Harvard Business Review’s ‘summer reading’ (their big summer edition) has a big piece on motivation. This is obviously because motivation can take a big dip during an economic downturn, when the pressure is on and the incentives are low. They trumpet a “powerful new model” in a piece written by Nitin Nohria, Boris Groysberg and Linda-Eling Lee. Read it here.

Using the results of surveys they conducted with employees at a wide range of Fortune 500 and other companies, they developed a model for how to increase workplace motivation dramatically. The authors identify the organizational levers that companies and frontline managers have at their disposal as they try to meet workers’ deep needs.

Simply stated, their model suggests that we can learn from the neuroscience of leadership – using MRI scanners to see which areas of the brain light up to show activity and engagement – and says that there are four key drivers of motivation:

  1. The drive to acquire – rewards and experiences
  2. The drive to bond – building a sense of belonging
  3. The drive to comprehend – work must be meaningful
  4. The drive to defend – fair play for all

“By using all four levers simultaneously, and thereby tackling all four drives, organizations can improve motivation levels by leaps and bounds.” This is essential, as a recent Hay Group survey of more than 3,100 organizations found that 41% of employees felt demotivated by their managers.

Reporting on the HBR research in the FT, Stefan Stern says that the “powerful new model” doesn’t actually add anything to what we know already, and which was summed up in the iconic 1968 HBR article by Frederick Herzberg: “One more time: how do you motivate employees”. According to Herzberg, what really motivates people are their sense of achievement, recognition for their work, the work itself, responsibility, advancement and personal growth. Herzberg called for “job enrichment”: trying to make sure that people had interesting work to do.

Herzberg’s is probably most famous for this paragraph:

“If I kick my dog…he will move. And when I want him to move again what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can change a person’s battery, and then recharge it, and then recharge it again. But it is only when one has a generator of one’s own that we can talk about motivation. One then needs no outside stimulation. One wants to do it.”

So, yes, a nice summary of what motivates from the HBR. The problem is not in the model, but rather in its application. We know what to do as managers. We need to just jolly well get on and do it!

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