Gini Dietrich

Money Is Not a Motivator

By: Gini Dietrich | December 1, 2010 | 

In my quest to become a better leader and a better communicator, I read everything I can get my hands on and I practice, practice, practice (my piano teacher, who was also my great-aunt, used to say, “Perfect practice makes perfect).

I likely drive my team nuts at times because I practice on them. Sometimes the skills I’m developing work and sometimes they don’t. It’s not easy being at the top – you don’t have anyone to teach and mentor you. You rely on your (very understanding) team to let you try different things.

That’s why I was interested to read about Google granting 10 percent raises to ALL of its 23,000 employees. It’s not like they can’t afford it, as of this morning they’re now offering to buy Groupon for $6 billion (which, BTW, is just insane money, but that’s a different topic for a different time).

But that’s not the interesting part. The interesting part is that “low-level engineers, product managers, and prominent managers” are leaving the company for high-profile companies such as Facebook and venture-funded start-ups.

So, in this economy, when no one is getting raises, people are leaving Google in flocks for companies that are more nimble because they want to see their efforts affect change.

A few months ago, after I read Dan Pink’sDrive,” I wrote a blog post about paying people for their ideas and why it doesn’t work. I got A LOT of push-back in the comments. The comments were that it didn’t matter what their job, if they were paid a lot of money to do it, they could manage. My argument is that you could be paid $500,000 a year to sit in the middle of a warehouse and watch paint dry and you couldn’t stand it longer than a week.

Now ex-Google employees have proven me right (I love being right!).  They’re leaving in droves because the company is too big and it takes too long to get things done.

We want to see our work rewarded in ways more than just pay. We want to see we are affecting change.  Sure, we want to make money, but that’s not what motivates us. We’re human beings and, because of that, we have forgotten about our raise a week after we receive it. But what keeps us motivated, day after day to get up and go to work, is the feeling that we’re part of something.

It’s a shame Google has now reached what Les McKeown would call “death rattle.”  And it’s a shame they can’t keep their talent, even with raises and bonuses when the rest of the country is still underwater. Let’s hope Facebook and these venture-backed start-ups don’t face the same thing in a few years. And let’s hope I can keep growing Arment Dietrich and build Project Jack Bauer with a culture that rewards people for making change and taking risk.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • HowieSPM

    I myself work for Pistacchios and Mocha Lattes. Money? Not so much.

    I know very unhappy miserable rich people. I also know exceptionally happy poor people. I think we all get different things from life. But as your example with Google if we don’t have passion and reward from what we do, money is just a band aid. That will fall off…especially after it gets wet.

  • Good one Gini. I’m sure many of us entrepreneurs agree with you. The funny thing is the harder you work at pursuing something you love, money seems to find you. Our businesses don’t all reach Google, Facebook, or Groupon levels, but certainly high enough to make a good living… all while doing a job you love.

    Can’t beat it!

    –Tony Gnau

  • ginidietrich

    @T60Productions You are SO RIGHT! The money always follows if you’re doing what you love.

  • ginidietrich

    @HowieSPM I work for shoes and wine. We’re not do different.

  • ginidietrich

    @HowieSPM Or so different.

  • patrickreyes

    I won’t be saying anything new but agree with you. Money isn’t a motivator. I left a company for a bigger paycheck and was back at the old company 11 months later.

    In my latest move, I left said “old company” for a brighter future that would allow me to grow professionally, learn a lot, have a flexible schedule (and not have to be in the office at 4:30am) so I can take my kids to school 4 days a week. Not to mention my commute got a ton better. Definitely the right move but money was not the main motivator…it was part of it but not the main reason.

    Great post Gini!

  • ginidietrich

    @patrickreyes I wonder if we begin to realize lifestyle is more important than money in our 30s? In my 20s I definitely worked for the monetary rewards, but also the promise of the BMW if I made partner.

  • patrickreyes

    @ginidietrich I’d say so especially when you get more responsibilities (career growth, family, etc.).

  • anniefiddle

    Gini, thanks for another great post.

    I think this holds true over a certain threshold, although I’m not sure everyone has the luxury of being able to choose a creative, inspiring job over one that pays the bills.

