If you are like most managers you probably frequently ask yourself, “How do I get the best out of my team?”, “What truly motivates them?”, “How can I help them unlock their potential?”

You may also ask, especially around performance review time: “How can I manage their performance without a lot of stress or sweaty palm inducing conversations?”

There have been reams of information written about employee motivation and performance over the last 100 years. But we’ve found that nine factors are vital to impacting these metrics — and they are much more important than pay and benefits.

I call these nine factors the Currencies of Choice. I discovered them as the result of reverse-engineering over 5,000 exit interviews I conducted with an international team of recruiters over the course of 15 years.

This research, along with numerous studies from organizations and managers who regularly use the Currencies of Choice model, shows that intrinsic motivators are much more effective in keeping employees motivated and engaged — and helping them perform well and realise their potential — than pay and benefits.

The 9 currencies of choice

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1. People want to work for a company whose values align with their own.

This means a company that has a compelling purpose and values that resonate with their closely held beliefs.

Let’s talk about purpose first. Doing good while doing well has become more critical to businesses and employees over the last ten years. So much so that in August 2019, the Business Roundtable in the U.S., made up of the CEOs of America’s top companies, officially changed the Statement of Purpose for a Corporation from one whose sole purpose is shareholder return to one that puts shareholders at the end of the list — behind customers, employees, suppliers and the communities in which they operate.

The people have spoken, and they want to work for businesses that care

When the job market is good, many potential candidates (especially amongst the Millennial and Gen Z generations) will not apply for a role within a company whose purpose does not inspire them. While employees may not have a choice in a downturn, the ones who are not inspired by the company’s purpose may be the first out the door when the economy picks back up. 

The same thing applies to values. According to a recent Atlassian study, many employees would quit if they found their employer’s values did not align with their own. 

2. People want to work for someone that they trust and respect.

That person is you, their direct manager. No pressure! The Gallup Organization’s research shows that managers can impact employee engagement by up to 70%.

3. People want to work with people that they like.

That’s hardly surprising since humans are tribal beings at heart. Even the most introverted amongst us want to belong to a group of people we like working with — especially since we spend such a significant time interacting with our coworkers.

4. People want to be appreciated in a way that’s appropriate to them.

Some studies show that praise and appreciation are the top engagement factors amongst employees. Appreciation doesn’t have to include a grand gesture. A simple “job well done” or “thank you” is enough. But it must be authentic and it must be meaningful to them. The old adage that managers must praise in public and correct in private is only half right. Some people don’t like public recognition.

5. People want to have a voice.

They want to be listened to and heard. They want to know that if they tell you something that’s not working, that it will be fixed — or that you’ll give them a good reason why it can’t be. They also want to be able to share ideas about how to make things better.

6. They want to know what they need to do to succeed and how that success will be measured.

Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism makes a strong case that having clarity around roles and goals helps teams perform better; it encourages better behaviour. Unfortunately, the Gallup organization reports that less than 50% of employees know what is expected of them. 

Defining and articulating measurable achievements also gives you, the manager, a specific benchmark to hold people accountable for great performance, regardless of whether they are sitting next to you in the office, down the hall, or in another state or country.

7. People want to learn, grow, and develop in their careers.

Not everyone wants to climb the corporate ladder, but they do want to develop and grow in some way through training, additional responsibilities, special projects, or simply having variety in their role.

8. People want to be inspired to go the extra mile.

People come to work to add value — we need to let them. Dan Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us makes a compelling case that people will go the extra mile if they have autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose in their role (refer to the first Currency of Choice).

9. People want to spend most of their day doing work that they love.

They want to spend time doing things that they’re not only good at but also enjoy doing. This is the very definition of someone’s strengths and research finds that if you have a team that spends most of their time working to their strengths, they are: 

  • 73% more likely to be highly engaged
  • 50% more likely to have low employee turnover
  • 38% more likely to be highly productive
  • 44% more likely to earn high customer satisfaction scores

The Corporate Leadership Council’s 2002 study on employee performance also showed that a strengths-based performance approach led to an average year-on-year performance increase of 36.4%.

Using the currencies in context

Now before you go off with blanket applications of these 9 currencies of choice, it’s important to remember that while they are important to all staff, the relative importance of each of the nine factors is dependent on the individual, their stage of life, and other external circumstances.

How do you know which are important to each individual? You ask them. Actually, you engage in regular dialogue about them over time.

If your experience is similar to those managers within over 30 industries, across eight countries who have introduced the 9 Currencies of Choice to their teams, your team’s performance, productivity, motivation, and engagement will go up and your workload and stress will go down.

A win for everyone. Give it a try.

5,000 knowledge workers told me why they left their jobs