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By George W. Mantor

RISMEDIA, July 25, 2008-Two years ago, I wrote an article that led to an interview that wound up being syndicated to television stations all over the country. It concerned the question of what motivates talented people.

Today, the focus of an organization might be more about how to retain talent. For many organizations, their talented employees are their greatest asset. But, as the economy has continued to contract, tougher decisions arise about who to keep and who to let go.

gwm1resize_5534-2.jpgFor most of us, this is the toughest part of being an employer. My very reason for starting my own company was that I believed I had a responsibility to stop taking jobs and start making jobs. Making payroll was always my greatest priority and the part of business from which I have derived the greatest sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Over the course of my business career, I have been through many downsizings and was frequently the one responsible for laying off co-workers. It isn’t easy…but it is reality.

Often, not always, but often enough, the decision may not be clear cut. The organization knows that it wants to keep its key people, it’s “A Players” as they are often referred to. But who are they? The first temptation is to jettison those who are not our “favorites.” While seeming obvious that the goal is to create a more homogenous and cooperative team, teams are made up of very different types of people. But, sometimes, mediocrity is easier to get a long with.

Criteria and Cautions

Some of the organizations now facing downsizing were booming just a couple of years ago. The reasons behind the downsizing could be the economy or it could be due to leadership decisions in the good times. Before management can begin layoffs, it needs to be self critical. Did the management team consistently make the best decisions? Really?

During boom times, it’s easy to get caught up in success. Downsizing, at minimum, is evidence of fallibility. It is important not to let ego get in the way of personnel decisions.

There should be clearly defined, public criteria by which an “A-Player” is judged.
The best person for the job may not be the most cooperative beyond the task of getting results.

Performance comes first.

Talent will often challenge management in a variety of ways. They will challenge assumptions, methods and the pace of management.

Allow and encourage disagreement. ‘A players’ pick apart everything. They have to, it’s their edge. They want to score points. They drill constantly on fundamentals and seek better knowledge and understanding of their craft. They are impatient and frustrated. You can’t change that and you don’t want to.

It is difficult to imagine any organization or team that wouldn’t have a focus on trying to attract and retain the most talented people to fill positions. And, while there is a good deal of lip service paid to the value of talent, most organizations really want people who conform to a predetermined model.

It is important to appreciate that talent comes in all shapes and sizes, but it always leaves clues. Gifted people can often behave strangely and they often tend to be direct. They may have eccentricities that can make them stand out.

Many organizations have little tolerance for the uniqueness of their most talented members and set many traps to cull them out and reprogram them to an acceptable vanilla mediocrity.

All too often, talented people leave such employers in frustration and launch their own endeavors. Good for them, for they have little other choice. Real talent has the extraordinary drive to triumph over obstacles in its effort to manifest itself and will not be thwarted indefinitely.

For the employer, talented people pose both an opportunity and a risk. What gives talent its vision also makes it impatient. Their absorption in the task at hand can make them seem aloof and unempathetic to other team members. Sometimes their accomplishments stir resentment among other team members.

Give them what they need and want.

Talented people appreciate flexibility in a work environment and the trust to be able to fail without fear of consequences. Here are five key motivators of talented people.

1. They want to be vested in the outcome.

Talent likes equity in the enterprise.

Talent wants no more and no less than what it’s worth. And, there is now sufficient precedent to accept this essential fact of life.

In 1969, baseball player Curt Flood provoked a debate over baseball’s reserve clause when, after twelve seasons in St. Louis, he was traded to Philadelphia and refused to report, virtually ending his career. But, the sacrifice he made eventually resulted in free agency for players and allowed players to negotiate what they are worth.

In the movie industry, talented writers quit working for the major studios and agreed to write for the independent studios in exchange for a piece of the profit. If you are a movie buff, I don’t need to tell you what happened next; the big studios became rental equipment lots and writers are now some of the best paid people in Hollywood.

Give stock in the company, if possible, or give an escalating share of profits attributed to that individual and or their team.

2. They want money to keep score.

Money alone doesn’t motivate talented people. They are people, nonetheless, and often appreciate fine things and a standard of living that allows them to devote as much energy as possible to the manifestation of their talent.

And, unfortunately, money is how we rate everyone. How much do they earn? This can be as much about ego as money, but just because you can exploit certain talented people doesn’t mean you should. They take pride in being good at what they do and they want to be paid what other leaders in their field are paid. Why would the best want to work for less when they don’t have to? Talent is in high demand. Underlying resentment isn’t a good motivator.

3. Talent must be challenged.

Talent thrives on challenge and withers and dies when forced to endure routine, meaningless, or boring tasks.

Talent wants to compete against the very best. Talent wants multiple ways to express itself, to test itself and to grow.

4. Meaningful recognition is more important than recognition.

Forget the cheap plaques and the hand written notes. Talent isn’t motivated by that, it wants real recognition both in the industry and in the public. Get a PR agency to get their story out there. Suggest them as keynote speakers at industry events and conventions. Give them status. Invest in their reputation.

Seek out their input and encourage participation. When it comes to their ideas, get out of judgment and get into curiosity. Someone else is going to have the best idea you never had.

5. Encourage fun.

The drive behind talent is often the source of great personal satisfaction to the individual because, generally speaking, we enjoy doing what we do well and do well what we enjoy doing. One cannot achieve one’s full potential doing things that one does not enjoy.

Nothing is inherently fun all the time and work is work. That’s why we get paid. But, if the work cannot always be fun, make sure that the environment and working conditions are pleasant.

Sometimes, talented people have more difficulty socializing. Make it easier by having frequent gatherings with food. You don’t need a special event and regular weekly meetings that bring everyone together as part of the routine to assure that plenty of socializing opportunity exists.

The intensity that can often accompany high levels of achievement needs a release. Plan fun into the work environment wherever possible.

In the end, one of the best ways to make sure that talent stays motivated is to think in terms of removing obstacles in front of them so that they can use their talent to stay on mission rather than dissipate it dealing with issues of politics, environment, compensation, and appropriate recognition.

George W. Mantor is known as “The Real Estate Professor” for his wealth building formula, Lx2+(U²)xTFP=$? and consumer education efforts. During a career that has spanned more than three decades, he has amassed experience in new home and resale residential real estate, resort marketing, and commercial and investment property. He is currently the founder and president of The Associates Financial Group, a real estate consulting firm. He can be reached at