Theories of motivation for understanding behaviour

What value is there in the study of different theories of motivation for understanding the behaviour of people in organisations?

In order to understand the importance of the different theories of motivation for understanding the behaviour of people in organisations it is necessary to first discuss in brief some of the key mainstream theories of motivation and how it is related to the behaviour of people in an organisation. At the same time, it would also be appropriate to discuss the implications of these theories for the managers and organisational leaders in understanding the behaviour of employees and in making the organisation more attractive to its employees and in turn motivate its employees to perform effectively and efficiently.

Motivation can be defined as "a state arising in processes that are internal and external to the individual in which the person perceives that it is appropriate to pursue a certain course of action (or actions) directed at achieving a specified outcome (or outcomes) and in which the person chooses to pursue those outcomes with a degree of vigour and persistence". (Rollinson, 2008). From the definition it can be inferred that the three components of behaviour that have an impact on performance is the direction of behaviour, the intensity of behaviour and lastly persistence.

The mainstream motivational theories can be divided into two namely content theories and process theories. The former, comprising of the studies by Maslow, Hertzberg and McClelland, focuses on the needs, wants and the desires of the employee's and stresses these as the main drivers for motivated behaviour whereas the latter, comprising of Expectancy, Equity and Goal-Setting focuses on an employee's autonomy and self-motivation.

According to Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory (1943, 1954), he believed that within every individual there exist a hierarchy of five needs namely physiological, safety, social, esteem and self actualization. He stated that when one need is substantially satisfied, the next one up in the hierarchy of needs becomes the motivating factor that drives the behaviour of an individual. "The average member of society is most often partially satisfied and partially unsatisfied in all of his wants." (Maslow 1943, p.395) One of the implications of this theory for managers and organizational leaders is to discover ways of motivating employees by designing and developing practices and programs that would meet the emerging or unsatisfied needs of the employees (Ramlall, 2004). Another implication is to provide for support programs and focus groups to help employees cope with stress and taking the time to understand the needs of the respective employees (Kreitner, 1998; Ramlall, 2004).

In Frederick Hertzberg's two factor theory (1959), which centres around the thought that the employees are motivated by things that make them feel good about work but have reservations about things that make them feel bad, he divides the features of the work environment into two groups namely hygiene factors and motivators. The hygiene factors (such as quality of supervision, pay, company policies, working conditions and interpersonal relations) which are conditions surrounding the job, if present, help avoid dissatisfaction with work. On the other hand the motivators (such as promotional opportunities, recognition, responsibility and achievement) which are associated with the job itself have a motivational effect on the employees as they find it intrinsically rewarding. One of the main implications of this theory for managers is that they should ensure the job is challenging and interesting and provides the necessary motivators satisfying the employees' high level needs (Leidecker and Hall, 1974). If this does not happen then the employee whose higher order needs are active will look elsewhere, apart from the job, in order to satisfying them. One of the methods suggested for making the job more challenging and interesting is by job enrichment. The main intention of job enrichment is to redesign the task so that the employee has some authority over the planning, execution and control of the work and this Hertzberg (1968) argues will have an effect on powerful intrinsic motivators. Having said that, managers should note that only job redesign can be a futile exercise unless attention is paid to satisfaction of hygiene factors which are usually part of the job itself. Some of the prominent hygiene factors are the physical environment (temperature, lighting, noise and air quality), work space (size and proximity), work scheduling and last but not the least empowerment and involvement (Rollinson, 2008).

McClelland's theory of needs (1961) is another important theory in explaining some of the aspects of work behaviour. The theory focuses on three needs namely achievement, power and affiliation. The need for achievement can be defined as the need to excel, to strive to succeed. The need for power can be defined as the need to be influential, to control the activities of other people. The need for affiliation can be defined as the need to interact with others and to be liked by them. Bases on this theory some important observations can be made between achievement needs and work performance (Robbins, 2007). Firstly, employees with a high need for achievement prefer to have jobs which allow them to take personal responsibility, provide feedback and have a moderate level of risk associated with it. They feel motivated when these features are present in their job. Secondly, people with high needs for achievement need not necessarily be good managers as they are interested in performing well individually and not in influencing others to do well. The third point to be noted is the close link between managerial performance and the need for power and affiliation. The successful managers usually have a high need for power and a low need for affiliation. In fact, a high power motive can be considered as a requirement for managerial effectiveness. Lastly, McClelland (1961) believed that employees could be trained to have a high need for achievement. The ramification of this is that if a particular task requires the services of a high achiever, the management can select an individual with a high need for achievement or develop someone internally through sufficient training.

