Here’s some good news for leaders of nonprofits and small business enterprises who don’t have a big pile of money to entice and keep people on the team. When it comes to attracting and keeping people, money isn’t everything.

I didn’t say “money is nothing.” People have college loans to pay, healthcare costs to cover, one or more mouths to feed, a need for shelter, clothing, transportation – a host of necessities. So money does matter.

But it’s not the only thing that matters. And usually it’s not even the thing that matters most.

Just ask someone who does work for a big company with piles of money to get and keep people on the job. Lazlo Bock is a senior vice-president at Google. His company provides employees with free gourmet meals and offers child care and dry cleaning  services on its campus. When it comes to perks, Google is a very good place to work.

But Bock says those things don’t “actually retain people or even attract people.” And he adds, “People don’t stay for the money.” As evidence, he points to the third of Google’s first 100 employees who still work for the company 18 years later – even though they all struck it pretty rich in Google’s initial public offering back in 2004.

So what attracts people and keeps them in an organization? He says there are two reasons:

  • The quality of people they work with.
  • The feeling that the work they do is meaningful.

Other research affirms his perspective, as does the experience of S. Chris Edmonds, an executive consultant with his own firm and the Ken Blanchard Companies and co-author of seven books.

Edmunds tells the story of a client he encouraged to ask employees what their organization’s purpose was. An HR staffer was dispatched with a video camera to shoot short interviews with people at all levels of the company. Each was asked to answer one question: “What’s our organization’s purpose?”

“The answers were consistent and depressing,” he says. They fell into two categories:

  • We print catalogs (that was their primary business, after all); and,
  • We make money for shareholders.”

Edmunds says those answers were not surprising because “those are the messages team leaders and team members had heard from senior leaders for decades.” But they were not very motivational either. So the organization decided to adopt a mission statement with a “servant purpose.” It read: “Our catalogs help our customers have business success!”

Edmunds says the result was that “the meaning of the work shifted from tactical (we print catalogs) or financial gain for others (stakeholders) to we help our customers succeed.”

With this meaningful purpose the organization also adopted explicit values and behaviors that helped boost engagement, service, and results by 30 percent and more in less than 18 months.

Edmunds says the lesson is two-fold: “Surround your people with quality players and help them discover meaning through service to others.”

It’s the best way to attract good people, keep good people, and then keep attracting more good people.

BTW, if you’re interested in learning more about non-monetary ways to reward employees, you might want to read 1501 Ways to Reward Employees.


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