1. What do they want now?
2. Why aren’t they ever satisfied?
3. Don’t they care about anything except money?
These questions are heard often enough in industry. They all – and their many variations – have a common root in the desire to understand what causes people to behave as they do while at work. They all represent different ways of asking the same timing – what motivates people?
Naturally, this fundamental question stems not from an academic desire to understand the psychology of people at work, but from an urgent need to deal with industrial problems – which tend increasingly to be defined in human terms. Traditional assumptions about what men want from work seem, at best, to have provided temporary solutions, and at worst to have been completely wrong. So, management is having to re-examine its ideas about people at work. Fortunately there is a growing body of knowledge, labelled behavioural science, which is providing useful insights. Because the science is young, and its data probabilistic, management cannot expect to find a single answer to its question, or even a recipe for success. The answer, in the sense of a principle which will invariably apply at all levels and in all situations, will almost certainly never be found. The human animal’s capacity for excepting himself from rules and principles of behaviour defined by other humans is one of his more noteworthy characteristics. The most we can hope for is a fuller understanding of human motivation, a better ability to diagnose and a greater probability that our efforts to motivate will succeed.
Motivation is a generic term which implies three things: need, the object or goal to satisfy that need, and the behaviour required to achieve the goal. In the employment situation, management controls some of the goals (money, security, status, etc.) sought by the employee, and defines the behaviour (in terms of job performance) that is expected of the employee if he is to achieve these goals. But the employee is almost invariably striving for satisfaction of more than one need at a time, and his behaviour is directed to providing maximum possible satisfaction of all his needs. For example, if an employee restricts output, and thereby his take-home pay, it is often because exceeding what his work mates judge to be a fair day’s work could lead to his expulsion from their group – which would thwart his social needs. In effect, the loss of friendship is too high a price to pay for the extra money. So performance is kept at a level which allows him to make as much money as possible without exceeding the norms set by the group. This maximisation process occurs, both consciously and subconsciously, for the whole complex of needs that are inseparable from the individual.
If there is a problem about motivating employees, it is probably for one of three reasons. The reward may not be relevant to the employee’s paramount needs, the reward may not be worth the expected behaviour, or the employee may be expected to behave in ways which prevent the adequate satisfaction of other needs. Thus, in order to motivate a man it is essential to create a situation, or to provide incentives, which will allow him to maximise the satisfaction of, not one or a few, but all of his needs. The first step is obviously to understand the kinds of needs he has.
Probably the most widely accepted theory of human needs is that of Abraham Maslow, who developed a hierarchical structure. Essentially, Maslow says that the human being is not born with a complete set of needs. Like any other animal, man is dominated at birth by the need to survive. He must eat, breathe, drink, rest and defecate. Until these needs are relatively well met, and no longer require all a man’s energies, the second and higher order of needs, the safety needs, assume no importance. Safety needs include security and order in the environment as well as physical safety. The young child who has just learned to speak spends a great deal of his time asking questions (who? what? how? why? when? and where?), in an attempt – not so much to understand as to categorise and give structure to the environment around him. If he is told that the moon is a lump of green cheese hanging in space, that is a sufficient and satisfactory answer for his purposes, and will probably do until he decides to become an astronaut.
Once the child feels safe, and perceives a coherent structure in his environment, the third, and again higher, level of need will begin to preoccupy him. This is the need for love and ‘belongingness’ – for intense and affectionate relationships with other individuals and for membership of groups whose values and attitudes he can share. At first a group of friends or a school, later teams and societies as well, and perhaps ultimately a political party, a church, a union or a company; will help meet this need. Once it is being satisfied the esteem needs begin to emerge and increase the appetite for success and for self Then the individual often gives up the comfortable camouflage of membership; he determines what his own values; attitudes and interests are, and may pursue them even when they bring him into conflict with the group. When survival is assured, when the world begins to ‘make sense’, when love and comradeship have been found; and he is conscious of his own worth, the individual is free to explore his potential and to exercise his capabilities. The need to ‘self-actualise’ is the most mature need of all.. It is this need that gives man his dignity.
Self Actualisation Desire for Self-fulfilment Esteem Need Success, Self-respect Belongingness and Love Needs Affection, Identification Safety Needs Security, Order Physiological Needs Hunger, Thirst
When all of these needs are developed, the hierarchy, as such, breaks down. The needs are simply there, and we spend energy differently from moment to moment in an attempt to satisfy all or any one of them. But the hierarchy nevertheless reasserts itself from time to time, so that the individual will forsake attempts to satisfy higher needs until a lower need is no longer at risk. Thus it would be little use, for example, trying to sell crafts men the merits of a productivity bargain in terms of opportunities for achievement and advancement if, at the same time, it carried with it the threat of redundancy. They would be deaf to management’s arguments and blind to any opportunity for achievement until assured of the security of their jobs. This may seem obvious, but it is alarming how frequently industrial disputes are prolonged and embittered because the two sides are arguing about entirely different need levels.
