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Eat To Live Or Live To Eat

Written by: Ralph Twombly
Published: October 2015

motivate employeesYears ago we asked a question to leadership workshop participants about what they thought motivated most people in their work.  Up to two thirds of the audience would tell us “the money.”  Recently we conducted a series of interviews helping a client choose a potential head of one of their divisions and asked the same question. You are probably getting ahead here and guessed already, the answer was “money.” What is ironic is asking the same question in regard to their personal motivation.  We might say; “So what motivates you?”  The answers become very different.  They each say things like; “It is the power of making a difference” or “the pleasure of working closely with others” or even “the feeling of great accomplishment.”  This produced a ‘head scratching moment’ and knowing my obsession with what it “truly is” I began to research the answer.  To prepare you, research disagrees with the money responses. 

From Psychology Today December 2014 - The specific question the survey asked was: “What motivates you to excel and go the extra mile at your organization?” Employees could choose from 10 answers. Interestingly, money – often simply assumed to be the major motivator – was seventh on the list, well back in the pack. The results were as follows:


1) Camaraderie, peer motivation (20%) 6) Meeting client/customer needs (8%)
2) Intrinsic desire to a good job 7) Money and benefits
3) Feeling encouraged and recognized 8) Positive supervisor/senior management (4%)
4) Having a real impact (10%) 9) Believe in the company/product (4%)
5) Growing professionally (8%) 10) Other (9%)


From Forbes June 2012 - To help you get the most from your employee relationships, here are the six (6) things that ultimately motivate employees to achieve. 


1) Trustworthy Leadership Leaders that have your back and that are looking out for your best interests – will win the trust of their employees who in turn will be more motivated to achieve.    


4)Career Advancement Perhaps the most important factor on this list is the ability to advance.


2) Being Relevant In today’s world where everyone wants to be noticed and recognized for their work – employees are motivated to achieve to remain relevant.    


5) No Regrets People don’t want to live with any regrets in their career/life and thus are motivated to not disappoint themselves.


3) Proving Others Wrong  


5) Stable Future



Now this creates a dilemma for a guy like me.  Am I hanging out with a less enlightened audience or is the data wrong?  Well, that is obviously the wrong question because as someone once said “What you see depends on where you stand.”  For instance if you are living daily with crushing money problems, you will no doubt believe the money answer.  If on the other hand you have had an extended career with success, you may be into the deeper answers.  Which is right?


The power of the tangible – We live in a world that relies on data to prove, disprove and validate our business lives.  We are all trained to read financial statements, look for things that go “to the bottom line” and measure ourselves by how much money we make compared to our siblings.  We get loans based on our income to debt ratio and all know the power of our GPA (grade point average) coming out of school.  This constant attention to data points can lull us into the belief that data is all that counts.  To an extreme, people will say; “If you cannot measure it, it does not exist.”  Anyone who has experienced the power of a parents love for their children or had a moving religious experience when asked to measure that experience will look at you like you just popped  a third eye from your forehead.


Tangibles count.  They do.  They guide our success and warn of impending danger and as we know, the secrets of the universe are being solved, one at a time, by physicists who rely on data and mathematics as a source to prove or disprove their theories.


It gets tricky when we cross into the world motivation, people, preference and happiness.  We are complex and more complicated than the relatively simple question of the universe.  To answer our questions with a data point like the dollars that go into our pockets is too easy and a little lazy because down deep we know better.  We all say so when we are asked the follow up question of what motivates you and we answer like the responses to the Forbes or Psychology Today survey.


Returning to the beginning.  When we would ask the question “What motivates employee/people?”  The classroom camp that said money would inevitably end up in a debate with the camp that gave the more intrinsic answers.  We would settle the argument each time by saying; “Do you eat to live of live to eat?”  This usually quieted the crowd and got everyone to at least agree that the question could have two answers.


The battle will go on because we live in that tangible world and the point of my article has less to do with have the right answer and more to do with asking the provocative question. 


What do you believe motivates people?  What motivates you?


The answer will decide how you will proceed with your life, what you will value, what you will share with those you love and ultimately the way you measure your worth as a person. 


Warmest regards,

Ralph Twombly

Ralph Twombly

In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.