Integrating Self-Regulation Theories of Work Motivation Into a Dynamic

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Human Resource Management Review 18 (2008) 1–18

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Human Resource Management Review
j o u r n a l h o m e p a g e : w w w. e l s ev i e r. c o m / l o c a t e / h u m r e s

Integrating self-regulation theories of work motivation into a dynamic process theory Jeffrey B. Vancouver ⁎
Department of Psychology, 200 Porter Hall, Ohio University, Athens, OH 4501, United States

a r t i c l e

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a b s t r a c t
Instead of merely combining theories of self-regulation, the current paper articulates a dynamic process theory of the underlying cognitive subsystems that explain relationships among longused constructs like goals, expectancies, and valence. Formal elements of the theory are presented in an attempt to encourage the building of computational models of human actors, thinkers, and learners in organizational contexts. Discussion focuses on the application of these models for understanding the dynamics of individuals interacting in their organizations. © 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Self-regulation Control theory Goals Computational modeling Dynamic processes

“The challenge to motivation theory now is more theoretical and research-based than practical. We have many of the pieces to the puzzle, we simply need to figure out how to assemble them.” (Landy & Conte, 2004, p. 364) The field of human resource management (HRM) is premised on the notion that HRM is facilitated by understanding the nature of the resource (i.e., humans). Part of this understanding relates to individual differences in knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (e.g., personality), and part to the processes and parameters that affect motivation (Campbell & Pritchard, 1976). Of these two parts, the latter has arguably been the more difficult and disarrayed (Mitchell, 1997). Yet, most comprehensive theories of motivation were abandoned or grossly simplified, often by their originators, because of the overwhelming complexity of the nature they sought to understand. For example, McClelland, Atkinson, Clark, and Lowell (1953) introduced a comprehensive approach to understand motivation, but ended up focusing on need for achievement as an important aspect of the approach. Likewise, narrower approaches, focusing on either individual differences in persons or context variables in the environment, ruled the theoretical and empirical landscape of the day (Cronbach, 1957). However, Cronbach and others (e.g., Mischel, 1968) pointed out that neither approach alone was sufficient, leading researchers to consider interactions between person and environment variables (e.g., Magnusson & Ender, 1977). Indeed, most observers in the field have recognized for some time the dynamic (i.e., over time) interaction of persons with their environments and the reciprocal influences occurring due to these interactions (e.g., Bandura, 1986; Katz & Kahn, 1978; Lewin, 1951). Nonetheless, work stemming from these approaches maintained their focus on the causes of behavior, ignoring the role of feedback processes that could close loops of causation. The result was static, open loop conceptualizations of human behavior or dynamic conceptualizations but parsed into parts that could be more easily conceptualized. Both, as noted by Landy and Conte (2004) in the opening quote, are of only limited value to those seeking to understand how and why whole persons behave as they do in whole settings. Recognizing these limitations, more recent efforts have been made to combine or integrate our knowledge, particularly in the area of motivation in applied settings (see, Kanfer, 1990, for a comprehensive review of many of these efforts). Interestingly, the majority of these theories share a view of the human as a self-regulator (Vancouver & Day, 2005). Self-regulation refers to the

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