The most important point, however, is that the normal adult human being is subject to all five levels of need. He cannot leave three at home and take two to work. He goes to work with them all and, given the opportunity, will attempt to satisfy them all either at work or through work. So if a manager wants to motivate his employees, he must be prepared to acknowledge the existence of all five levels.
The best understanding of how these needs operate in a work setting is provided by Frederick Herzberg. His early research attempted to analyse the factors which give rise to satisfying and dissatisfying experiences at work. Analysis of thousands of events, at all levels of the job hierarchy, produced a remarkably consistent and surprising result. Satisfaction and dissatisfaction appear to arise from two quite different roots. We had always assumed, as the semantics of the culture had taught us, that satisfaction and dissatisfaction were opposites – that the presence or absence of any factor was capable of producing the whole range of feelings.
We assumed that if a man was paid more money he would be satisfied, that if he was not he would be dissatisfied. The research results suggested that this is not necessarily so. The upper part of the diagram shows the percentage frequency with which a number of factors (achievement, conditions, salary, etc.) occurred when the satisfactions and dissatisfactions of those taking part in the study were summarised. Two clusters of factors emerged. Those which contributed primarily to job satisfaction were all things inherent in the task itself, they were part of the job content.
The other cluster of factors usually associated with dissatisfaction, were all part of the environment in which the job was done, its context. The lower part shows the same date combined to reveal the relationship of all the content factors and all the context factors to satisfying and dissatisfying events. Thus it appeared that 81% of the satisfying events were related to content factors and only 19% to the context – When it came to the dissatisfying events the inverse was true: 69% were related to job context factors and only 31% to content factors.
It would seem, therefore, that improvement in the job context serves primarily to alleviate continued dissatisfaction and contribute only minimally to job satisfaction. Because context factors are environment and essentially preventative, Herzberg termed them the ‘hygiene’ factors, on the medical analogy. Further research, and indeed the whole history of industrial relations, suggests another interesting characteristic: hygiene factors seem to require replenishment at regular intervals if dissatisfaction is to be allayed continuously. People will continue to demand periodic rises, even though they have not increased their output. We are no more likely to find the wage increment or fringe benefit that will keep employees from feeling a need for more, than we are to find the food which will relieve us of ever having to eat again.
Similarly, content factors play a major role in generating. satisfaction, and when they are present in a job its performance tends to be improved. For this reason Herzberg has called these factors ‘motivators’. In the strictest sense, anything which gives impetus to behaviour is a motivator and a kick up the backside would qualify according to this definition; it would be unlikely though, to meet Herzberg’s additional requirement of increased satisfaction. But management’s use of the term, like Herzberg’s, normally implies an improvement in both attitude and performance.
Putting Herzberg and Maslow together, it is clear that the hygiene factors are the industrial expression of the first three levels of the need hierarchy, and the motivators are the upper two. The real importance of Herzberg’s research is not that it demonstrates the existence of all five levels of need in a work situation, but that it provides insight into how they operate, and where changes have to be made if we are effectively to tap the resources of employees.
Traditional solutions – improving working conditions, increasing financial incentives or providing greater job security – are important if we are to keep employees from being dissatisfied and doing less than a ‘fair day’s work’. But it must be remembered that this is all that they are likely to achieve. To get extra effort and commitment we have to be prepared to consider what people do as well as how we treat them.
In the past, very little formal attention was paid to motivators as a means of influencing employees’ performance and attitudes. This is perhaps because the absence of motivators in a job does not produce complaint – only apathy and lack of interest and initiative. These are all too easily attributable to the ‘personality’ of the employee, and all too frequently result in his being written off as lazy or irresponsible. But it is very difficult to behave responsibly if you do not have any responsibility, or to know the satisfaction of achievement if you are given no opportunity to fail. If managers want more than just a fair day’s work, if they want workers’ commitment, enthusiasm and initial they must be prepared to pass on responsibility, and assume that it will be accepted responsibly.
Seeking to enrich people’s work, to improve job satisfaction by deliberately building into the job greater scope for personal achievement and recognition, and more opportunity for individual advancement, certainly calls for conscious effort. But studies in both the US and the UK have demonstrated that the effort can pay worthwhile dividends. A typical example is illustrated by a study involving sales representatives and carried out in this country.
