Some motivational researchers refer to employee motivators as values or attitudes.  There is a quality in the words “values” and “attitude” that suggests right and wrong.  That presents a challenge because people like to assign a moral outlook when discussing values, such as “family values.”

Likewise the term “attitudes” tends to make us think of someone having a “good” attitude or a “bad” one.  That’s really too bad because so much benefit can be gained if managers understood that values or attitudes are neutral and they are simply different factors that motivate – or de-motivate – us.

For example, just as you can use a hammer to build something good or to harm another person, the hammer has no “morality” of its own.  The same goes for money, one of six motivators identified by Dr. Eduard Spranger that some people value. One group of people, based upon their life experiences, might believe that money is the root of all evil and that money corrupts.  In contrast, another group might believe money is the path to prosperity and philanthropy.  You can probably imagine the arguments and animosity that might erupt if you placed Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Donald Trump, and Bernie Madoff in the same room. Money itself would not be the problem – they each have amassed billions of dollars, at least at one time or another. The different would be the purpose – or the value – each individual assigns to money.  Consider that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have both donated billions of dollars and much of their personal wealth toward education and other human-critical missions compared while Donald Trump and Bernie Madoff who seem to believe that whomever holds the most money wins.

Each of the six motivators holds similar differences in the value place on them.  Therefore to understand how to motivate employees, managers should  begin with these 3 rules:

Rule #1 – Values or Attitudes are neutral.

Whether we call them motivators, values or attitudes, these factors are neutral.  They are judgment free.  It’s us – you and me – that assign good and bad connotation to descriptors like values and attitude.

Rule #2 – Think of value as a verb, not a noun.

The most critical question you might ask is which of the six motivators – Conceptual, Aesthetic, Economic, Power & Authority, Social, or Doctrine – do you value most. Phrased another way, ask “what do you value?” not “what are your values?”

Rule #3 – Not all values are equal.

Two of the six motivators tend to be primary influencers for most people. Sometimes there are three.  Another one or two of the motivators have situational influence – they are not driving passions in an individual’s life.  They can and are activated when there is a specific application or focus that will benefit the individual.  Finally, the remaining one or two do not motivate the individual at all.  In fact if you try to activate them, you might de-motivate them instead.

To motivate employees, managers must first understand the motivators that people value.  Next, they must identify the primary, situational, and de-motivating influencers for each employee. And finally managers must be able to match the right individual incentives and environmental influences (aka – benefits, culture, etc.) to each employee.  In other words, hire and retain employees that will value what you offer or offer what they value…or both.  Conversely, you can’t offer what you value and expect everyone to respond the same way.  That’s a path destined for a slippery slope.

Learn more about what motivates employees: