Motivation and Retention Strategies

Four years ago, I received a copy of the HBR article “Employee Motivation: A Powerful New Model” by Nitin NohriaBoris Groysberg and Linda-Eling Lee and found it to be a powerful missive on employee motivation.

The model opines that employees have four drivers that affect their motivation:

  1. The drive to Acquire
  2. The drive to Bond
  3. The drive to Comprehend
  4. The drive to Defend

Over the years the Lantern Group have developed the theory further and, since employee retention is at the forefront of my mind, I feel that it is time to revisit the theory and look for practical strategies for deployment.

The Lantern Group developed the theory by expanding the descriptors for each drive:

  1. The drive to Acquire & Achieve — Typically, this drive is focussed through a firm’s pay, bonus, incentives and recognition systems. Good systems provide feedback and differentiation so that employees understand the linkage between performance against goals and reward.
  2. The drive to Bond & Belong — Firms that create a culture that encourages friendships; provide opportunities for teamwork (sporting, social or community based) and implement team building programmes directly contribute to the drive to bond and belong.
  3. The drive to Challenge & Comprehend — Everyone wants to be challenged and learn. Firms that ensure variety; provide opportunities for continuing education, training, self-research and personal development understand the need to challenge and comprehend. Firms that seek employee input into strategic and operational decisions have reached a level of maturity with the drive to challenge and comprehend.
  4. The drive to Define & Defend — The drive to define is the need to create and believe in something. The drive to defend is our response to protect what we have created. Firms that ensure employees have a positive image of the organisation, developed through creating a culture that is focused on meeting the needs of the individuals, will strengthen the drive to define and defend.

How do we move from theoretical to practical? What strategies can we adopt to address each of these drivers?

Acquire & Achieve

One would think that providing the best salary and benefits package in the market is the best way to address this driver. However, I think this misses the point. The key is to ensure a linkage between excellent performance and excellent reward and to ensure everyone knows that poor work is unacceptable. In order to address this driver I need to:

  1. Add a variable component to our employee salary package to provide the ability to match reward to performance
  2. Ensure our salary structures are seen as above competitive benchmarks.
  3. Build a light-weight appraisal process to enable more regular opportunity for feedback. This needs to be both time driven (e.g. at least once per qtr.) and event driven (e.g. at the end of every project). It’s light-weight so it’s not onerous.
  4. Put in place a system so that outstanding performance is noticed and recognised by all.
  5. Wherever possible, ensure we promote from within.

Bond & Belong

Bonding and belonging is a cultural issue. In our firm, we embrace teamwork and encourage the development of friendships. Employees are always willing to help each other and value the contribution. Our culture is built around four key behaviours:

  1. Driving for results
  2. Working together
  3. Making great decisions and
  4. Doing it right

All four behaviours drive towards the synergies that are created through working as a team. I feel that as a firm we have a strong drive to bond and belong. We could, however, develop the drive further by:

  1. Creating a team to define and implement a Corporate Social Responsibility programme.
  2. Implement quarterly off-site team building programmes.

Challenge & Comprehend

The key to this driver is providing variety in day to day work while also providing opportunity to learn new skills and cultivate new experiences. Since the firm makes its money by selling employee’s time and expertise it is easy to ignore this particular driver in favour of increasing our utilisation (the time allocated to a client project) and realisation (the amount of billable time on a project) ratios. However, last week, I chatted to a friend. My friend now works for Google and, from the conversation, is immensely happy with them as an employer. I was told that all Google employees are allowed to spend 20% of their time working on their own projects. Fascinated, I asked “How many hours a week do you work on Google related projects vs. your own?” After a few seconds though, my friend smiled and said “I work at least 60 hours a week on Google projects!” Seems to me that Google have their cake and are eating it!

My strategies for addressing the drive to challenge and comprehend are:

  1. Build a scheme where employees with good ideas can bid for time and funds to work on them.
  2. Allow time and funds to be allocated for structured, relevant learning to be implemented as appropriate.
  3. As part of our regular staffing and project planning process ensure we are providing variety to each employee.

Define and Defend

Recently, I read a great book by Ken Blanchard and Jesse Stoner called Full Steam Ahead. See Big Rocks for my review. The book drives to building a Vision for your firm by having clarity around your purpose; a clear picture of the future and aligning the team’s values. In order to address the drive to define and defend, I am resolved to jointly building a strong and enduring vision with the entire firm.

Call to Action

What are your experiences with motivating, retaining and growing highly skilled, specialised teams? What has worked for you? Looking at my strategies outlined above, what causes you concern? I am looking to draw on your experiences so that I get it right first time! I am looking to adapt and adopt best in class practice. Your thoughts, ideas and comments are most welcome.

Thank you.

About Peter Borner

Peter is an entrepreneur and successful business leader. Currently leading a consultancy firm specialising in technical diligence for M&A and advising global firms on IT consolidation and migration to consumption based costing through the use of Cloud Technologies.

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Karen Jackson
Karen Jackson

Peter, I really like the way you synthesized your thinking. You've created a simple but powerful way for a leader to consider building a culture based on individual and collective needs.

Peter Borner
Peter Borner


Thank you. I really appreciate your comment. I aspire to attain your level of thoughtfulness when leading so it is truly an honour to receive such an endorsement. Clearly, my ongoing challenge is to put thoughts in to words and words in to deeds. Only time will tell if I am successful but right now, while I am surrounded by such a great team, I can only say I am ever hopeful.