Human Motivation and Leadership

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Human Motivation and Leadership

Motivation is typically expressed as an individual's attempt and/or effort put into achieving a particular objective. There are several aspects within the subject of motivation which include: direction, effort, goals and persistence. Over the years, many different theories on motivation have surfaced and as a result, been incorporated into organizations in order to increase productivity and ensure an effective operation. It is necessary for every individual to be motivated toward to do something and it is also necessary for organizations to integrate employee motivation into their infrastructure.

The study of motivation was first extensively performed by A.H. Maslow. Maslow (1943) noted that there are basic needs that drive the definition of motivation identifying them as physiological, safety, love and esteem needs. Maslow's rationale was that actions are predicated on these needs. Physiological needs point to the instinctive need to survive via air, food, water and sleep. Security needs were expressed as an individual sense of security and safety. Love needs were identified as an individual having a sense of belonging and being appreciated through the vehicle of relationships, friendships and associations. Esteem needs were stated to be accomplishments, personal worth and social recognition. In addition to these four needs, Maslow also captured what he called self-actualization, where an individual or individuals unequivocally attain their self-awareness and are solely interested in fulfilling their highest purpose and potential (1943). Maslow’s theory on motivation and the needs that surround the idea have been the basis for most, if not all theories on motivation and the standards by which organizations use in their assessment and examination of how best to engender productivity and performance among their workforce.

Bernard et al. (2006) outlined that the theory of motivation has evolved and become a rather robust area of research primarily in the fields of management and psychology due to the fact that they are biological, behavioral and cognitive based, which are indicative of both areas. The basic structure for both fields is that motivation is the result of conscious processes or instincts. Researchers have argued that instincts are drives that each individual has and that these drives lead to behavior and actions (p.131-132). When examining motivation from the behavioral level, researchers such as Thorndike (1898) conveyed that motivation is a combination of internal and external factors. Thorndike (1898) believed that motivation was a cause and effect process and that one's conscious was in direct proportion to their actions and behavior (1898).

When looking at the cognitive dynamics of motivation, researchers have reasoned that motivations are thoughtful processes with practical explanations of their existence and that every thought process is purposeful. Cognitive researchers generally do not correlate biology into their explanations on motivation, but rather argue that it is the conscious that governs an individual's motivation and their goals (Bernard et al., 2006, p.133). Due to the varying perspectives on the theories pertaining to motivation, it has become almost impossible to construct a comprehensive definition for motivation. Furthermore, given the evolution of society and the cultural elements that exist, certain factors have muddied the proverbial waters in trying to fundamentally settle on a cohesive and overarching understanding of the processes related to motivation.

However, despite the many different perspectives and outlooks regarding the theory of motivation, most researchers and analysts would agree that motivation refers to the reasons why an individual performs a certain action and the action's effects over a period of time. This then is a somewhat viable and working definition of motivation.

Types of Motivational Theories

In assessing why people do what they do, it becomes essential to understand each of the respective types of motivation theories that have been proposed throughout the years. These include: activation theory, control theory, drive theory, ERG theory, expectancy theory, extrinsic motivation, goal setting theory, intrinsic motivation, and the transtheoretical model of change. While these are not the gamut of motivational theories, they are each equally important in their expression of what motivation is and what it is about.

Arousal Theory

Both Derryberry & Rothbart (1988) and Hanoch & Vitouch (2004) discussed arousal theory and noted that it essentially is an individual's desire to perform actions on the basis of having their physiological needs aroused. Hanoch & Vitouch (2004) took it a step further by examining the Yerkes-Dodson Law, which was created in 1908 by Robert Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson, two psychologists. The law was defined as the parallel between arousal and performance and in essence stated that an individual's arousal must be stimulated and remain at optimum levels in order for their performance to also improve. Also, the law further noted that optimum levels tend to vary depending upon the tasks and that due to the correlation - performance of the tasks will in turn vary (p.428-429). Thus, the premise of arousal theory is that individuals must be stimulated in order to achieve the specific objectives and goals that they have set forth. The higher the arousal, the better or rather more productive they will be in achieving the particular goal or objective.

Litman (2005) asserted that arousal can be stimulated by a person's emotional state and because of this pleasure, it is easier for a goal to be obtained. Additionally, individuals that have not achieved optimum levels of arousal, will tend to increase their optimum levels through environmental stimuli and exploration. Each specific experience is governed by the production of being comforted by it or showing discomfort (p.793-795). Essentially, Litman's (2005) point was that arousal is based mostly on whether or not the individual is in fact stimulated and if they have not been motivated by something external, they will seek out ways to boost their levels of arousal in order to achieve their goal.

