The ability to ‘motivate people’ is considered to be a prime task of management. Managers, increasingly, have to act as coaches and guides in order to align the strategic goals of the organization with the demands and needs of individual employees. At the core of this aligning process is the manager’s skill to understand what does ‘motivate’ an individual to reliably and consistently commit their energy and talent to the organizational goal. Motivation theories are routinely drawn on to understand what makes people ‘tick’ and to then be able to successfully manage and control individual behavior. (Tietze) The Content Theories
In a historical perspective, the content theories tend to be the earliest theories of motivation or later modifications of early theories. Within the work environment they have had the greatest impact on management practice and policy, while within academic circles they are the least accepted (South Western Sydney Institute). Content theories of motivation place the emphasis on what motivates. They have become part and parcel of every training program, of every syllabus and every leadership seminar devised and conducted for the improvement of management practice. Mainly, when talking to participants afterwards, what they seem to remember is a particular set of theories, which can be summarized under the heading of ‘content theories of motivation’, which reveal the motives, i.e. the content, in our mental make-up. Perhaps most famously is the theory of Abraham Harold Maslow (1908- 1970), an American psychologist, who developed a theory called ‘the hierarchy of needs’. Briefly, it assumes that there are nine human needs (ranging from biological requirements at the bottom to self-actualization needs at the top). Each of the lower needs has to be fully satisfied, before the next need becomes a motivating force. Thus, for example, we need to satisfy our biological requirements, before we care for affiliation needs or become interested in improving our knowledge and understanding. We need to feel appreciated and loved - (affiliation needs – before we Endeavour to satisfy our sense of ‘beauty’ and truth – need for aesthetics). A similarly famous theory of motivation was developed by Herzberg (1974) and is called the two-factor theory of motivation. There are a set of factors which, if absent, cause dissatisfaction. They are related to job context, job environment and extrinsic to the job itself (Hygiene or maintenance factors). The other set of factors serve, if present, to stimulate the individual to superior effort and performance (motivators or growth factors). The two-factor theory does not deny the importance of the hygiene factors, but stresses their importance to maintain a healthy work environment. If absent, even strong growth factors would not compensate for their lack. However, these content theories of motivation have been criticized as being more of a social philosophy, reflecting white American middle-class values; and as being too vague to explain - let alone predict - all human behavior. How, for example, could one explain within the parameters of this theory the actions of people who risk their lives in the pursuit of their aims, thus ‘violating’ any needs for safety and security? How could one explain that people forgo esteem needs for the sake of transcendence needs? I do not wish to claim that these theories or other theories of motivation for that matter are redundant for understanding workplace behavior. Indeed, they continue to exert influence over management practice in areas such as job enrichment, TQM, rewards policies, self-managing teams and so on. However, I do wish to make a case for considering other approaches that have been developed to understand workplace behavior and how to ‘manage it’. (Tietze) The Process Theories
A different set of theories of motivation can be summed up under the heading of ‘process theories’, such as expectancy, equity or goal-setting theories. They...
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