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Motivation: some basic theory

Sheila Ritchie - August 2003
Motivation is a complex subject, and one which has difficulties as an area of study.
In one sense all behaviour by human beings is motivated: even reflex, reaction or
moving away from a perceived source of danger. This impulsion to satisfy a need or
want or to avoid pain or danger can be assumed to lie beneath all human actions.
Unfortunately, something so basic and allpervading can be difficult to define, classify
and measure.
!or example, when we say that a person lac"s motivation #and we usually do so in
relation to something we wish them to do, li"e wor"$, we really mean that they are
motivated to do other things % li"e not wor", or at least not to wor" very efficiently or
effectively. If a person is motivated by things other than seem sensible or acceptable
to us, we consider them to be unmotivated #or if their satisfactions appear to arise
out of behaviour that is illogical, incongruous or disgusting, we may consider them to
be mad$.
&eneralisations about what motivates people are unwise, it is far more fruitful to
assume that individuals are all motivated differently as a result of particular ancestry,
bac"ground and experience and, for this reason, theories of motivation which
attempt to ma"e general laws of wide applicability are not very useful to managers
see"ing to understand the behaviour of the individuals they wor" with.
'ifficulties in measuring(studying motivation are
The words used to define motivation are imprecise and open to different
It is virtually impossible to separate the person as a wor"er from their other social
Measuring motivation at one time only gives insight into current feelings) a
reading later may be different.
'ifferences in scores recorded at different times may be accounted for by a
change in the attitudes and feelings of the individual, but the reason for the
changes may be hard to establish. !or example, structure needs do seem to vary
over time, and especially with life changes. There is no way of chec"ing whether
differences in scores have occurred because the person has changed or because
their circumstances are different.
*eople find it hard to distinguish their true motivation for actions we have very
effective methods of defence and rationalisation, including denial, to maintain
mental e+uilibrium.
Sheila Ritchie / elm consulting ltd 1
,ecently experienced feelings #of anger, annoyance, or pleasure in achievement$
will influence the way an individual responds to +uestions, giving a profile biased
towards current events.
The job and the wor" itself will affect motivation. -e are all influenced by our
experiences. The culture and structure of an organisation will also mould
individual attitudes.
There are no realities or absolute measures possible motivation is about
feelings. It is the will to do things that is in +uestion, although competence,
capability and potentiality are influential.
In ./01 2bram Maslow formulated his 3factor theory of motivation. 2lternatively
s"etched as a pyramid or as a series of superimposed waves, this simple but clever
classification has had wide application and great impact on management thin"ing
over the past fifty years. 4ee diagram below.
Maslows Hierarchy of Needs
self actuali5ation
social needs
safety needs
physiological needs
The theory is that you are li"ely to satisfy a lower level of need before a higher
there is therefore a preponderance of needs. It ma"es sense that you will not
concern yourself with the greater development of your mind #self actuali5ation$ if you
are very hungry or thirsty #physiological needs$, until you have eaten and drun".
4uch a simple step function though has its limitations. Many people do not follow a
logical progression, satisfying a need at one level and then neatly moving up to the
next. Maslow devised his theory with wor"ing people in mind, but it has been used,
some say over widely, to illuminate behaviour in all groups and at all levels.
6ritics of its applicability should be reminded that the past few years have seen an
increase in people7s need for security. 2 large number of people who were more
concerned with higher level motivators, such as status and promotion, have reverted
to a concern with the second level safety needs as they have seen colleagues lose
their jobs and their own companies become more subject to the fluctuations of the
In the early ./89s !rederic" :er5berg surveyed a sample of ;99 professional
accountants and engineers in 2merica, as"ing them to describe incidents or events
at wor" which had resulted in job satisfaction or dissatisfaction.
Sheila Ritchie / elm consulting ltd 2
Instead of a single list of items, which could be either good or bad, their responses
led :er5berg to distinguish two scales of measurement % one for things which
contributed positively to job satisfaction, which he termed M<TI=2T<,4, and one for
incidents which did not contribute positively #apart from in the short term$ but which
could cause dissatisfaction if wrong) these he termed :>&I?@? !26T<,4.