    If a company was paying me poorly and I knew they could afford it, I’d be inclined to leave because I wasn’t valued by the company, rather than because the money was poor.


  • HowieSPM

    @ginidietrich @patrickreyes If you live in Los Angeles you wind up hating BMW owners. I think LA is the worst thing to ever happen to that brand. I am still recovering. Great car but the drivers in LA prove why it was where Road Rage Shootings were started LOL

    To Patricks point I was working for a company exploding during the boom. HQ was in Silicon Valley and the people there told me they would get 5 calls a day trying to steal them away. The ones who left found their work hours increase by 50% weekends now they had to work all in pursuit of stock options. And most of them lost all those stock options in the industry crash.

  • HowieSPM

    @ginidietrich damn I need to return the Colt 45 forty ouncers I had gotten you for Xmas. and its raining out. Sigh. But I can safely keep the Crocs yay!

  • PattiRoseKnight

    I agree money isn’t the main motivator but I would like to sit in that warehouse for 7 days and watch the paint dry – I could take PTO to do it and it would bring about $9,000 to be bored to death! Seriously good post – I’ve done the big agency thing and much prefer being at Arment Dietrich where the CEO asks my opinoin! One of the many perks of the job!

  • HelenKitchen_PR

    My son’s football coach says “Practice makes permanent makes perfect” but I like your “Perfect practice” mantra more! It’s a long way up, but I think I’m on the right ladder – and I’m having a great time learning and connecting. Money – who needs it!
    Actually you have a point about shoes and wine…
    Thanks for sharing again.

  • janbeery

    I’ve lived in the culture of growing up the corporate ladder and going for the almighty dollar. I walked away from some great opportunities in the last several years and took the plunge into leading my own team. The support and mentoring I love as a business owner/leaders comes from my network. I have found, (now far beyond my 30’s) that happiness and being a part of something that helps others is so rewarding.
    There’s a great book by John Ortberg called “It all goes back in the box.” Worth the read, it’s so true.
    As for me and my company, I’ll continue trying to make a difference. At the end of the day, I’d rather be happy doing what I do then unhappy doing what other people think I should be doing!

  • ginidietrich

    @HowieSPM @patrickreyes Um. I drive a BMW.

  • ginidietrich

    @anniefiddle I agree with that, Annie. I think the basis is that you’re making enough to pay your bills and being paid for your level of expertise. If you’re being poorly paid, you likely aren’t enjoying your job for the lack of culture and the immense amount of red tape anyway.

  • ginidietrich

    @PattiRoseKnight LOL! This literally made me laugh out loud! Now I know what you’re doing with your time off next year!

  • ginidietrich

    @HelenKitchen_PR It’s like the old days, but instead of chickens and pigs, we get shoes and wine!

  • ginidietrich

    @janbeery SUCH A GOOD POINT! When I started Arment Dietrich, I joined Vistage and began to build this perception of what a successful company looked like, just from being around the other members. What I didn’t know is that just because your revenues are high and you have 30 people does not equal success (though it looked it). We weren’t making any money and I was miserable! It was a hard lesson to learn (and an expensive one), but now I know I want to be doing what makes me happy, not what other people define as success.

  • janbeery

    @ginidietrich See… You’re on the right track! It’s about quality of life. Um. I too USED to drive a beamer! Missing that heated steering wheel about now!
    This is a wine conversation! We have GOT to do this!!!!

  • ginidietrich

    @janbeery If I weren’t so stinkin’ sick, I’d suggest tonight or tomorrow night!

  • HowieSPM

    @ginidietrich @patrickreyes But not in LA. Big difference. Don’t drive it to LA. Rent a car if you go there. Your image is too pristine to risk it.

  • designinabag

    I hate to be cynical here, but I seem to remember reading that employess were leaving Google in droves because of the lure of the almighty dollar–companies which haven’t had an IPO, like FB, offer big cash and the possibility of an even bigger payout through an IPO or purchase, a la Groupon. Google is having many employees poached by these companies and is taking defensive action.

    I’m sure that some emplyees are leaving becasue of ideas and ideals, but my guess is more are leaving for the $.