The company had long held a major share of the domestic market, but its position was increasingly threatened by competition. Its market share had been declining for a number of years, and although the decline had levelled off results remained static and showed no sign of improvement. Examination of the product range suggested that Its products were fully competitive in price and quality; the critical factor appeared to be sales representative effort. An attitude survey suggested that the men were satisfied with their jobs and although they were not paid on a commission basis their conditions of employment were known to compare well with the average for the industry. Since regaining lost ground depended on a sustained extra effort from a group of people already comparatively well treated and reasonably satisfied, it seemed an ideal opportunity to find out if the incentive for the extra effort could be found in the work itself.
A programme of change was designed with the aid of the sales management, using brain-storming techniques, and using Herzberg’s framework as a model. One result of this was that salesmen were no longer required to submit a written report on every call. They were asked simply to pass on information as appropriate, or request action when they thought it was called for. Calling frequencies were no longer determined in conjunction with the are sales manager. This was left entirely to the salesmen themselves, and they kept the only records for purposes such as staff reviews. They were also able to request technical service directly from their technical counterparts – and the paperwork was cleared after the event.
The salesmen were authorised to make settlements up to £100 following complaints about product performance if, in their opinion, there was no possibility that consequential inability would be prejudiced. They were also armed with authority to deal with excess stock held by customers, in whatever way they thought most appropriate, with no upper limit on sales value. They were given price discretion on nearly the whole of the product range – with a lower limit often below any price previously quoted by the company. Each of the changes was designed to make the salesmen’s ‘s job a more complete one. It represented an effort to shift commercial judgement from headquarters to the representative on the spot, to make him someone the customer could really do business with.
To determine the effectiveness of the changes, it was necessary to apply them to only a representative sample of the sales force. This allowed comparison of the sample’s performance with that of a similar group selling the same products to the same trades, who acted as control group. The changes were introduced during December 1967, and the trial period ran from the beginning of January to the end of September 1968. The critical measure of performance was sales turnover checked by gross margin.
During the trial period the experimental group improved its performance by almost 19% a gain of over £12,000 in sales value, while the control group’s sales declined by 5%. The equivalent change for both groups in the previous year had been a decline of 3%. All quotations other than at list price were reported by the representatives and it was possible to analyse the gross margins achieved by both groups. The analysis showed the gross margin on the experimental group’s sales to be proportionately as high, if not higher, than the control group’s. The experimental group had apparently used its price discretion to negotiate greater volume, and had not increased turnover at the expense of profit. A repeat of the attitude survey showed that the experimental group’s satisfaction was significantly greater, in contrast to the control group’s whose attitudes remained largely unchanged.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of the experiment, in the sales manager’s view, was that the salesmen, once they possessed real negotiating authority, began finding that price alone did not make a sale. Having failed on occasion to sell products even at a reduced price, they were forced to re-examine and improve their product understanding and selling strategy. Because this occurred on their own initiative, the satisfaction of succeeding was entirely their own.
Such experiments, with or without controls, may be appropriate to the solution of specific problems. It is more difficult to introduce this kind of change in the company as a whole. Attempts to do so are likely to be as varied as the companies that make them, but one formula being adopted more and more frequently is that of management by objectives. Essentially, the system involves each unit in the company in setting its particular objectives within the boundaries of an overall company objective. When the objectives are agreed the key tasks necessary to their achievement are identified, and departments and individuals set their own performance targets consistent with their key tasks. To describe the approach so simply is, of course, to do it an injustice, because the description cannot convey the underlying philosophy.
Even as described here, Management By Objectives is an excellent communications device for conveying the company’s direction and purpose, and the contribution required from each of its parts. The trouble is that if the philosophy is misunderstood it becomes a device for telling people what they must achieve without regard to circumstances, and thus easily degenerates into management by results.
But applied with an understanding of human needs, including the need to achieve, Management By Objectives is potentially one of the best vehicles for inaugurating the kind of change advocated here. It defines, with the help of the individual himself, what kind of achievement is valued and is possible, and it ensures that both the man and his manager examine the discretion and resources necessary to realise that achievement. Review sessions then become concerned less with abstract human characteristics and personality traits than with providing a constructive feed-back on past performance and a definition of future tasks. Management By Objectives continually requires a manager to deal with a man through the medium of his task, and to ask again and again if it is sufficient for the man and the company.
In the end, top management is only likely to achieve the results it wants from employees if it ensures that all intermediate managers have as full an understanding of human motivation as possible, and possess the discretion and incentive to use that understanding