re lucky…you’re in an organization that wants to give something back to the employees. You’re unlucky…no-one can agree how. That sucks. But you’re the HRD, you’re strategic, you’re commercial……

So which way do you go big shot? Come on….

1) The Facilities Director is arguing that we can improve the canteen facilities, subsidise lunch time food and introduce more healthy and nutritious options. Thus boosting morale.

2) The Finance Director is arguing that we should pay a one off bonus to all employees to thank them for their contribution. And increase their commitment.

3) The Operations Director wants to set up a recognition scheme, to share with front line staff, where great performance can be rewarded with vouchers and reinforced.

4) The Sales Director believes that a commission based scheme will drive performance of the field sales force and our bottom line.

5) The Communications Director believes that a big, free, Christmas party will bring people together, get them to talk, and make connections.

Motivation can’t be bought? Of course it can. Everything has a cost. Everything has a price. Theories are just that….they’re theories…but theories don’t get you anywhere.

So this is real.

So this is true.

So what do you do?


  1. Perry Timms · May 13, 2013

    As an employee, give me the fricking choice. what do any of these people know what recognition/reward I need to motivate me most..?

    Motivation can be bought. For maximum impact to me, let me decide how and on what.

  2. ThinkPurpose · May 13, 2013

    Hmmm. Those choices…bollocks? Yes, bollocks.
    Food choices “boosting morale” sweet jesus.
    Bonuses, commissions, one-off xmas parties. All extrinsic motivation, and all very see-able through.

    There’s a man I work with who has on his desk a thank-you card that two people in another department gave him for some work he did, unknown to them in his own time and way past midnight. he still has it there almost two years since it was given to him. Now THAT’S a real thank-you, and real appreciation.

    If managers are genuinely thankful, be genuinely thankful. Humans are very good at bullshit detection. It is easy to buy a xmas party or subsidised canteen. You don’t buy human relationships though,. They are free, and infinitely more valuable.

  3. ThinkPurpose · May 13, 2013

    if it can be bought by management and given to me, I don’t want it. Anyone can do that, and I don’t believe it.

  4. Meg Peppin · May 13, 2013

    Simple. Invite non managerial staff to consult with each other and submit their recommendations based on budget. That will motivate many as much as a financial reward. They can manage their colleagues’ expectations that it’s not a vote and that not everyone will be pleased .

  5. David D'Souza (@dds180) · May 13, 2013

    1. May boost productivity over time but is unlikely to be an immediate enough improvement/experience to be seen as a thank you for this year’s work
    2.Will be forgotten quickly (financial rewards tend to be) and will come to be expected in following years, the expectation will set in very quickly. People may vote for it but they won’t value it over time
    3. it is nice that it isn’t cash, but assuming this is a finite pot of money people will notice it’s absence in the future, so you are setting yourself up for a fail – and support teams count too!
    4.I bet he does, unless the team are behind market rate he might want to try just managing their performance first!
    5.nice idea, but only if you can give the employees a good choice over type of event and you can afford it next year.

    I’d suggest a couple of other options

    i) charitable donation, but to a cause with an identifiable victim where people can see their work has made an immediate difference (rather than to a national charity). Let’s make people feel good over Christmas and beyond

    ii) give an allowance to people, and some time off, to learn something (Cantonese, flower arranging, whatever). Learning sticks around and makes people feel they’ve achieved something, and that is a great gift

    iii) check with people there is no system, process or technology that has problems a one off injection of cash might solve that would make their work easier and more enjoyable every day. Let’s pilot that internal social network with the money and maybe gain in motivation, innovation and performance

    Agree with Perry that choice is good (just don’t let them choose the cash bonus, it’s like letting someone choose a badly reviewed film, chances are you are letting them waste their time).

    You’ve pressed me to make the call, hat would be really unpopular, but is reason out my choices and normally go for any option that wasn’t the cold, hard, unrepeatable cash.


  6. Johanna Ratcliffe · May 13, 2013

    An army marches on its stomach! Don’t underestimate the ‘free lunch’ 😉

    • David D'Souza (@dds180) · May 13, 2013

      If the role involves marching (especially back from Russia to France) I’m all for the free lunch!