Herzbergs Dual Factor heory of Motivation
Hygiene factors Motivators
'I442TI4!26TI<@ #if not met$ 42TI4!26TI<@ #if met$
6ompany policy and administration chievement
4upervision ,ecognition
-or"ing conditions The wor" itself
salary ,esponsibility
4tatus 2dvancement
,elationships with colleagues &rowth
This 'ual!actor theory of motivation cast strong doubt on the assumption held so
far that money was the main factor in motivating a wor"force. !or certain classes of
wor"er, in this case professional people, :er5berg was able to show that the drive for
money was not a motivator, only that it dissatisfied if too low. Many a manager has
sought to motivate a member of staff by offering a pay increase only to find that the
job has not been done better nor the wor"er happier after, perhaps, a short term
spurt of enthusiasm.
Job enrichment grew out of :er5berg7s wor". Many routine or repetitive jobs were
redesigned to build in more responsibility. !or example, wor"ers used to doing one
simple tas" in a series, were trained to do a wider range of tas"s, or even to do every
tas" so that they had the satisfaction of completing a component or even of ma"ing a
whole product. ?mpowerment is perhaps the white collar e+uivalent of job
!ictor !room and "#$ectancy heory
In the mid./89s =ictor =room suggested that people have both preferences and
expectations and that their motivation is strongly affected by the interaction of these,
lin"ed to a rational attempt to achieve goals. :e said that most motivational goals
have two levels, a first and a second outcome: the second level is the desired end
goal and the first level outcome is perceived as a necessary precursor for that goal.
Sheila Ritchie / elm consulting ltd 3
!or example, I may have a preference to move out of the records department into
public relations at wor". This is my second level outcome. If many people in the
public relations department have got +ualifications in journalism, film and media
studies, I could assume that a good first level outcome contributing to my goal would
be to go to college and to ta"e an appropriate course. <n the other hand, if most of
the staff in the department are related to a senior manager in the company and I am
not, my motivation is li"ely to be adversely affected, as I will perceive the first level
outcome necessary for success to be beyond my control.
=room summarised his theory by an e+uation
F % ! # "
where F A force #about the same as motivation or drive$, ! A valence, the strength
of individual preference for an outcome, and " A the individual7s expectancy
#probability from 9.$ that something will lead to a first level outcome.
It is the perception of necessity for the first level outcome and the individual7s
assessment of their li"elihood of achieving it that influences the strength of their
motivation. =room stressed the importance of distinguishing differences between
people7s motivation, whereas Maslow and :er5berg tended to view the field in a
generalised way. But, as individual preferences and expectancies differ, use of the
model re+uires that each case be judged on its merits. >ou can study your own
motivation, by examining your feelings, but it is less useful if you see" to establish
the motivation of others.
This theory raises interesting +uestions when managers design incentive and reward
schemes. 4o often the pathway to reach second level outcomes is so unclear, even
contradictory, that people find it hard to be motivated. -here the route to success is
obscure, motivation suffers.
he Motivation &rid
The Motivation &rid you have completed draws on sixty years of motivation writing
and research by combining the lessons learned from generalised theories with an
individualistic approach. It is a projective test #comparing each motivational factor
with every other so that a balance of preferences emerges$.
>ou will notice that most people7s scores differ, some +uite mar"edly. The Motivation
?xercise should also demonstrate that ta"ing account of individual differences can
shed useful light on what is otherwise a complex and rather confusingly soft area of
The norms after each factor on the Motivation Cey allow you to compare your score
with .,133 scores recorded on our database. Minor variations are not significant, it is
the pea"s and troughs that illuminate your approach to wor".
Sheila Ritchie / elm consulting ltd 4
It follows that, if everyone differs in their motivation, then a good manager will ta"e
care to recognise their own and other7s needs, trying to integrate both to develop
good wor"ing relationships.
The s"ill is to learn how to meet the needs of others without warping your own needs
so much that you cause yourself stress. ?ven better, try to find a job where your
natural needs are met by both the style and culture of the organisation and the wor"
you are doing. -here natural individual motivation matches the needs of the
organisation, the result is a stressfree, and usually happy, relationship.
6onversely, if you are in a job which seems to be a mismatch to your needs, try
negotiation first to get some more motivational aspects into it and ensure they are
things that you find motivational, not what someone else would li"e Din your placeE.
4hort term mismatches are not usually a problem, long term ones are. They sap
energy, waste talent and both the organisation and the individual suffer.
Sheila Ritchie / elm consulting ltd 5