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The Marcus Perspective


By Bruce Marcus

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Or Find Some Other Way to Inspire Me

At Microsoft, they worry about motivation. When everybody who holds any kind of a responsible job there is making more money than any of them ever dreamed they would, and when they’re in an industry in which every competitor would pay anything to hire them away, how do you motivate people? How do you get them to stay, and to produce at the high levels demanded by Microsoft and other high tech companies?

Two ways. First, Microsoft appeals to what creative people crave most — the opportunity to do great work, and then recognition for it by seeing it used. Then they build a culture and a business to sustain that creativity. Second, they hire the right people. They hire only those people who are motivated by what they have to offer. And it works. It’s one of the things that make Microsoft a great and successful company.

Is this so difficult? Not really. Why, then, do so many companies look outside themselves and their cultures for motivation? Why the growth of the motivational consultants business?

This is a strange business, these motivational consultants and coaches. What’s strangest is not so much what they do, it’s the need of so many corporations to buy the stuff. Do people really think that the problem of motivation is so arcane and difficult that only an outside consultant, with exhortations and incantations, can do it? Or is it some protectionist scheme, in which, if it doesn’t work, the responsibility is passed on to someone else? All those dreary days in windowless basement rooms of airport hotels. All those boring and artless slides.

We may not know a vast amount about the human mind, nor the emotions and how they’re controlled, but some things seem obvious.

  • Yes, people want to be adequately compensated, and there’s little likelihood that you’re going to motivate underpaid people. (You can probably overwork inspired people though, if they’re not underpaid.)
  • Exhortations to company loyalty don’t work any more. There’s too long a record by too many companies that have been disloyal to loyal workers for that route to have any credibility. Notice, the tradition of company songs didn’t do much to save the Japanese economy during its tough days.
  • Productivity bonuses used to work, but in today’s labor market, where’s there’s a shortage of jobs but at the same time, a shortage of trained people to fill tech or other specialized positions, anything you have to offer can be topped by somebody somewhere else. In many companies, when you have talented people, you want to keep those people — to keep what you have.
  • Perks used to help, but not anymore. Competitors can match perks. See previous bullet.
  • Weird systems, like mind training and psychosystems, usually last all the way until the following Monday, by which time the trainers have gone on to the next suckers, and the trainees can’t remember a thing they were taught.
  • In today’s environment, then, unless you want to waste your money on training programs that enrich the trainers but don’t do much for you, you’re stuck with the Microsoft model.

And how do you do that?

  • Build a culture that cherishes ideas, contributions, and recognition for both — that invites new ideas, and then uses them or takes the trouble to spur people onto improving their ideas.
  • It should go without saying that you should start with the assumption that people want to do better, and want to feel part of a team — and then give them reason to feel that way. Trust people, and obviously, they will, trust you.
  • And certainly, hire the right people. Not just the people with skills you need. That too. But people who will see what you have to offer as reward enough. A reason for performing well. Oh, and treat them well — as you would like to be treated.
  • Certainly, it pays to have a sound business (which inspired employees will help you get and sustain). Nobody wants to work for a company that looks like it’s going under. Particularly if it looks like management’s fault.

It all beats psychobabble. And it costs less.

Bruce W. Marcus is a Connecticut-based consultant in marketing and strategic planning for professional firms, the editor of THE MARCUS LETTER ON PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MARKETING, (, the author of PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MARKETING 3.0 (Bay Street Group, 2011, from which this article is adapted and the co-author of CLIENT AT THE CORE (John Wiley & Sons, 2004) His e-mail address is © 2011 Bruce W. Marcus. All rights reserved.


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