Drive Theory

The focal point of drive theory is centered on the subject of homeostasis. Homeostasis is an individual's ability to keep harmony within themselves and their environment through the periodic adjust of physiological processes. Drive theory was first discussed by Sigmund Freud in his psychoanalysis but it was Clark Hull, who developed the theory that explained this particular analysis on why people are motivated. Hull noted that individuals seek to satisfy certain needs and when these needs are not met, it creates a notable amount of tension within the individual. This tension then is what motivates individuals to find and discover new ways of personal fulfillment and satisfaction. Additionally, Hull reasoned that human behavior could best be explained by the definition of behavioral conditioning and reinforcement; that reinforcement was indicative of a similar or same behavior occurring in the future by the individual if the particular need or needs were not sufficiently met (Weiner, 2013, p.85-87). Despite the prominence of Hull's drive theory, criticism did arise because many detractors felt that Hull did not sufficiently account for certain anomalies such as individuals eating and drinking when they are not in fact hungry or thirty and when individuals happen to participate in activities that produce tension rather than diminish it. While an interesting theory to examine, the drive theory has often been noted as being undermined because of what Hull did not account for in his analysis of individual motivation.

ERG Theory

First discussed in 1969 by Clayton Alderfer, the ERG theory of motivation provided noteworthy discourse on human needs and their respective reasoning's on why individuals are motivated. ERG, which stood for existence, relatedness and growth intertwined Maslow's (1943) examination of needs into its framework. While the needs argument was woven into the model presented by Alderfer, he believed that individuals do not progress in their need to satisfy themselves but rather do so simultaneously. The ERG theory of motivation was and is noted as being the theory that repudiated Maslow because it suggested that satisfying one need at a time did not effectively permit an individual to be motivated. Moreover, Alderfer acknowledged that if a specific higher need was not as easily attainable, that an individual would be more motivated to ensure the lower needs based on Maslow (1943) were satisfied ("ERG Theory," 2013).

Caulton (2012) furthered the discussion by noting ERG theory validated that human experience in and out of the workplace. That Alderfer's assertions were specific enough to assist organizations in achieving effective performance. Due to the fact that individuals could achieve and satisfy their needs at the same time, ERG theory was and is often applied in workplace settings (p.4-6). However, Caulton (2012) also specified that ERG theory could only be effective in certain circumstances and environments because its emphasis is on satisfying every need all at the same time which can often be difficult to achieve. Advocacy of the theory then is predicated on making sure there is no immediate tension or cause for concern that a certain motivation toward achieving a goal can actually be achieved.

Expectancy Theory

Lunenberg (2011) outlined that expectancy theory particularly sheds light on organizational behavior and management. Moreover, that it is grounded in four different assumptions: that "people join organizations with expectations about their needs, motivations and past experiences; that an individual's behavior is a result of conscious choice; that people want different things from the organization (i.e. salary, job security, advancement and challenge) [and] that people will choose among alternatives so as to optimize outcomes for them personally” (p.1-2). Thus, the expectancy theory is concise enough to explain motivation and why individuals do what they do within the arena of the working world.

Therefore, this particular motivational theory can be utilized to motivate employees. Managers can zero in on the particular assumptions within the theory in getting the employee to perform better and become more productive in the goals and tasks that they have been given. Additionally, the theory has practical implications because it ensures the employees that they will be rewarded for their performance and due to the presence of work being available.

Lunenberg (2011) continued to say that the expectancy theory is a cognition centered theory because it is governed by thought processes (p.1). In essence, individuals wholeheartedly believe that if they do good work and are effective in performance, that they will be rewarded accordingly and continue to be rewarded on the basis of their expectations and continual motivation.

Additionally, the expectancy theory, which was first proposed by Victor Vroom, is a framework that has three variables within it: the expectancy factor, a valence factor and instrumentality. The expectancy was based on the expectation that a reward would be received; the valence was to be if the individual received any value from the reward and instrumentality was defined as the belief that certain actions performed would achieve a particular outcome (Lunenberg, 2011, p.2-3). This particular model works exceptionally well for organizations and businesses in that employees are rewarded for their work and employers in turn receive efficient output and productivity.

Extrinsic Motivation

Ryan & Deci (2000) defined extrinsic motivation as specific motivation pertaining to outside factors (p.54). Extrinsic motivation has been by and large discussed on the basis of organizational behavior but observations have also been noted in areas outside of the workplace. Ryan & Deci (2000) asserted that there are different types of extrinsic motivation such as amotivation, which is "the state of lacking an intention to act [which] results from not valuing an activity;" (p.61) introjected regulation, which is defined by performing actions on the basis of pressure in order to avoid any kind of guilty feeling and integrated regulation, which denotes self-determined extrinsic actions (p.62).

Discussions pertaining to extrinsic motivation has offered that it is a good tool to utilize in the business setting because the rewards are tangible and employees feel motivated to do a good job with their work because they can see the projected outcome. Extrinsic motivation in a sense relates to the expectancy theory because the employee expects to receive a reward (i.e. compensation, benefits, etc.) when they perform well. There have been some issues with extrinsic motivation because it more often than not has suggested that individuals solely do the tasks they do knowing that they will receive a reward as a result. Some researchers have suggested that there may be reluctance on behalf of the giver of the reward to offer it in the first place for fear that if the rewards are not present that certain tasks will go unfulfilled. Moreover, extrinsic motivation has often suggested that continual recognition will always be done when an individual completes a project or plan, when the extrinsic rewards while always tangible are not always seen.

