Many of today's business consultants would have us believe that the only way to motivate our employees is with money-in the form of bonuses, salary hikes, overtime, or increased benefits and perks. And, of course, as good managers, we want our people to have the best the company can offer. But sometimes we just don't have the money. What do we do then?

There is an organization we can look to for creative ways to inspire our "rank and file"-an organization made up almost entirely of highly motivated near-minimum wage employees-the U.S. Marine Corps. Morale in the Corps is legendary; yet, if the truth were known, most Marines earn about a thousand dollars a month. Nevertheless, these young men and women-demographically much like your employees-walk down the street in their dress blues, feeling like a million bucks. Clearly, these proud and energetic individuals are motivated by factors other than the money.

Frankly, it all begins before they even join; the prospect of belonging to "the few, the proud" holds out the hope of transformation into a more capable person. Those of us in human resources should never underestimate a person's desire to change for the better-no matter how confident, or even cocky, they may appear during the hiring interview.

Then, during boot camp, the new recruits are constantly reminded that one day they'll become members of "America's Finest." Please note that the transformation doesn't take place overnight. Recruits aren't addressed as "Marines" for nearly three months; they must first pass through the crucible of training. Why is it that we, in private enterprise, greet our new employees with "Welcome to the team" without creating the conditions that make for a meaningful graduation from our own training? We should be saying instead, "Welcome to the best training program in the industry. In a short but intense time, you'll be the envy of your profession."

Then, after boot camp, a Marine continues to hear almost daily of the honor-and of the obligation-of belonging to such an elite organization. Throughout his or her tour of duty, a Marine feels special because he or she belongs to something special. As managers, we have to ask ourselves if our minimum wage employees feel special. They can. That kind of self-esteem can be cultivated if our people feel as if they belong to the best organization in the entire industry. Public relations spinning alone won't accomplish this. Remember, the Marines can back up their sense of elitism with a record of performance. Once you believe you have the good fortune to own the best company in the business, that passion becomes contagious. When we walk the walk, and talk the talk, our people will follow.


Rod Walsh and Dan Carrison are the founding partners of Semper Fi Consulting in Sherman Oaks, California and the authors of Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way.