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Money Can Motivate, but Often it Doesn’t

By Daniel Bobinski

I’m guessing you’ve heard it said that people are motivated by money. Sadly, it’s a belief held by too many managers and supervisors. I say it’s sad is because that statement isn’t true for everyone. In fact, it’s true for less than 40 percent of the population.
This article is the second in a series about the six learned (extrinsic) motivators. Last month, I reviewed the different ways people are motivated by knowledge. This month we’ll examine the ways that tangible things – including money – may or may not motivate us.
Why learn this? By studying motivators, we develop better self-awareness, which is the starting point for emotional intelligence. It also helps us understand others, thus improving our relationship management.
The motivational spectrum of utility
The utility scale is about the different ways people value the practicality of things, including money. At one end of the scale are those driven by a strong desire to get a return on whatever time or financial investments they make. At the other end of the scale are people more concerned about completing tasks for the sake of completing tasks. They are not driven by getting something in return for it.
Those that desire a strong return on their investment of time, talent and/or money are referred to as resourceful. Those that more concerned about completing tasks for the sake of completing tasks are referred to as selfless. I should point out that no matter one’s preference on the scale, all people value utility. They just value it in different ways.
Traits of a resourceful person
People at the resourceful end of the utility spectrum often have an enterprising nature. They are sensitive to the value of time and resources, and often seek measurable and practical results in what they do. Such people do their best when they get rewarded for their efficiency and practicality. Activities that are perceived as wasteful of time or resources tend to be avoided.
Many with this motivational style are driven by the accumulation of wealth and will avoid being in debt.
Traits of a selfless person
People concerned about accomplishing tasks and making investments for the greater good – without an eye on a tangible return – are at the selfless end of the utility spectrum. Rather than efficiency or financial gain, the impact value of a project or task is more important. Put another way, achieving a desired outcome is more important than how fast the outcome was achieved or how much money was made.
This style often chooses work that assists the greater good, without having to consider how much time or how many resources are needed to achieve it.
I should point out that this utility spectrum of motivations is ripe for misunderstandings. All extrinsic motivators are formed by emotional impressions from events in our lives. Because emotions are powerful drivers, it’s easy to say one motivator is bad while another is good.  I always urge people to value the differences among us rather than criticize them. It’s a healthy approach on many levels.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. For more than 30 years he’s been working with teams and individuals (1:1 coaching) to help them achieve excellence. He was also teaching Emotional Intelligence since before it was a thing. Reach Daniel through his website,, or his office: (208) 375-7606.  



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