  • ginidietrich

    @designinabag Hmmmm…where did you see that? I read stories in Fortune, NY Times, and HBR and they all said the same thing, “Google’s gotten to be a lot bigger and slower-moving of a company,” said the former manager, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity to protect business relationships. “At Facebook, I could see how quickly I could get things done compared to Google.”

  • KevinVandever

    Even though it’s more fun to try to prove you wrong, I’m with you on this because I have experienced it first hand both as a business owner and as an employee of a company. Money is nice and more money to do the same job is even nicer, but in the end, it alone will not always keep one motivated. Depending on where you are in life, different motivation factors come into play. I think you said it in one of you replies, but sometimes, when we’re young, money is the first motivator, but as we get older, our priorities and perspectives change and are shaped by prior experiences. Money, often times, moves down the list of motivators. The nice thing, though, and this has already been mentioned, too, is that when we use don’t use money as a primary motivator, it often finds us anyway, especially if we love what we do and have passion and talent for doing that thing.

    I’ve heard many of the practice makes perfect and perfect practice makes perfect mantras through the years, but one valuable lesson my youth football coach said to me after a busted play went horribly bad is to understand that when a play breaks down and the quarterback (biz leader) has to improvise, remember that not everyone knows the play has broken down so they are still doing what they were instructed to do. If you improvise too far outside of that plan, it can be disasterous, however, if you can improvise while understanding where the rest of your team might be, or with an opportunity to communicate the improvisation to the team (not easy to do after the ball is snapped, but could work in the business environment), that is when you can turn a broken play into a big win. Sometimes, you can go it completely alone and still come out fine, but knowing what your team is thinking and where they are already blocking gives you a better chance.

    Alos, saves you from going to sideline and having your coach grab you by the facemask and scream, “Vandever, what the hell were you thinking?!”

  • designinabag

    @ginidietrich One source is TechCrunch, here is a link detailing offers and counter-offers from Facebook and Google. “

    “Sources close to Google tell us that about 80% of people stay when they’re offered a counter to a Facebook offer. But some still leave. Part of that may be that Facebook is quietly telling people, never in writing, that there’s no reason their stock won’t hit $100 billion in total valuation over the next couple of years. No guarantees, yadda yadda, but hey if you get 1/10 of 1%, that’s $100 million in stock. Now it’s a party.”

    Again, I’m sure some people leave becuase of ideals–to “do no evil” elsewhere, but the allure of the good old American greenback is hard to ignore as a primary motivator.

  • HowieSPM

    @designinabag @ginidietrich I have a Finance Degree and I don’t value Groupon at $6b and I sure don’t value FB at $33bil. I see Facebook as worth about $10bil. Doesn’t mean they won’t go public and the public get snowed and buy high. But it costs $9 to buy $1 of Apple sales and at $33bil in value $22 to buy $1 in Facebook sales. And Facebook is only making less than $3/user per year. Obviously more upside in the FB stock price because Apple is sky high but Apple makes products and dominates some industries and tech niches. Facebook owns a platform that without users has no network or content.

    Doesn’t mean FB isn’t telling people what you say. But I sure don’t want to work for a company with a weaselly rep or for a CEO no one trusts or likes (at least the general public doesn’t).

  • “My argument is that you could be paid $500,000 a year to sit in the middle of a warehouse and watch paint dry and you couldn’t stand it longer than a week.”

    If the fumes didn’t get you first.

    I understand what you’re saying. In this economy, where money is as tight as it has been in decades, it’s very unusual to see people leaving a job after being offered a raised, much less an immediate raise of 10%. But I think it also speaks volumes of the Silicone Valley culture. I’ve never been anywhere like it. Ideas for your own company, or at least being on the ground floor of a start-up, is where the huge potential for money is at, not in “regular employment,” for a severe lack of better phrasing.

    Growing up in San Antonio, all I EVER heard in school and even from my family was to get a good education, get a good job, and earn a good retirement after XX number of years of work. And that’s actually a good way to go in San Antonio, where cost of living is super low and competition technology and competition aren’t as progressive as other cities. My parents followed that path (US Air Force) and I’m very proud of their achievements. But here, it’s the complete opposite. If you have an awesome idea, forget school, forget whatever it was you were told to do. Take that idea and start a company. Then, make 200 million dollars and retire at 25. It’s not nearly as easy as it sounds, but I can respect that approach to a career.

