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The 5 Key Motivational Drivers For Top Talent


One of the main concerns that many recruiters have is attracting and retaining the best talent (also known as A-players). These high-calibre employees are star performers and typically represent the top 10% of the talent available. Because A-players are obsessed with professional development and strive to accomplish more, they are highly valued by companies. However, this means they are most likely to leave a company for better opportunities elsewhere.

One way to avoid this is to get into the psyche of these types of employees and see what makes them tick. Ask yourself: Have you ever thought about what motivates them most? You may be tempted to say that the number 1 motivator for them is compensation. While important, there are numerous other elements that play a key role in motivating A-players. According to a study on Harvard Business Review, there are certain behaviours that define A-players such as setting high standards, taking initiative and effectively representing groups. So it is your job to ensure that you have a work environment that supports these behaviours.

Whether you want to attract or retain A-players, you should take note of their 5 key motivators:

Key Motivator #1: Clearly Defined Goals

What really separates top performers from the average ones is setting (and meeting) stretch goals. A-players are star performers for a reason, usually excelling at companies that have clearly defined objectives which trickle down into specific and quantifiable goals for them.

A-players want to know exactly what is expected of them and want to be counted on to deliver so they are able to feel a sense of accomplishment when they achieve the objectives set. The best talent are highly motivated & focused and continually strive for excellence in their profession so embracing and nurturing a performance-based culture should be top of your agenda. A-players will always respond to challenging goals. Once the challenge is gone, they will look elsewhere.


Key Motivator #2: Clearly Articulated ‘Purpose’

In a recent blog post on forward-thinking companies embracing the ‘the power of purpose’, we mentioned how every role needs to be sold as a vocation. A job is no longer just a job, it’s an opportunity for a person to grow and to contribute to something bigger. So to attract the best talent, you need to tell them how working for your company will help them do something meaningful and greater than themselves. In other words: it needs to matter!

What are you trying to achieve as a company? Is it compelling enough for A-players? It’s almost common wisdom that A-players want jobs that make a big impact but too often, companies fail to articulate their ‘purpose’. Our Chief Sourcing Ninja Johnny Campbell is known for advocating the ‘5 Whys’ where instead of just focusing on the responsibilities of a specific job, you should try to ask ‘why’:

  • Why this person is being hired?
  • Why does this role exist?
  • Why do we need that department?
  • Why do customers value this?
  • What does this allow your customers to now do or do better?

Any role or company can be articulated in terms of purpose if you ask the ‘5 Whys’.


Key Motivator #3: Teammates

There’s a famous saying that goes: “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room“. The real A-players embrace this phrase, making sure they surround themselves by like-minded ambitious people. The result of A-players working together is the creation of more value for end users/customers.

A-players recognise that the only way for them to grow and progress is to be around forward thinkers who they can learn from. If they are never challenged, they will begin to stagnate and get bored/complacent. Yes it is totally ok for A-players to be surrounded by people who aspire to be like them but letting that sustain top talent is no way for them to grow. Therefore, companies need to be smart when hiring employees, especially first hires as they create the DNA for your company. Create great job descriptions and conduct structured interviews to make sure the people you’re hiring are in fact A-players!


Key Motivator #4: Development Paths

A good follow up from the previous point is making education a core component of the job. A-players insist on getting better and the only way for them to do that is through learning. Collaborating with them and creating a personal development plan will be highly appreciated if they are serious about their job. Development actions could include online classes, serving on a cross-functional team or leading high stakes projects that allow them to stretch themselves and learn new skills.

Education is especially applicable to millennials who are expected to make up almost 50% of the workforce by 2020. The ‘Millennials at Work Study‘ by PWC found that training & development was more valued by millennials than financial reward. So instead of just looking for their cheque at the end of the month, millennials look at the whole package. Develop benefits that meet this need.


Key Motivator #5: Consistent and Constructive Feedback

A-players are human; they can still make mistakes! This is a good opportunity for you to provide feedback when they do in fact make a mistake because feedback represents another source of information which A-players can use to improve. While it may be negative feedback, they do thrive on it because they are challenged not to repeat the mistake again.

Companies need to put more time into feedback sessions, positive or negative. This can take the form of structured weekly 1-to-1 sessions, emphasis being on 1-to-1; make sure it is a two-way communication and you’re not just barking orders at A-players! Understand what they want and the current pain points they’re experiencing. Conversations like this will make A-players feel like they are cared for and valued. The best companies keep their A-players because they provide feedback in a way that is not perceived as criticism but as a genuine attempt to enable the growth of top talent.


A-players are a valuable commodity which means they are always in demand. Top talent have many career options available to them so it’s important to make sure that they are motivated to stay with your company. The most achievement-minded employees are typically motivated by the 5 things above so if you focus on these, it will be easier to attract and retain your A-players!

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