Strategy for Hiring Talent: 3-Motivations Model for Employers and Employees

In this PowerPoint presentation, KnowledgePower's George Baily offers a new model for how companies and recruiters can think about their talent hiring more strategically.

Failing to Hire and Retain Talent: Root Causes

Hiring Talent: Unrealistic aims; Unclear priority; Mismatching aims; Missing dimensions; Internal disagreement; Unstable compromises

Defining the required experience, skills, qualification, and salary -- Still not enough to get you what you're looking for! Look for the missing dimensions and unstated contradictions in hiring strategy.

When organizations can't attract the talent they hope for, or fail to retain managers and experts, it is not simply a matter of budget and recruitment practices. Looking under the surface, we can see common strategic problems that constitute root causes to solve.

  • Unrealistic aims: this is the main point of our 3-motivations model (see below) - too often organizations are seeking an all-singing, all-dancing, and CHEAP hire who cannot exist
  • Unclear priority: given that you can't have your cake and eat it, what is most important?
  • Mismatching aims: do your emphases match the personal motivations of your candidates?
  • Missing dimensions: are you taking account of what motivates your candidates beyond a job title and salary?
  • Internal disagreement: who are the stakeholders in your hiring decision? Try to reveal and resolve differences in strategy.
  • Unstable compromises: in the pressure to hire someone you can "succeed" but this is no good if the new team member is not stable. We argue that unrealistic or contradictory aims are a root cause of instability.

Employer vs Employee motivations

text slide from the presentation explaining the opposing motivations of employer vs employee

If you consider the fundamental motivators of what an employer hopes to get out of a new hire, these are in opposition to the personal motivators of the talented employee: recognizing and working with these contradictions is more realistic than idealistically trying to deny them away...

Although everyone in a workplace has to pretend otherwise, the interests of an employer and employee are psychologically opposed. Bluntly put, each side wants to extract value out of the relationship. The things employers are looking for when going out to hire talent all represent compromises from the point of view of an employee.

  1. The employer wants someone who gets stuff done and delivers results under pressure without constant hand-holding. This includes creating solutions for things which nobody currently knows how to solve.
    In opposition to this, employees would prefer to have a clearly delineated definition of success, and support in working on it, so they know it is achievable, before they commit and take responsibility for delivering.
  2. The employer wants the employee aligned with the organization's commercial aims, and integrated into a cohesive social unit. The more time and energy exerted for the good of the organization, the better.
    In opposition to this, the employee is an individual with her own life outside work.
  3. The employer is usually able to evaluate the experience+skills+qualification mix as a marketplace commodity with a price range, in which they can guesstimate what price represents a good bargain.
    In opposition to this, the employee doesn't want to be compensated at or below market parity: she wants to be paid so well that the question of wandering off to other things is off the table.

Initiative... Dedication... Cheap -- Employer can only pick two

Triangle diagram saying Leadership and initiative, Dedication and Loyalty, and Cheap and undemanding, pick two

A good hire can deliver on two of the things the organization wants, but you can't expect to get all three.

Although every organization would like to hire people who are high-initiative miracle worker experts/leaders AND emotionally committed to the company plus overtime AND will do it for below market compensation... such people do not exist. At least, if you get a good result in all three dimensions for a while, there is no way this is sustainable for the employee.

Therefore, an organization must "pick two":

  • Leadership & Initiative + Dedication & Loyalty => It will cost you
  • Dedication & Loyalty + Cheap & Undemanding => You need to commit a lot of training and supervision, even if the hire has high potential
  • Cheap & Undemanding + Leadership & Initiative => This person will be marching to their own tune, and although original and creative will be far less manageable, predictable, or possible to integrate in your normal management structures

For the employee: pick ONE dimension

Triangle diagram for the employee; pick only one out of Empowerment and mandate, Flexibility and autonomy, or Compensation and incentive

Assuming the employer must pick TWO dimensions and yield on the third aspect, the employee's motivations MUST match up with that ONE

The employee that satisfies two out of three of the dimensions of the interests of the employer is compromising her own interests in those areas, because (as we have argued) the interests of an employee and employer in the relationship are always one-wins-more, one-loses-more. This overall does not mean that talent hiring is not win-win: it just means you can't win in all the dimensions of the bargain.

So if the employee allows the employer to make high performance demands, AND restricts her freedoms with long working hours and a hierarchical, strict working environment... then the employee must (and can only) be motivated to endure this by a better compensation package.

If an employee demands freedom in working hours and style, then this had better match what the employer is willing to yield on. If yes, then it means the employer will expect their side of the deal on the other dimensions, i.e. less compensation and less safe management hand-holding.

In the final option, if the employee (as is most common) is primarily motivated by the desire for a stable, predictable, safe, achievable, and entitled employment position then that individual must make sacrifices in the other dimensions, i.e. the organization compensates less AND restricts their freedoms.


  • Organizations and employees can identify approximately with one of the three respective models, and indeed we usually know which of these we are.
  • However hip, modern, dynamic, visionary etc the organization it cannot have its cake and eat it. Since young businesses generally cannot offer large compensation, then this means the strategic choice for hiring talent is EITHER to emphasise management control OR submit to the unpredictability that comes from favouring employee freedoms. Offering equity or profit share (i.e. sacrificing cheapness) is a way of trying to get free-style employees who are also subject to vague high-pressure demands to deliver results.
  • A job candidate's main point of motivation (and two points of compromise) must match up with the organization's two points of motivation (and one point of compromise) in order for the hire to be straightforward and stable.
  • Recruiters could try to discern the main point of motivation and main points of compromise on the part of the candidate, to match her up to the two emphases of the employer. However, the individual's areas of flexibility are not (we believe) a matter of fixed habit or personality. For example very attractive compensation is well known for overriding natural preferences for freedom and predictability. In the same way, a 'carrot' of autonomy can be used to lowball talented candidates who would otherwise demand a more serious market rate.

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