    So I think Google can only do so much in situations like this, operating in arguably the most fertile business grounds in the world. They hire the best talent, and in this area of the country, the best talent wants to use their talent for their own ideas, not someone else’s. That’s a tough crowd to please, regardless of salary, and in my opinion, a true entrepreneurial spirit cannot be bought off, even by the likes of Google. They’re in a tough spot, no doubt.

  • ginidietrich

    @designinabag If people leave for money, alone, it’s the grass is always greener mentality. And the grass is not always greener, no matter how many of them you have in Ben’s.

  • designinabag

    @HowieSPM @ginidietrich You are absolutely right about valuations, IMO–note to Groupon, take the money and run. And personally, I wouldn’t want to work for a company which didn’t fit my ethos, however, in these difficult times we seem to see more and more examples of people who do just that, at any cost.

  • designinabag

    @HowieSPM @ginidietrich Of course, FB’s 33 Billlion in cash is real…

  • designinabag

    @ginidietrich I totally agree personally.

  • Love this post. It really reminds me of Tony Hsieh’s book ‘Delivering Happiness’. It’s completely true, money is not everything. It’s something, and it can be used to “show” someone that their hard work is appreciated but regardless it is not what makes you happy in the workplace or life. If you are not doing what you love and you don’t feel like you are making a difference…then my question is, why are you wasting the little time in life you have for a paycheck? To me, sacrificing my dreams, goals and happiness isn’t worth any material possession.

  • @JMattHicks You make a really good point. I guess you would have to put the “entrepreneurial destined crowd” aside. I think ultimately being apart of a good work environment and being challenged and stimulated at your job comes before a few thousand dollars more a year.

    At the end of the day if you’re not passionate about your work and you don’t feel like what you do means anything – you probably won’t stick around long (or you shouldn’t at least). And for those really talented employees at Google – perhaps they are the ones with the courage to do just that.

  • TMNinja

    @JMattHicks Great points. Really like your thoughts here.

    Very interesting around the top talent and their attitude towards using their talent where they want… not necessarily where their company wants.

    – Craig

  • @PattiRoseKnight Haha you are too funny! I was laughing out loud too seriously. You may have a point…I could do it for a week. One questions is napping in a chair off limits while sitting in the warehouse?

  • jeanniecw

    This is such a big, meaty subject and I’ve seen it from so many angles. I do think there are certain *types* who are motivated by money, but I agree with you on the overall take here. I also believe that some people who start with a small company that grows to that big and unwieldy stage NEED to leave. They are not the right people for the NEW company. I tend to work with companies making that shift from small, entrepreneurial, hip places to work to bigger, more structured organizations. This shift is a critical point and one that Google will continue to have to face. It’s an interesting tactic to see if you can generate some more loyalty with an across-the-board raise. I bet there are some employees who will postpone the job search a little longer because of this – and that might be enough to maintain enough consistency, launch a new product, etc. I also think there are employees who are not yet there who will be willing to step in and help Google grow even more.
    Change is hard. When a company changes, the people sometimes need to, as well. I would encourage Google to think about who they need NEXT.

  • RandyClark

    I am not motivated by money. I recently took an initial 50% pay cut to take a position I love. I am motivated by recognition, being part of a time, and believing I am helping. With that said, some people are motivated by money. I worked for an S corp. owned and managed by someone who was money motivated. I tried to teach this person not everyone was money motivated, not everyone thought as he did. If he wanted to motivate his team he must take the time to learn what motivated members then make that possible. For me to assume others are motivated by recognition because I am as narrow minded as believing others are motivated by money because he was. The point is to learn what motivates and make it available whether it is money, free time, flex scheduling, benefits, working from home, being part of a team etc.
    Expecting a raise or bonus to inspire and improve, without understanding how your team is motivated is probably wasted money. Money is often not a motivator. Managers are frequently surprised when added financial incentives [bonuses etc.] do not motivate team members to put forth more effort or determination. Money may limit de-motivation, but is often not THE motivator.

