Motivation-Centered Management

By Scott Rosa

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Financial compensation is a great tool for motivating employees, but it is far from the only one. This is something that management must recognize, especially in difficult economic times when they cannot throw money at problems. It is crucial that managers understand what motivates people besides money. This is especially critical in the IT industry where the growth in compensation has slowed to a crawl for some and have moved backwards for many.

Webster's dictionary defines motivation as "something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act." Abraham Maslow, one of the most widely recognized psychological theorists, created a hierarchy in which he attempted to illustrate what drives people. He called his theory the Hierarchy of Needs. The following graphic summarizes the hierarchy.

Maslow's hierarchy is used to illustrate a person's needs from the most base level upwards, hence the pyramid schema. Maslow theorized that human beings are motivated by unsatisfied needs, and that certain lower needs must be satisfied before higher needs could be obtained.

At the base level, a person has certain physical needs such as food and water. We as humans cannot survive in the absence of these. Safety, the second tier in the hierarchy, notes that people have the need for order and security among other things. The title of the third tier, love, may be a little misleading. Love in this context is a sense of belonging or the need for relationships with others. It does not infer physical love. esteem, the fourth level in the hierarchy, describes the need for achievement, mastery, status, and prestige.

The last tier, self-actualization, describes the need for achieving true personal fulfillment. I will not address this last tier in the remainder of my article because it has little relation to the work environment. A person cannot reach self-actualization in the context of his or her work, although it can play a partial role.

What does this all mean in a business setting? A whole lot actually.

Some managers feel the best way to motivate is by various types of financial instruments. Others feel that motivation through fear of job loss is an effective tool, especially in a time of weak economic conditions. Both are tools that can be used, but neither is especially effective in isolation. Money is certainly required to satisfy a person's physiological and safety needs. It also can be useful to some small extent in satisfying a person's need for esteem. What the carrot and the stick approach lack is the inherit ability to motivate others beyond their base needs.

Let's discuss techniques that will allow management to motivate employees beyond these base needs.

Can't Buy Me Love

Let's first talk about a person's need for love. Love in this context is not of a physical or emotional level, but rather is based on an individual's need for a sense of belonging; to feel they are part of a group or a team. That is why I believe in the team framework, which sets goals in a way that each team member is responsible for ensuring that the goals of the team are met. Keep in mind that I am not insinuating that an organization's structure should be flat rather than hierarchal. I am merely saying that you can satisfy a person's need for love by making them part of a group. Besides setting goals, managers should try and assemble teams together for both project- and non-project-related activities whenever possible. This helps individuals establish camaraderie with others, which is essential for the fulfillment of this need.

It is important that managers remember that a person's strongest sense of love comes from outside the work environment. That is why it is important that companies establish family-friendly policies, including flexible work hours whenever possible. Managers must be sensitive to the fact that most employees would rate their family as more important than their work.

Communication, Communication, Communication

There are two types of esteem: esteem and self-esteem. One of the most basic ways of generating esteem is to "publicize" the successes of an individual or a team. Keep in mind that this publicity, as I am calling it, does not need to be formal. It can be as simple as an e-mail to an audience that would be seen as significant to the person or team being recognized.

I think this tool is drastically under-used. With that said, it is important that this is done in some moderation. Publicizing successes can become diluted if people are getting recognized and congratulated for common activities. Outside these publications, it is important that managers focus on providing consistent feedback in both timing and content to each individual. Of course, not all feedback will be positive, but can be conveyed in such a way that it does not serve to reduce an individual's esteem. I have heard of several cases in my work history of managers reducing a person to tears. This is clearly not productive communication.

Remember it is both what you say and how you say it. When communicating to employees it is important to use language like, "areas for improvement," or "something to focus on." These phrases should be put under the header of Constructive Feedback, rather then Constructive Criticism. It is too easy for people to just see the word criticism, and forget about the constructive part.

The second responsibility of management in this area is to help employees generate a sense of self-esteem. One of the ways to facilitate this is to illustrate how an employee's or group's performance contributes to organization. This is why the preparation and presentation of team and personal metrics is critical. Giving people a sense of importance to the company is critical in giving them a true sense of purpose.

Managers can also help foster an employee's sense of self-esteem by moving them "up the ladder" when appropriate. People are naturally going to have more self-esteem when their sphere of influence has been increased. Of course, you will not be able to move everyone up, because organizations are built in a pyramid structure. It's a mangers job to recognize the stars in the organization and foster their talents on their move up the ladder.

Let the Numbers Do the Talking

You may be thinking right now, "This all sounds good in theory, but how real is it?" Let the numbers do the talking. A survey produced by Goalmanager.com found the following results:

What do you like about your current job?
What are the things that keep you there?
People and work environment 66%
The management cares about me/Good relationship with management 33%
Challenging and exciting job 33%
Flexibility 24%
Salary 19%
Autonomy and creative freedom with job 16%
Training and learning opportunities 13%
Stock options 9%
I like the product/technology 9%
Team work 8%
Source: GoalManager Employee Motivation Survey 2000
Percentages are based on multiple responses to each question
and thus will not add up to 100%.

Clearly the first two items speak to an employee's need for love and recognition, while the fourth item talks about a person's need to balance work and family. Keep in mind that this survey was taken from a cross section of people. You will not want to make any direct inferences from this to how people in your company feel. Remember, each company's employee base is different. Employees in your company may rank these items differently depending on the profession and the age of the interviewees. The Web site www.hr.com has several good articles on how to structure a survey for employees.

In my search to validate my theory, I ran into another interesting survey result set from the business research lab. Here is what it found:

This research tells me that management is not concentrating enough on recognizing both individual and team efforts. For management this is obviously "something to focus on."


It was my intent over the course of this article to illustrate the need for what I would term "motivational centered management." Employees who feel a sense of belonging and purpose at their job will produce better output. Show me a company that effectively motivates its work force and I will show you a successful company. I will also show you an organization that understands what drives people.