Throwing money at employees to boost retention can only do so much. Catering to their psychological needs and engaging in storytelling, on the other hand, can help them find purpose in their work. As the common axiom in talent management goes: People will come to work for money, but will stay for meaning. It therefore becomes a talent manager’s mission to not only labor in recruiting the best talent, but also to work to keep them there — in many cases without relying on cash incentives or exotic employee perquisites.
One tool talent managers can instill in their leaders is storytelling, according to Ann Simon, a consultant at Chicago-based organizational performance and strategy firm Gagen MacDonald. Using a narrative of an organization’s corporate vision helps to motivate employees beyond money, Simon said. The ability to present a vision through stories builds a personal connection between the organization’s goals and employees’ need to feel a greater sense of purpose in the work they do. This could lead to increased productivity, engagement, motivation and retention.
“At the end of the day, it’s about companies awakening to the fact that there’s got to be a higher purpose to build employee loyalty,” Simon said. Today’s workers, especially younger ones, are demanding it. Punching a clock and collecting a paycheck simply doesn’t cut it anymore, she said.
Organizations can bolster their internal messages by creating a communications culture in which the company’s narrative is not just relayed through formalized presentations to its employees, but is embedded in everyday conversation, Simon said.
Yet crafting a compelling narrative message requires that leaders break some old habits and gain some new ones. It also asks that they pay special attention to the anecdotes that occur on the job, as they might find such stories helpful motivators later on.
In a June 2011 article in Chief Executive Magazine, Bill Baker, a founder and principal of BB&Co Strategic Storytelling, offered four tips leaders should follow to frame an organizational vision in a narrative light.
1. Present strategic planning work in a memorable language of stories, not in corporate speak. 2. Invite employees to contribute stories to planning efforts while they’re still being crafted. 3. Give employees the means to share stories consistent with a strategic vision and brand positioning. 4. Live by example by becoming the organization’s “Storyteller-in-Chief.” In other words, “pull people into ideas and rally employees” around storytelling, Baker writes. He lists General Electric Co.’s Jeff Immelt and Zappos’ Tony Hsieh as leaders who best exemplify this.
Baker, whose firm consults clients including General Electric in “strategic storytelling,” said most people are naturally great storytellers to begin with, but they tend to “turn it off” when they go to work. The opposite should happen: Leaders should turn up their storytelling when they enter the corporate environment.
“Really great leaders are great communicators — and they are great communicators because they are great storytellers,” Baker said. “Stories, when properly told, can help employees understand the logic of where we want to go with the magic of why we even want to go there in the first place.”
Others, however, say storytelling is simply one element a leader should pay attention to as a motivator. Recognizing the greater psychological needs that also drive workers toward enhanced performance is another.
Sharon Daniels, CEO of global learning services firm AchieveGlobal, offers an expanded perspective on how to motivate beyond money by presenting three basic psychological needs that all employees share: competence, relatedness and autonomy. Each need, Daniels said, is something all employees seek to be happy in their work. As a leader, providing for — and properly recognizing — these needs is vital to sparking engagement and retention.
There are four basic coaching skills for managers that promote what Daniels terms a needs-based leadership style: give needs-based feedback, shape a motivational workforce, realize talent in others, and offer rewards and recognition.
“As a manger you have to create an environment that you know enough about your employees and what motivates them and what their desires are,” Daniels said.
Doing so, she added, helps managers drive employees to align their own internal motivations to the broader business and organizational goals. While cash incentives can be used on occasion as a reward for performance, Daniels cautioned against using it too often — or depending on it entirely.
In some instances, monetary rewards could potentially depress employees’ motivation. For example, when casual golfers begin to play professionally, they might lose some motivation in the activity because, as Daniels put it, “it becomes their job.”
“Sometimes if you put too much reward on something or it becomes something you get paid for, you have to look if it changes the motivation,” she said.