The global economic situation has had a phenomenal impact on employees. After seeing organisations fail or implode, and friends and relatives being ‘let go’ with no thought to the loyalty they have shown when times were good, many people are beginning to rethink the part that work plays in their lives.

The result? A workforce that’s turning off, performance that’s dropping, and business leaders who are left scratching their heads looking for elusive solutions. And without money as the traditional, default motivator, many leaders are stuck as to exactly what they can do to get their people switched on, focused, and performing again. It’s certainly the challenge of our time, and perhaps the greatest challenge for generations.

Working harder for less

For many years, businesses have set up their relationship with their people around one, implicit understanding: if you work hard, and give us your loyalty and best performance, we’ll look after you. And for a long while that arrangement worked well. But with the arrival of the sustained, global economic downturn, companies began to back off from this unspoken agreement, and the relationship between employee and employer began to crumble as lay-offs grew, salary increases and bonuses became few and far between, and career development opportunities were slashed. Yet, the same performance was expected. While this made sense for organisations, many of whom were fighting for their very survival, it didn’t for employees – it encouraged them to ask what’s in this for me?’

As the years roll on since the eye of the storm in 2008, the answer to that question is becoming more and more elusive. Many employees are coming to the realisation that these new expectations are neither sustainable nor attractive. They think: ‘You want me to work harder, for longer, for less? I don’t think so’. So, just as employers are rewriting the rules, so are employees.

The ‘me’ in employee

Many workers are holding back on that discretionary effort, have a constant eye on the job market, and are doing just enough to stay in the game. Many more still are taking the opportunity to redress the balance between work and home. They are focussing on themselves. And if organisations want to get their people and their performance back, to re-engage with them so that they can hang on to them when the economic dust settles – they need to change their focus too: from an internal focus on the needs of the organisation, to an external focus on the needs of their people.

People work for different reasons. For some, it could be the challenge, for others it’s the sense of being part of something, and for others still it may be that financial rewards are their greatest motivator. The knack in re-engaging with people during these turbulent times, the secret in motivating them without money is in truly understanding what drives them. Truly understanding what drives them as individual living, breathing humans with personal goals and aspirations: why they work, what they value, what they are working for. This intimate understanding will allow you to customise their career so that you create a work proposition that is personalised, not homogenised. A career proposition that lights the fire in their belly, and gives them what they want from their work. Do this, and they will be yours.

Hitting the hotspots

This is more straightforward than you might think. It’s simply about understanding what the ‘career hotspotsä’ are for each of your people: what do they value most about their work – what drives them? There are five career hotspotsä: job, money, people, lifestyle, and environment. Supporting these are 15 definable factors which hold the key to understanding the career hotspotsä of each of your people. For some, the 3Bs – base, bonus, and benefits – are fundamental.

Increasingly, it’s not financial reward at all that’s the key driver for people. The secret to unlocking their commitment, performance and retention may be found in the job: interesting and challenging work, development for growth, or being empowered to make decisions and get on and achieve. For others, their career hotspotä might be around environment: having job security, or a sense that they have a voice as an employee. Or, new parents often quote lifestyle as their key driver: achieving greater flexibility between the demands of work and home life.

By understanding these career hotspotsä, organisations are able to customise careers so that they deliver for each individual what they value most. And more often than not, the solutions will hold high value for the individual, but low cost for the organisation.

Bend to bond

Consider the dad who only sees his children at the weekend because his commute prevents him from being at home while they are awake. With a little career customisation, he could work flexibly, perhaps leaving work earlier on pre-agreed days. Will he step his performance up a gear in response to such a high value improvement in his work life? You bet.

How about the employee who is intrigued by the work going on in a different department. You could respond to her career hotspotä by seconding her to that area to explore her interest. By doing this, you create an unbreakable bond that will enable you to retain her once the economic dust settles.

Motivating without money can be done. In fact, it could hold the key to the beginning of a revolution in the employee/employer relationship. A revolution that is mutually beneficial, based on equality, and a commitment to higher performance and greater levels of engagement. And that’s quite a silver lining to a rather grey cloud isn’t it?

About David Thompson

He is a consultant and bestselling author of a number of books including The Magic BlackBerry and The Small Print of Success. You can learn more about Motivating without Money at

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Written by David Thompson, founder, Beyond the Dots

David Thompson is an internationally bestselling author, speaker, and consultant. After working at senior vice president level within various corporates, he founded Beyond the Dots, a boutique consultancy focusing on the people side of business.

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