Money and benefits are the universal carrots dangled before employees. But they can be ridiculously out of place. "Do you think you could stimulate Mother Teresa with a retirement plan?" asks Ron Parks, president of Millard Manufacturing, in Omaha.

After nearly 20 years of managing experience, Parks has devised an interviewing technique that digs deep into workers' hearts and minds to figure out, among other things, what motivates them. The information helps Parks select the right person for a job, but it's also an invaluable management tool.

The key question he asks to pinpoint a person's source of motivation: "When you are working on a project, how do you know you are doing a good job?" A person who tells you that she knows within herself whether her work is first-rate is, in Parks's term, "internal" -- or self-directed. The person who says, "My boss (or my coworkers) tells me so" is external, requiring input from the outside.

Either may be a desirable worker in the right job. Obviously, an external would flounder in a position in which his work is rarely reviewed. Nor would he 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 they are complimented by someone who isn't qualified to judge their accomplishments.

Parks, who has spent nearly two 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. "I can accomplish more by knowing this one attribute than I can with any other," he explains.

-- Ellyn E. Spragins