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Stop paying your people to grow your practice

Why money isn’t most employees’ biggest motivator


We all want our staff to be happy and productive. Increasingly, for professional services firms, we also want them to bring in more work too. So how do you motivate people so that you grow a healthy, dynamic and sustainable practice while people are rewarded for initiative?

By not throwing money at them. That’s how….


The problem with only rewarding rainmaking

Obviously, the people who are responsible for bringing in new work into a firm need to be rewarded financially. However, you only have a passing interest in the Banking Royal Commission to realise that massive problems arise when we reward only the act of winning work and nothing else.

After all, winning the work is just the first step in actually making money from it. The work still needs to be done, preferably to the right quality. The client also needs to be managed and looked after. Their feedback needs to be sought. The staff also need to be trained and mentored. New talent also needs to be hired. If you want to build a well-oiled client winning and money making machine, all of these functions should be rewarded too.

But there’s more to it as well. 

After all, there are also clients you don’t want for, and work you don’t want to do. My experience has been that, if you keep rewarding only the act of bringing in work, you also end up with a lot more of both of these.

When that happens your practice ends up a mess and you - and your colleagues - end up miserable.

Who wants that?

Worse still, I’ve seen instances where rewarding only rainmakers leads to a toxic culture in a firm where the people actually working on a file resent doing so because they know they’re lining the pockets of a colleague, not their own.

The result is that bad work gets done, the client gets annoyed and the firm’s reputation suffers.


A better approach: reward everyone

A better approach is to reward everyone on the team in some way - not just the rainmaker (sure you don’t have to reward them to the same extent but you do have to motivate them in some way). A better approach still is to reward for longevity of a client, not simply for a one off transaction.

And a better approach even still, is to combine financial incentives with non-financial ones.

Most employees value a lot of things more than money. And the thing they most want most is recognition.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you have the kind of public naming and shaming ceremonies that some real estate agents engage in, where high performing team members are celebrated with claps and cheers and bell ringing, while low performing ones publicly pilloried. (But there is a reason they do that.)

I am suggesting, however, that you take the time to say thanks and to recognise people who do a good effort winning work, as well as those who then go and do the good work too. I’m also suggesting that you take the time to thank them privately too.


What employees really want

After all, studies also show that earning more money isn’t the strongest motivator for employees. The higher earning the employee is, the less of a motivator it becomes.

Your firm’s culture, the quality of your leadership and the chance to have a successful career matter far more than dollars. So long as you’re compensating people fairly, that’s enough.

From then on you’re better off focusing on building a culture.


Treat people like people

You’re also better off treating people like people. Strict social media policies and smartphone usage and internet usage policies and what not are all well and good, but you’re asking people to give you a lot of their time - sometimes as much as 50 or 60 hours a week. The least you can do in return treat them like adult.

If you’re trying to build a long-term work winning machine just remember social events aren’t just great for making people happy, they’re also still one of the most effective ways of developing the kind of long-lasting relationships both internally and externally that will make your firm a profitable one. Shared experiences count. Informal shared experiences count most of all.


Invest in cleaners

And finally, if you really want to reward someone, why not invest in something that makes a difference to their lives - especially if it’s something that they might find it hard to justify splashing out for themselves.

If you want inspiration on that, look to the tech sector where even the most dynamic businesses find it hard to retain key staff because their skills are in high demand and replacing them is serious work.

Facebook gives staff onsite haircuts and medical and dental appointments.  Google lets people eat any meal they want, at work, for free. Apple provides a smorgasbord of celebrity appearances, free beer, and hefty discounts on its products. Spotify offers egg freezing (Seriously, I’m not making this stuff up). 

One business, Evernote, paid for employees to have their homes cleaned twice a month while they were at work. Imagine the joy of walking home to a spotless home!

You get the picture.

They do this because they realise some things matter more than money, even to employees charged with making more of it for you.

What could you do to bring a bit of that into your office so you start rewarding people without first reaching into your pocket?


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