Guest opinion: Barry Hoffman, head of human resources, Charteris

When looking to motivate and reward professional services staff, it can be easy to subscribe to some with common misconceptions – the trick is to avoid  doing so by looking to individuals’ value, says Barry Hoffman

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If you believe all the tabloid hype, then the City is awash with multi-millionaires with wide pay packets to accommodate all the extra zeros and bonuses that will buy a small chateau in the South of France.

So pity the poor HR director or reward specialist tasked with motivating, rewarding and retaining staff in such a cut-throat environment. But this isn’t a dilemma that is confined to the City. HR professionals around the country are faced with the conundrum of how to motivate and retain high-earning consultants and professionals.

But where are the answers? Do motivational theorists such as Maslow or Herzberg come to the rescue of the weary reward specialist? Do Harvard professor David McClelland or management theory contemporaries such as Adams or Vroom shed any light on the problem of motivating highly-paid, highly-intelligent specialists?They may do, but there are also common traps I would recommend avoiding when dealing with professional services employees’ reward, motivation and retention.

Firstly, avoid thinking ‘everyone is like me’. Until you have spent hundreds of pounds on a bottle of fine wine, or bought a 4×4 for the country cottage, you probably won’t realise that savings from childcare vouchers will barely keep the nanny in Laura Ashley winter wear. OK, so this may be a bit exaggerated, but one of the most common assumptions we make is that individuals who work for us are motivated by the same factors as us. They aren’t. We are all different.

The opposite also applies so there is no point in thinking ‘no one is like me’. Although we know we are motivated by meaningful and satisfying work, we assume everyone else is motivated mainly by money. Try to think in terms of total reward. Flexible or voluntary benefits schemes, praise, board-level exposure, training and so on can all be highly motivational (and cheap) and may mean the difference between your top talent staying or going.

There is a common misconception that some people can’t be motivated. While it’s true that not everyone has the same motivational triggers, the belief that some people cannot be motivated is somewhat misguided. The reality is that motivating some individuals involves a greater investment of time. So if you are despondent because you don’t know where to turn, then I’d suggest spending time with staff to get under their skin – hit the road, for example, to sample what their life is like.

Don’t think ‘if they leave I’ve failed’. Sometimes the best for everyone is a parting of the ways. Motivation cannot be imposed from outside by a boss or reward specialist, it must be determined from within a person. Sometimes, a person and company are simply unsuited. In a different culture, industry, role or team the individual may well be energised. As HR professionals, we succeed by enabling people to reach their potential. If they could be of far greater value elsewhere, let them go. Helping them to identify and find a more fitting role not only benefits you and them, it also enables you to find a replacement better suited to the job.

People will rise to tough challenges. Many managers hope to motivate by setting their people ever more challenging targets. They believe that raising the bar higher and higher is what motivates. But not everyone enjoys an impossible workload.

Finally, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that motivation takes too much time. Engaging fully with staff, understanding their wants, desires and values, getting to know them as individuals and developing strategies that achieve a continuous flow of discretionary effort is intensive and takes time to work.

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Once you have worked through the maze of emotions and factors affecting professional services staff it should become clear. All you have to do is make them happy.