The above mentioned content theories tell us about the job related factors that could trigger motivation that is they talk about the needs that give rise to a particular motivated behaviour. It does not tell us about the actual mechanisms of motivation itself (Arnold et al. 1998; Rollinson, 2008). This is explained by the process theories which will be discussed in the subsequent paragraphs.

One of the most influential of process theories is Victor Vroom's expectancy theory (1964). According to this theory, it is believed that employees are likely to be motivated to put in high level of effort to do a job if they believe the effort will lead to a good performance appraisal; that the good performance will lead them to organisational rewards and that these rewards are valuable enough in satisfying their personal goals. There are several implications of this theory for managers who want to ensure that employees are motivated to perform their work duties efficiently (Hackman et al. 1983). The first of these is to ascertain what outcomes each employee values. This can be done by several ways such as via questionnaires addressing these areas, by observing employees reaction to different rewards and situations and lastly by asking them directly. The second aspect is for the managers to explicitly mention what kind of behaviour (performance) is expected. In order to motivate employees effectively it is necessary to define in specific terms the kind of performances which are expected from them and the appropriate indicators or measures of these performances. The third aspect, which hinges on the theory's link between motivation and the effort-performance relationship, is about performance levels and their attainability. It is necessary for the managers to ensure that the performance levels at which the favourable outcome is received is attainable. If the employees think that the levels are too high than they can reasonably achieve they will be less motivated to perform the task effectively. The fourth and final aspect focuses on the relationship between the desired outcome and the desired performance. It is necessary to properly link the desired work performance with the employee desired outcome. It is likely that for some employees external rewards like promotion and pay are more valuable whereas for others intrinsic reward such as autonomy, responsibility and feedback are the motivating factors. Therefore, the managers should ensure that the desired performance is correctly linked to the outcome desired by the employees and this in turn will lead to the job performance being intrinsically rewarding.

The next important process theory is the Equity theory of motivation (Adams 1965). According to this theory, an individual will be motivated to work harder on a task if his perceptions of the reward obtained therein are fair in comparison to those received by his peers. The employee does a comparison of his output (salary levels, increases, recognition) to input (effort, experience, education) ratio with corresponding ratios of his colleagues. If the individual perceives the comparison ratios to be unequal, then a state of inequity exists. The greater the extent of this inequity the more distress the individual feels and the more distressed he feels the harder he will try to restore the equity. Some of the actions the individual might take to restore equity include altering or distorting inputs or outputs, increasing or decreasing the effort required to perform a job, changing the person or the persons used for comparison or leaving the situation. The implications of this theory for the managers are manifold (Rollinson, 2008). Firstly, during the process of designing jobs and reward systems it is necessary to take into consideration that the employees make comparisons. Therefore it is necessary to design them in a way which is perceived as fair and equitable by the employees. Secondly, in order to avoid any misconceptions which may arise about equity it is necessary for the managers to inform the employees the basis or the assumptions on which the reward system is developed.

Another process theory namely the Goal setting theory (Locke, 1968) is based on the idea that motivated behaviour is a function of the individual's conscious goals and intentions that is the very intention to work towards to goal is a source of motivation. This theory focuses on the value of goals and their importance. According to this theory, difficult goals ensure high performance than easy goals or no goals (Locke et al, 1981). Another important aspect to keep in mind while setting goals is about goal specificity. Locke argues that goals with specific outputs motivate individuals to perform better and one of the ways of doing this is by expressing the goals quantitatively. This in turn allows the individual to measure his performance and gauge the level of effort required to complete the task (Locke, 1968; Locke et al. 1981). The theory also highlights the importance of feedback about an individual's progress. Feedback mainly allows the individual to identify the gaps, if any, between the work done by them and what is expected of them that is feedback acts to guide behaviour.

The process theories described above focuses on three salient points. Firstly, it emphasizes the need for establish explicit and clear links between performance and rewards. Secondly, these theories highlight that in order to stimulate motivation in performing a work importance should be given to the work environment. Finally, according to these theories there exist a relationship between successful work performance and individual characteristics. Therefore, it is necessary to clearly match employees with their jobs in order increase their performance in executing a job.

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