It’s Not All About the Money

How can we get our employees to become committed, motivated and engaged? This is a question which business owners, managers and consultants often ponder. The answer is surprisingly simple: give them what they care about.

The inevitable follow up question is: “What do employees care about?” This is where most employers go wrong. They think that what employees care about is a paycheck. Basically, they assume that if they can pay employees huge salaries, and generous benefits, then they will become motivated, committed and engaged.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Granted, people do care about money (they have bills to pay). However, money is often way down on the list of what is most important to employees. There are far more important things which no paycheck, no matter how big, can compensate for. Five of the most important things which employees care about are the following.

1. Purpose

Human beings are wired to seek meaning in their labor. As such, there is nothing more demotivating than purposeless labor. If employees feel that their work is meaningless, the size of the paycheck will not go far in soothing their feelings of emptiness.

How do employees find purpose in their work? Simple, by feeling that they are contributing towards something worthwhile they realize that they contributing to something bigger than themselves.

The best way this can be achieved is by clearly articulating the vision of the company or organization the employees are working for. Then it is important in making employees believe in this vision. After this, it is a matter of making every employee understand how their work contributes towards the overall vision.

This understanding will cause employees to develop a sense of pride in their work. This will in turn arouse commitment and devotion. Such devotion can inspire employees to remain loyal even when an organization hits a rough patch and employees have to take pay cuts.

2. Appreciation

Everyone craves to be appreciated. This is just human nature. Employees are no exception. When an employee has done a good job, they expect to be recognized and appreciated for it. If such appreciation doesn’t come, they can become demotivated and disengaged.

The appreciation doesn’t have to be something big, like a huge bonus or a gift at the end of year party. Something as simple as “Thank You” can be sufficient. If the “Thank You” is delivered in the presence of other team members, it can be more motivating.

The lack of appreciation is among the most cited reasons for quitting. The most extreme form of this is when a manager or supervisor takes credit for an employee’s impressive results. Many employees can bear being unappreciated (at least for a while). However, someone else taking credit for their performance often just pushes them to leave.

3. Growth and Development

Employees want opportunities to grow and develop. There are very few employees (if any) who want to remain at the same level forever. Most employees want to keep moving forward. They want to grow and develop in terms of knowledge, skills and responsibilities.

In most cases, they look to their employers to provide them with the opportunities to grow. Employers can provide such opportunities in three ways. The first is through regular feedback and counsel from managers. This enables employees to make small improvements on a continuous basis.

The second is through providing training opportunities. The training can be conducted either internally or externally. Such training enables employees to expand their knowledge, skills and competencies and thus become better at their jobs.

The third is through creating opportunities for advancement and promotions. The availability of such opportunities can be a motivation for hard work. If employees know that their efforts will be rewarded with promotions, they stay focused, committed and hard working.

4. Autonomy and Respect

Every employee desires to be treated with respect. In fact, many expect it. One of the most often cited reasons by employees who quit their job is lack of respect from their bosses. In these cases, the bosses are rude, abusive or fond of embarrassing employees in front of their colleagues.

When employees constantly feel disrespected, no amount of money can be motivating enough. They may remain for a while because they have bills to pay. However, as soon as they sniff an opportunity elsewhere, they will quit.

One of the ways employees feel respected is through being given a level of autonomy. There are few things employees hate like being micromanaged. Having every single decision dictated upon them is a sign that their manager doesn’t trust and respect them.  At a minimum, employees desire to control how they perform their key tasks. They also want to be consulted on some key decisions regarding their work.

When employees feel respected, they realize that they are important to an organization. This feeling of importance can motivate them to work harder, stay engaged and remain committed. The reverse is also true.

5. Challenge

Employees seek feelings of accomplishment in their work. They desire opportunities that push their limits and show what they are capable of. Few employees want tasks which offer no challenge at all, tasks which they can perform while half-asleep.

Most employees want tasks which can enable them to show off the knowledge and skills that they have acquired. Performing such tasks well can provide them with a sense of pride and joy in their work.

Besides challenge, employees also prefer clear-cut goals. They want clear targets to pursue, targets which they can know when they have hit. Going after such targets can be extremely motivating. Hitting the targets can be exciting and invigorating.

In a nutshell, employees care about than more than just money. This is because most employees consider their jobs as more than just opportunities to earn a living. They also find purpose, meaning, self-worth and a sense of accomplishment in their work.

entrepreneurIn today’s world, being an entrepreneur is about the coolest thing around. Entrepreneurship is highly glamorized. This is partly due to the well-publicized successes of people like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, people whose entrepreneurial creations have transformed how we connect, work and play.

For many people today, becoming an entrepreneur seems the surest path to freedom, wealth and success. Breaking out and starting a business seems the best way of achieving one’s dreams. As such, many people dream of starting their own businesses. Unfortunately, many do not meet the success they anticipated.

Grim Statistics

The statistics on the failure rate of businesses is staggering, and makes for a rather grim reading. Here is a selection of the most often cited statistics:

  • 80% of businesses fail with the first 18 months (Bloomberg)
  • 75% of start-ups fail (Wall Street Journal)
  • 20% of startups fail within the first year, 40% within the first 3 years and 65% within the 10 years (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • 50% of businesses fail within the first year, and 95% fail within the first 5 years (The E-Myth)

Granted, these statistics seem to contradict (and are the subject of fierce debates among academics, entrepreneurs and journalists). However, the point here isn’t to spark another debate. The broader point is that, whatever statistics you choose to believe, the failure rates of businesses is extremely high.

