Best talent can't be bought, expert will tell executives

London Business School expert on how to recruit top performers


You don’t have to be the best payer in the industry to get a high performing workforce, a behavioural expert from London Business School will tell an audience at the Shell Foundation.

Randall Peterson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, London Business School and Academic Director of the School’s Leadership Institute, will address an audience at Shell Foundation, an independent charity, on 13 October. Speaking alongside Adjunct Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Tammy Erickson and Chris Havemann, Founder and former CEO of Research Now, and an alumnus of London Business School, he will highlight to executives that the best talent can’t be bought. He will offer examples of historical and current research that supports this.

“Top performers are both highly able and highly motivated. Money motivates, but it’s not the only thing that motivates us by a long stretch. Money, like praise or threat of punishment, is an extrinsic motivator. It can incentivise the employee to get the job done. It’s also useful if the task is unattractive.”

But, as Professor Peterson will explain, extrinsic motivation will only get you so far.

“The best performers will also be motivated by work that is rewarding in itself; work that gives meaning to their lives or develops their skills. So firms need to be focused not only on their employees’ needs; fair pay, a safe working environment and resources, for example, but also on their employees’ goals and aspirations. They need to understand their employees’ personal motives, values and preferences.”

“Intrinsic motivation is easy. But you can mess it up”, Peterson will warn.

“Extrinsic reward structures can undermine intrinsic motivation. You have to be very careful about the incentive structures you set up. For example, paying someone to do something that they inherently love could actually be more expensive and could undermine intrinsic interest.”

So, what can firms do to maintain the right balance? Professor Peterson will discuss the main levers available to companies.

“It starts with strong selection”, he will say. “Interviewers need to ask themselves whether new hires share the values of existing employees. Once hired, there is job design. Tailoring jobs to an individual’s values or preferences may take some thought, but it pays dividends in the long run with better retention and performance.”

Training and development are equally important, whether for new or experienced hires, Professor Peterson believes. “You have to think about what skills people need, but not only that”, Peterson emphasizes. “Ask yourself and your employees, what skills do they want?”

On the job, it’s important that employees are given the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes and feel clear and transparent rules exist in regard to performance assessment and rewards. “A sense of fairness; the same rules and rewards for all, is critical”, Professor Peterson says. “And organisations need to have systems in place to move out poor performers.”

Pay has its place, but you can’t buy your way to top performance. Pay encourages short-term behaviours that are rewarded. But for a long term investment, to recruit and retain top talent, firms need to understand what their hires really love about their work, how they want to do that work and how they aspire to develop. Salary and bonuses it would seem are not the bottom line.

Shell Foundation is an independent charity established by the Shell Group in 2000 to create and scale new solutions to global development challenges. They apply business thinking to major global development challenges including job creation through SMEs, urban mobility and access to energy.

About Randall S Peterson

Randall S Peterson is a Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Chair, Organisational Behaviour Faculty at London Business School. He is also Academic Director of the Leadership Institute.

He teaches on the following programmes: