Organization Behavior is the study of individuals and groups in organizations.

This blog introduce the basic concepts of the Motivation Theory.

What Is Motivation?

Motivation is the desire to act and move toward a goal. In the workplace: motivation refers to forces within an individual that account of the level, direction, and persistence of effort expended at work.

  • Direction refers to an individuals?s choice when presented with a number of possible alternatives
  • Level refers to the amount of effort a person puts forth.
  • Persistence refers to the length of time a person sticks with a given action.

Why Managers Care About Motivation?

One question that all managers think about the most is: How can I motivate my employee?

Why managers care so much about employee’s motivation? Because Managers’s success depends on the success of his subordinates. And the employee’s motivation level determines the quantity or quality of their work or service.

Can I Motivate My Employee?

You can’t directly change people’s motivation, just like you can’t control people’s mind. But you can build a better culture and environment to influence people’s motivation. Motivation is a result of your managerial work rather than an approach. As a manager, you should focus on understanding the factors that influences your employee’s motivation, on identifying the motivation structure for each individual employee, and continue to build a better environment and motivation plan for each individual employee.

Three Type of Motivation Theories

So, what motivates people in the workplace and how to change their motivation?

In general there are three types of motivation theories, they try to answer the question from three different perspective:

  • Reinforcement theory emphasizes the linkage between individual behavior and some specific outcomes to show how managers can alter the direction, level, or persistence of individual actions.
  • Content theory focus primarily on individual needs. It suggests that motivation comes from the individual?s attempt to satisfy needs.
  • Process theory focus on thought or cognitive processes that take place within the minds of people and influence their behavior.

Reinforcement Theory

Managers often seen themselves as coaches: to teach and assist the employee to achieve a better results. The coaching process often means the manager need to encourage certain behavior and discourage other behaviors. How to change people’s behavior? In the reinforcement theory, it is about the stimuli and the outcome.

Reinforcement is largely based on the theory of the classic and operant conditioning. The classic conditioning is focus on the stimuli that influence behavior and tries to link the stimuli that indirectly influence the behavior with the behavior directly.

In the classic experiment conducted by Pavlov, he ?taught? dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell by ringing the bell when feeding the dogs. The trick is to associate one neutral potential stimulus(ring the bell) with another stimulus(the meat) that already affects behavior. However, the classic conditioning is not quite practical in the workplace, it is hard to find out the stimuli in most cases, not to mention to associate them with the behavior.

However, it is often easier to associate the consequence with the behavior. Operant conditioning controls behavior by manipulating its consequences. The basis for manipulating consequences is E. L. Thorndike?s law of effect. The law of effect is simple but powerful: behavior that results in a pleasant outcome is likely to be repeated while behavior that results in an unpleasant outcome is not likely to be repeated.

Then how do we reinforce the desired behavior and nonreinforce or punish the undesired behavior? The first strategy is positive reinforcement. This strategy is generally interpreted as rewards: it can be a pay increase, a recognition, or a better opportunity.

Remember that your reinforcement must be contingent and immediate. And it often take times to change the behavior to a desired level, you should be ready to gradually shape the employee’s behavior to the desired level. In the meantime, you can also utilize negative reinforcement, where you discourage, punish or extinct the undesired behavior.

Content Theory

The content theory is built based on some physiological studies: for example, Maslow’s study about people’s need. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory, human beings have lower order needs such as physical, safety, and social needs, in the meantime, they have higher order needs such as esteem and self-actualization.

While Maslow’s theory is powerful, it is often too complex to be applied to the workplace directly. A more practical theory is the ERG theory, it divides the needs into three major components:

  • Existence needs: desire for physiological and material well-being
  • Relatedness needs: desire for satisfying interpersonal relationships
  • Growth needs: desire for continued personal growth and development.

ERG theory is different from Maslow?s theory in that is allows multiple theory to be activated at one time.

The third important theory is Acquited Needs Theory:

  • Need for achievement (nAch): the desire to dosomething better or more efficiently, to solve problems, or to master complextasks;
  • Need for affiliation (nAff): the desire to establish and maintainfriendly and warm relations with others
  • Need for power (nPower): the desire to control others, to influence their behavior, or to be responsible for others.

The theory is particularly useful because each need can be linked with a set of work preferences.

Process Theory

Equity theory posits that people will act to eliminate any felt inequity in the rewards received for their work in comparison with others. The equity theory is based on the phenomenon of social comparison.

Victor Vroom?s expectancy theory posits that motivation is a result of a rational calculation: my effort will yield acceptable performance and performance will be rewarded.

  • Exceptancy: How possible it is for the person to achieve that performance:
  • Instrumentality: Probability assigned by the individual that a given level of achieved task performance will lead to various work outcomes.
  • Valence is the value attached by the individual to various work outcomes.

Expectancy theory predicts that motivation to work hard to earn the merit pay will be low if expectancy is low?a person feels that he or she cannot achieve the necessary performance level.