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The Eight Rules of Management
by Gregory Blencoe


Rule #3: Understand that all Motivation Stems from Self-Interest

“How do I get employees to be motivated to do what I want?”  This age-old question has been pondered for decades in management circles.  The answer is sought after like Ponce de Leon looking for the fountain of youth.  The search can go on forever but the answer will never be found because it does not exist.  The reason is that all genuine motivation stems from self-interest.

In this discussion, let’s put all the altruistic, management Utopia fantasies aside and talk about the real world that we all live in.  Who do your employees care about?  Do they come to work motivated to solve your problems?  Do they?  Deep down, your employees could care less about these things.  Humans do things in life because they desire something for themselves. This sounds crass and selfish, but it is 100% true. It is baffling how many managers fail to understand this concept.  The bottom line is that trying to motivate somebody with your concerns is an exercise in futility.

A wonderful example to illustrate this concept involves an animal, but the idea is the same when dealing with people.  A good friend of mine grew up in Seattle and his family had a dog named Rocky.  They had a house with a big back yard that bordered a huge forest where Rocky loved to chase squirrels.  The problem was it rains a lot in Seattle and Rocky would ignore them when it was about to rain and they called him in.  However, something had to be done since Rocky would track mud into the house once he decided to come back.  My friend’s Dad knew that Rocky had a weakness for dog biscuits.  So, whenever Rocky was outside and it was about to rain my friend’s Dad would go on the porch and shake the box of dog biscuits and Rocky would come thundering out of the woods.  Then, as Rocky got close to the porch, he would throw a biscuit into the house and then quickly close the door behind Rocky.

This is the mentality you must have when trying to motivate somebody.  Ask yourself, how can I give them what they want in order to get what I want?  In the manager - employee relationship, managers want employees to be highly productive.  The question then becomes, what do employees want from work that managers can give them in exchange for a high level of productivity?  The answer is that managers should focus on giving employees two things.  Number one is the opportunity to make more money.  Number two is a good feeling about themselves.

Money is by far the number one need for people to work.  An employee can have the greatest job in the world, but that would not matter if there is no financial compensation.  Without money, an employee can’t pay the mortgage, make the car payment, or buy food.  Only a person with a lobotomy would ever say that money is not the #1 motivator.  If you don’t believe that is true, gather up all of your employees and tell them that you are going to cut their wages 10% and see what happens.  Losing or gaining money influences employees far more than anything else.

Does this mean that managers should blindly give all employees a 20% raise?  Absolutely not.  Even though employees like money, this is not a good strategy because what employees receive in fixed wages is not highly motivating because it is perceived as guaranteed.  An employee will only be highly motivated if there is a chance they won’t get the money.  Therefore, managers should set up a system where the only time more money is paid to employees is when there are higher levels of productivity.  Because the amount of money the business makes is the best way to judge the productivity of employees, managers should set up a profit-sharing program.  Employees would then have a financial incentive to be more productive.

Managers can also motivate employees by making them feel good about themselves.  Employees are much easier to influence when they feel appreciated, respected, and needed.  Therefore, managers can go a long way with employees by simply doing things like saying thank you for a job well done, issuing instructions in a tactful manner, or asking for their opinion.  When employees are treated this way, they will show their appreciation by being a lot more productive.  Although this is the cheapest and easiest way to motivate employees, there are very few managers that fully take advantage of it.

It has been said that you can’t understand a man until you walk a mile in his shoes.  That is the best way to learn how to motivate somebody.

Rule #4


The Author

The Art of Management

Gregory J. Blencoe is a management consultant and author of The Art of Management.  He has written articles for numerous magazines including Success, Human Resources Executive, Business Credit, and Canadian Business Franchise.  Please feel free to contact him with any questions at

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Copyright 2001 by Gregory J. Blencoe. All rights reserved.

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