So how do you motivate others whatever workplace you find yourself in? Well, simply do unto others as THEY would have you do unto them, not as you would like done to you. In short, personalize rewards and recognition whether the target is your 16 year old daughter or your 43 year old employee. Truth be known, not everyone likes what you like the way you like it.

Back in the last century, I completed my master’s degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. As part of the requirements for the degree, I conducted research regarding the interaction between locus of control and motivation. The experiment examined whether an individual’s locus of control, external or internal, correlated to the manner in which they chose to be compensated for participation in an experiment. Two conditions were presented, monetary compensation (extrinsic motivator) and a skill inventory said to enhance personal growth (intrinsic motivator). As hypothesized, it was found that internals chose the skill inventory while externals chose the monetary compensation when given a choice.

A second hypothesis was proposed that stated internals would show greater satisfaction when they were given the opportunity to choose their compensation, while externals would show greater satisfaction when compensation was chosen for them. The study showed significant interaction effects between locus of control and satisfaction resulting from choice or no choice. However, results were contrary to the second hypothesis.

All this to say that intrinsically motivated behaviors are performed out of interest and thus, require no reward other than the spontaneous experience of interest and enjoyment that accompanies them. In contrast, extrinsically motivated behaviors are instrumental, performed for the external rewards or consequences that accrue from their performance. When it comes to locus of control, individuals who perceive contingency relationships between their actions and their outcomes are called internals. Externals on the other hand, believe that their outcomes are determined by factors extrinsic to themselves.

Now here’s where the rubber meets the road; a recent study reported that 36% of currently employed top performers surveyed said they were actively seeking a new opportunity. Scott Flander in Human Resource Executive, wrote an article called Recovery Bound that synthesizes all the factors that are coming together to create the big exodus. Scott´s research, along with Big 5 consultancies, like Deloitte, along with numerous others is indicating that many top performers are ready to move on.

What’s the message here for organizations and the managers within them? Simple, managers must take the time to understand each employee’s locus of control (to what extent they believe their actions affect outcomes) and whether they are motivated by intrinsic or extrinsic motivators. Only then can organizations respond to individual employee’s reward needs in the most effective manner. As the American economy continues its current trajectory, knowing how best to motivate the organization’s top performers (whether they are internally or externally motivated) will be critical if the organization is to address retention issues in a proactive manner; and yes, there will be multiple opportunities for top performers to obtain what matters most to them. The question becomes, “Will it be at your organization or your competitors?”