  7. jacobstenmadsen · May 13, 2013

    Let people ‘on the floor’ speak heard, let it be choice by majority, involve everybody (despite the logistic nightmare) show them through inclusion that you genuinely care and want this to be for t h e m and that this is about paying back and saying thank you. Give them the.options and ideas as suggested, but leave yourself open to any answer. Superb comments made by others that this has to be and look authentic for people into it and accept it..People are not stupid and it is naive to think that they would not see through any attempts that do not come with a genuine interest.

  8. tgroom57 · May 13, 2013

    2) The Finance Director is arguing that we should pay a one off bonus << this.

    He's off the mark to say he's buying commitment though. He's buying engagement and distributing feel-good factor. He's recognising that the recipients are adults and able to make their own choices, and he's providing something unexpected. There's no better way to encourage people to think 'what if…?' and this has benefits all across your company.

    One other suggestion – offer to let the employee take half the bonus as time off.

  9. Henry · May 13, 2013

    I’d just want the bonus.

  10. kennedyjp · May 13, 2013

    Why, you set up a committee to assess the feasibility of each, of course. That way you don’t have to make a decision and everyone stays friends with you!

  11. Nicola Cardillo-Zallo · May 13, 2013

    Possibly to look at what amount is available and then giving employees the choice to take it as a bonus/training/time-off/donation to charity etc….as different people are motivated by different things at different stages in their lives. Having a party is always welcomed as well and it gives a forum to make awards and highlight people who have contributed in front of their peers as well as allowing everyone to kick back and relax:

  12. Chris · May 13, 2013

    Easy. 2.

  13. Paul Hebert · May 13, 2013

    You can’t buy motivation. You can buy activity, behaviors, outcomes. Ask a better question you will get a better answer.

  14. hrhopefulblogger · May 14, 2013

    I find this post really timely, as my current workplace is going through this dilemma right now!! So…..we’ve updated the canteen, we gave a bonus in March, we launch a recognition scheme last year that both recognises & rewards.

    The outcome…..the majority of the workforce are still telling us that morale is low. They’re asking for more visibility, better communication & to be listened to.

    I don’t have much more to contribute than that; but I’m in the camp of ‘feeling part of something’ will motivate me.

    Also, money never motivates people, they’re motivated by the stuff they can buy with it. (Just to be picky!)

    Really interesting debate 😀

  15. Doug Shaw · May 14, 2013

    I’m late to the party – I hope you haven’t spent all the money yet?

    Of the choices on offer – I’d back number one, not as a bonus as such, but simply because I think it is good practice to encourage folks to eat together, and to talk and learn and share while they do.

    I think that money – beyond what you need, is a crappy motivator.

    I still marvel at how much we shy away from the simple and sincere thank you, and beyond that I like Megan’s idea, and David’s second option about learning something.


  16. Damon Klotz · May 14, 2013

    Timely blog post Neil. Australia’s largest bank just decided to go down the monetary path.

  17. Danny Kitchener · May 15, 2013

    EU (Employee Understanding) Referendum. Give the people the chance to vote for what they want individually.

  18. Nicola Barber · May 18, 2013

    Money is a short time motivator. Yes it helps in the short term but to truly motivate it’s about getting to the heats and minds of our people. Truly listening, effective communication and finding out what’s important is what helps us make it happen. Do this and you might be surprised. We are all human and people do recognise when their employer is making a half hearted attempt. Ignite and innovate. Most importantly ask!

  19. Pingback: Achievement | KennedyBlog
  20. akismet-3280fe66a77b37530ef4a8e7a0faa33c · May 20, 2013

    Take all the options you have listed and ask your employees. Then put their recommendations into action. Different people will be motivated by different things. However, it doesn’t cost money to motivate people, unless it costs money to change the behaviour of your management team.

  21. Andrew Heath · October 13, 2013

    Ok so it can’t be bought but how do you get it? You need to understand what your people NEED to be able to be motivated themselves. Innate motivation cannot be forced or created it has to come from the individual… as many of the comments above state this is different for everyone on the planet… some things are even subconscious so people do not know what they are!

    We have been working hard on performance review pro which uses our deep understanding of human behavioural psychology to uncover what your team needs and sets goals and actions for you that will get them motivated the right way! And for a lot less than a massive bonus – oh and it lasts a lot longer too!

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