Money and benefits are the usual carrots dangled before potential employees. But sometimes they are ridiculously inappropriate, and it's important to understand each person's motivation. To illustrate the point, Ron Parks, president of Millard Manufacturing, a stainless steel fabricator and distributor in Omaha, poses this question: What manager would have been able to motivate Mother Teresa with a retirement plan?

After nearly 30 years of managing experience, Parks has devised an interviewing technique to figure out what motivates an individual. The information helps Parks select the right person for a job at his 60-employee company, but it's also an invaluable management tool.

To pinpoint a person's source of motivation, he asks, "When you are working on a project, how do you know you are doing a good job?" People who tell you that they know within themselves whether their work is first-rate are, in Parks's term, "internal" or self-directed. Those who say, "My boss (or my coworkers) tells me so," are external, requiring input from the outside.

Either may be a desirable worker in the right job. Obviously, externals would flounder in positions in which their work is rarely reviewed. And they would not thrive working for a boss who is stingy with praise.

In contrast, praise is sometimes not the best tool with the self-directed. Such people will feel embarrassed, or even offended, if complimented by someone unqualified to judge their accomplishments, Parks notes.

Parks, who has spent decades perfecting his "thinking model" of management, asks another dozen or so questions to ascertain an employee's performance profile. But if he could focus on one trait only, Parks would choose motivation.