With the exception of perhaps Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who believe in the “Fail Fast, Fail Often”, mantra, it is unlikely that many people who start their own businesses anticipate failure. Unfortunately many do end up failing. There are many possible reasons for this. However, one reason is that many of those who start their own business are actually not cut to be entrepreneurs.

The Entrepreneurial Seizure

In his groundbreaking book, The E-Myth, Michael Gerber perfectly explains why someone who isn’t fit to be entrepreneur can actually end up starting a business. He calls it having an entrepreneurial seizure.

The entrepreneurial seizure is the moment someone decides that it is a good idea to start their own business. For some people, it may be something as bizarre as their boss yelling at them. They get angry at the harsh treatment, and decide to become their own boss so that no one can yell at them anymore.

Mr. Gerber also points out that an entrepreneurial seizure is often driven by a mistaken belief that being good at a technical skill means that someone is able to run a related business. For instance, being an excellent accountant means that someone can run an accounting business, or being a great mechanic means that someone run a car repair business.

This belief causes people who are technicians step out and form related businesses. They assume that since they enjoy their work, and are good at it, they will be able to run the business. However, once they launch the business they realize that there is a lot more necessary skills than they had anticipated. 

On top of their technical work, they now need to manage employees, interface with clients, deal with banks, manage cash flow, handle suppliers, etc. Many aren’t just ill-equipped to handle these extra tasks, they absolutely hate it. 

This is when many people who start businesses realize that they aren’t fit to be entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, by this time they have already invested their time, resources and egos. A few of them adapt or find a business partner skilled enough to handle the business side of things. Some cut their losses and bail out. The majority soldier on until the sheer weight of responsibilities causes some to burn out and shut down the business.

Why Not Everyone Is Fit to Be an Entrepreneur

It is Extremely Hard Work

An entrepreneur has to work extremely hard. In some cases, entrepreneurs work 80 to 100 hours per week for weeks on end. In most cases, the work isn’t even compensated. It is basically long hours of laborious, uncompensated work. With entrepreneurship, such compensation is often not assured, especially during the early stages of the business.

It Requires Dealing with Setbacks

There are extremely few businesses (if any) which take off smoothly. Most businesses suffer a number of setbacks before picking up. Being an entrepreneur requires one to deal with such setbacks. For most people, putting in time, effort and resources only for something to fail is too painful to bear. They cannot handle the feelings of anger, disappointment and frustration. An entrepreneur not only has to deal with such feelings often, they also have to shake them off and move on.

There Is No Guarantee of Success

In entrepreneurship, there is no guarantee of success. All the time, effort and resources invested can end up yielding nothing. An entrepreneur basically has to take this uncertainty in stride, and give their best efforts for months, or even years. The whole idea of quitting their jobs, and investing their savings in something which may not succeed is downright scary. As such, they don’t even try it.

It Requires Leadership Skills

An entrepreneur often has to be able lead people. This is true except in the rare instances where a person forms a one-person business. In order to lead people effectively, the entrepreneur requires excellent leadership skills. As such, any would-be entrepreneur either needs to already have those skills or be willing to learn them.

The main reason why people sometimes jump to launch businesses is that they don’t realize how tough it will be. This is because media coverage of entrepreneurs rarely shares their behind-the-scene struggles. They make it seem like those who make it enjoyed overnight success.

When people realize the struggles involved in starting a business, many opt out. A story shared by Shawn Osborne in the Harvard Business Review, perfectly illustrates this. Osborne, who is the CEO of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, often organizes BizCamp – a program which teaches entrepreneurship to disadvantaged kids.

In one instance, before starting the program, 91% of the kids said that they wanted to start their own company. Upon being presented with the truth about the struggles of building a company, the percentage dropped by 85%. At the end of BizCamp, only 6% of those who had initially stated that they wanted to form their own company, still wanted to do so.

Therefore, instead of just glorifying the achievements of entrepreneurs, the media should also highlight their struggles. They should also let people understand the difficulties involved in starting a business. This would enable would-be entrepreneurs to prepare themselves for the challenges ahead and thus increase their chances of success.


Harvard Business Review (March, 2014) – Young People Need to Know Entrepreneurship Is Hard (https://hbr.org/2015/04/young-people-need-to-know-entrepreneurship-is-hard)

E-Myth (November 28, 2005) – Entrepreneurial Spirit (http://www.e-myth.com/cs/user/print/post/entrepreneurial-spirit)

Forbes (September 12, 2013) – Five Reasons 8 out of 10 Businesses Fail (http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericwagner/2013/09/12/five-reasons-8-out-of-10-businesses-fail/#24f6be8a5e3c)

Forbes (June 25, 2015) – Here’s Why Your Startup Will Fail, And What to Do About It (http://www.forbes.com/sites/neilpatel/2015/06/25/heres-why-your-startup-will-fail-and-what-to-do-about-it/#4ac8e2864a15)