  • jenhp

    Great post. I took my last job simply for the money and I was beyond miserable. I always said I wouldn’t do that and then when I did, I proved myself right (and, like you, I like to be right).

  • jenhp

    Great post. I took my last job simply for the money and I was beyond miserable. I always said I wouldn’t do that and then when I did, I proved myself right (and, like you, I like to be right).

  • @rachaelseda “I think ultimately being apart of a good work environment and being challenged and stimulated at your job comes before a few thousand dollars more a year.” That’s key. It takes bravery to do that, it means taking a risk. And often times, when our bravery is screaming to be let out, money shuts it up. But, when that bravery can spit that money out and go for it, the reward is far, far greater than the initial cost.

  • @TMNinja Thanks Craig!

  • Brigitte

    I one hundred percent agree.

  • Silicon Valley is traveling at hyper speed and it doesn’t take too long for the talented ones to get fed up with the slow-moving environment of a massive company. The potential to change the world and make millions – or billions – is incredible, but only the fastest of the fast are rewarded. I hope the shift from large-scale companies like Google to smaller, “more nimble” ones, as ginidietrich put it, like Facebook continues and spawns may new exciting startups (which will most likely be acquired by Google – the circle of life in Silicon Valley).

  • I see this more and more at my current “day job”. People are being tread upon and their ideas squashed while people see bad management tactics being employed and employees blamed for upper level mistakes. Is it any wonder that people leave in droves? I don’t think so.

    There’s an interesting gap between where someone will stay because of the money and what’s unbearable, but once companies understand it’s about the individuals working and their employee experience both the workforce and the quality of work will improve.

    At least that’s that I think.

  • After reading some of the comments here, it may be true that some are leaving Google for the shot at get-rich-IPO potential. If you combine that with the chance to do work you love, it’s a total win-win. But in the long run, if it’s only about the money, that money will come in handy for therapy after you start fantasizing about driving into bridge abuttments. A few years ago, after taking a few months off to care for a loved one, I was offered some slightly insane money to do work that sounded exciting, far-reaching and creative. A few weeks into it, we found out it was more like your “watching paint dry in a warehouse”. My partner couldn’t take it. I lasted a little longer, because I’m strong like that (haha). But I walked away with renewed conviction and clarity about the kind of work I want to do, and who I will and won’t work with. And that, as the MasterCard commercial says, is priceless.

  • ginidietrich

    Mr. D and I were talking about Groupon last night. I don’t know who is advising them, but if they told me to push for more than the initial $2.5B they were offered, I’d push them out of the way and sign on the dotted line. Clearly they know what they’re doing, but let’s be real. $6B is just crazy money. You could never spend it. Heck, you could barely give it all away.

  • ginidietrich

    And I love to scream, “Vandever, what the hell were you thinking?!”!

  • ginidietrich

    @rachaelseda But, to play devil’s advocate, if you can’t buy wine and shoes, what’s the point?

  • ginidietrich

    @jeanniecw I’m not going to lie, *I* am motivated by money. Looking at our financials every week and seeing the big black numbers is greatly motivating to me. And, as you well know, I love to buy shoes and wine. But that’s not why I get up and come to work every day. Your point about thinking about new talent is spot on. Perhaps you should blog it??

  • ginidietrich

    @RandyClark I used to be the person you describe. And then the economy fell out and I realized I had to be motivated by something else if I was going to keep getting up and coming to work. When I realized that, we held a fun little contest where we tried to guess how other people were motivated. It was hugely eye opening for me and it was lots of fun!

  • ginidietrich

    @jenhp LOL! Even if it means trying to prove yourself wrong!

  • ginidietrich

    @Brigitte I love it when my old colleagues agree with me!

  • ginidietrich

    @JonHearty And that goes for entrepreneurs too. If I weren’t changing things here as quickly as I could, I would die.

  • ginidietrich

    @joey_strawn Unfortunately there are company leaders (DecorMyEyes anyone?) who don’t care about their employees or their customers yet they stay in business. One would hope those businesses eventually become their own demise.

  • ginidietrich

    @Katjaib Oh Kat. You never disappoint! LOL!!

  • KevinVandever

    @ginidietrich Get in line.

