A Powerful New Model
by Nitin Nohria, Boris Groysberg, and Linda-Eling Lee
78 Harvard Business Review
GETTING PEOPLE TO DO THEIR BEST WORK, even in trying cir-
cumstances, is one of managers’ most enduring and slippery challenges. Indeed, deciphering what motivates us as human beings is a centuries-old puzzle. Some of history’s most inﬂuential thinkers about human behavior – among them Aristotle, Adam Smith, Sigmund Freud, and Abraham Maslow – have struggled to understand its nuances and have taught us a tremendous amount about why people do the things they do. Such luminaries, however, didn’t have the advantage of knowledge gleaned from modern brain science. Their theories were based on careful and educated investigation, to be sure, but also exclusively on direct observation. Imagine trying to infer how a car works by examining its movements (starting, stopping, accelerating, turning) without being able to take apart the engine.
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Harvard Business Review 79
Honing Your Competitive Edge
Fortunately, new cross-disciplinary research in ﬁelds like neuroscience, biology, and evolutionary psychology has allowed us to peek under the hood, so to speak – to learn more about the human brain. Our synthesis of the research suggests that people are guided by four basic emotional needs, or drives, that are the product of our common evolutionary heritage. As set out by Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria in their 2002 book Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices, they are the drives to acquire (obtain scarce goods, including intangibles such as social status); bond (form connections with individuals and groups); comprehend (satisfy our curiosity and master the world around us); and defend (protect against external threats and promote justice). These drives underlie everything we do. Managers attempting to boost motivation should take note. It’s hard to argue with the accepted wisdom – backed by empirical evidence – that a motivated workforce means better corporate performance. But what actions, precisely, can managers take to satisfy the four drives and, thereby, increase their employees’ overall motivation? We recently completed two major studies aimed at answering that question. In one, we surveyed 385 employees of two global businesses – a ﬁnancial services giant and a leading IT services ﬁrm. In the other, we surveyed employees from 300 Fortune 500 companies. To deﬁne overall motivation, we focused on four commonly measured workplace indicators of it: engagement, satisfaction, commitment, and intention to quit. Engagement represents the energy, effort, and initiative employees bring to their jobs. Satisfaction reﬂects the extent to which they feel that the company meets their...