  • perezable

    Whatever happened to 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration? A company where all ideas are given a shot is a company without vision. An employee leaving a company like Google because their ideas don’t fly seriously needs to learn the art of influence and making ideas stick. It’s not about your ideas as much as working hard to promote the right environment and relationships to nest those ideas. High innovation companies can lead their employees to “idea fatigue”… It’s the perception that everything can fly that is wrong, not so much the fact that it’s hard to make everything fly. And please, have you noticed the innovation cycles at Facebook? Seriously? They don’t even have a “Facebook Lab” and take 6-8 months for a significant feature roll-out.

    I would strongly question whether money is not a motive. After all, since the recent climb of Google shares and all the options employees have been granted, any time is a right time to cash out and move to a new challenge. Why not? It IS about the money, especially if they’re moving to Facebook, who WILL soon consider IPO and is about to become the biggest ad network in the universe…

    Bottom line, no one can stand doing work they don’t like. But some unfortunately have to. When you are lucky enough to have the choice, you can trade money for challenge or “love of the game”. But unless you tell me you’d do it for free and forever, I won’t believe you don’t do your job for money.

    Whatever the case may be, I’d bet half these people wouldn’t leave if they were simply able to realize they should be grateful for what they have. They’re healthy, alive, working for Google and getting a 10% raise. But that’s a different story, for another day.

  • jeanniecw

    @ginidietrich Alright already! I’ll blog! Jeez! (stomps to room and slams door) 🙂

  • CLGraphics

    OK – I know I’m a little late to this conversation. I’ve read through the posts and have decided that I’m sticking to my initial opinion. Gini, when you’re right, you’re right. And this time, you’re right.

    Here’s the deal folks – I’ve been in positions where I’ve made silly stupid $. Sure $ are great. My ability to gather those little green pieces of paper and round pieces of metal enable me to do some nice things for my family and friends. However, I left a few very lucrative positions for exactly the reasons, Gini, that you provided in your post.

    In fact, throughout 2009 and 2010 I was hell bent on NEVER EVER EVER EVER (get the drift?) going back to work for someone else. I was done with being an employee. I have an extremely entrepreneurial work style. I’d done a few successful start-ups in the past, got bored and moved on. However this time I was bound and determined to create something and stick with it. And that …. well … sort of happened.

    In 2009 I founded Topical Content, initially a complete copywriting services firm. And, because things change, which, admittedly, I instigate more than 95% of the time, in a short two years it’s evolved into an service that’s exclusively focused on ghost writing projects.

    So, here I sit, owner of a ghost writing firm, and now, once again, an employee working for someone else (CL Graphics – an extremely cool, fun, awesome marketing cross-media company). So… Me, the guy who instigates change, had to eat my NEVER EVER words. Fortunately that meal was served on an exquisite platter.

    It’s all because my relationship with money changed over the past few years. In 2008 I decided that activities that bring my financial abundance must bring me joy and through me, joy to others.

    Sound like a bunch of cheesy foo foo hokey crap?

    Well, everything I’ve been doing since I made that decision does exactly what I listed. So, another of my truths (other blog conversation reference) is: When you do what you love, it shows and financial abundance finds me. Hot damn life is good!

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  • ginidietrich

    @perezable I’m with you on people needing to be grateful for what they have. But we’re human beings and I’m not sure, in some cases, it’s possible until it’s gone. Not for everyone, but they don’t have the “grass is always greener” mantra for nothing.

    Two years ago, if you’d asked me what motivates me, I’d have said money, hands down. I mean, I LOVE nice things. I have really expensive taste. But then the bottom fell out and I had a choice: I could go to a large agency and collect a phat paycheck or I could sacrifice my salary and work my butt off to save my business. I didn’t work for money for almost two years. It sucked. I had to give up some of my luxuries (cough, wine and shoes), but the reward of turning business around and having a company that lost money only one year (2009) is what kept me motivated.

    If you’ve not read Drive, you should. It talks about how all of this works, assuming we’re making enough to pay our bills and go out to eat every once in a while.

  • ginidietrich

    @CLGraphics Ah ha! So now I know the story of how the two businesses fit together! I also love “cheesy foo foo hokey crap.” LOL!

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