Goal Setting Theory

Goal setting theory was developed on the basis that individual self-satisfaction is predicated on performance. Whether goals are high or difficult, they are in essence motivating to the individual in their gravitation toward achieving them. Proposed by Locke & Latham (1990, 2002), goal setting theory was originally setup with a four mechanism framework to display the correlative relationship between performance and goals. These mechanisms were: "high goals lead to greater effort and/or persistence than do moderately difficult, easy or vague goals; goals direct attention, effort, and action toward goal relevant actions at the expense of non-relevant actions; goals may simply motivate one to use one's existing ability [and] goal effects depend upon having the requisite task knowledge and skills" (Locke & Latham, 2006, p.265).

Given the expansive nature of the business world, additional avenues that support the theory were created. These include: goal choice, which is an individual's decision to select his or her goals and perform accordingly with the decision made regarding what they hope to achieve; learning goals, which specifically highlight the need for further growth in the area of education; framing, which happens when an individual weights the gain versus loss of a goal; affect, also known as the assessment of the success of the goal setting; group goals, which are goals set forth to be achieved in groups and macro-level goals, which seek to achieve goals on a wide ranging level such as companywide or globally (Locke & Latham, 2006, p.266-267). Goal setting theory functions very well in the business world as organizations can unmistakably see the effects on productivity and performance when they set forth specific timeframes and outlines for tasks and objectives to be achieved. For example, if a company has a precise strategy in the area of social media to execute by a certain date, goal setting theory can assist that company in fully executing the social media campaign by that date.

Intrinsic Motivation

Ryan & Deci (2000) observed intrinsic motivation as "the nexus between a person and a task" (p.56). Intrinsic motivation was and is referred to as being motivated by internal rewards. Basically, an individual receives the reward on an intangible level. The satisfaction and proverbial enjoyment becomes more covert than overt. Intrinsic motivation has often been talked about in terms of learning. Thus, in the corporate world, businesses can encourage and/or mandate that their employees continually learn new software and strategies that will in the end assist them as well as further the company.

Moreover, intrinsic motivation has also been associated with the word challenge in that people tend to be motivated when they are challenged because the reward albeit internally is a gratifying one (Ryan & Deci, 2000, p.59). Ryan & Deci (2000) went on to say that autonomy is essential in intrinsic motivation because it positions a sense of enhancement of the individual performing the task in that they notably attain a new skill or understanding and become more mastery oriented in extending themselves to others (p.59).

Intrinsic motivation then is a complex form of motivation that is multi-layered because it can engender many different facets in the workplace from employees. Intrinsic motivation is also considered a cognitive type motivation in that individuals exercising this particular form are doing so on the basis that they will receive internal rewards and recognition for a job well done through the vehicle of competency and sustenance of the skills they already know and understand. Furthermore, intrinsic motivation makes the assumption that individuals are motivated by the challenging conditions that lead to intrinsic rewards and making their environments better but not necessarily receiving anything tangible from that process.

The Transtheoretical Model of Change

The transtheoretical model of change is noted as focusing merely on an individual's decision making rationale rather than the influences of said behavior. The model operates on the idea that change comes in stages. There are five different stage of change that are identified within the framework. The first is considered the precontemplation stage, where the individual has no intentions to alter their behavior in any capacity and are often unaware of the consequences that their behavior has caused. The second stage is contemplation, where the individual is considering changing their behavior or has already decided to do so and are planning the change within a certain time period. In this stage, the pros and cons of behavioral change are discussed. Preparation is the planning of the change only it includes an action plan rather than an expression for change. The action stage is when the efforts to alter behavior are made. The final stage of the model is maintenance, where individuals must participate in ensuring that whatever behavioral change they made remains a permanent change rather than a temporary one. Research has noted that this stage is a "continuation of change, not an absence of it" (Lenio, 2006, p.76).

Businesses are primed to utilize the model in changing the behavior of their employees even if they are already a successful and effective company in the marketplace. The transtheoretical model of change assists individuals in becoming better in their work perspectives and tasks given. Businesses can employ this framework when they need their employees to quickly adapt to a policy change or update that will affect the work that the employees do on a daily basis. In addition to this, the model can bring about a more optimistic workplace if there is a significant amount of tension present due to ineffective procedures and techniques as well as low productivity and performance.

Comparison & Contrast

Each presented motivational theory is more or less similar in its presentation on the basis that they all can help organizations manage better and become more effective with their workforce. Each theory can be used to devise a motivation plan for employees. Extrinsic and intrinsic motivations are very much like expectancy theory in that both have rewards that the employee receives as a result of performing a specific duty or task. They are different in that expectancy theory takes it a step further and adds other variables into the picture. The expectancy theory is clearer in its definition and does not permit any gray area in terms of understanding and execution. There is an assurance with the expectancy theory that does not always come if an organization solely operates on the intrinsic and extrinsic motivational theories. Additionally, businesses are more likely to apply the expectancy theory to their workplace settings and environments because it is precise and detailed, while extrinsic and intrinsic motivation have had an innumerable amount of definitions throughout the years in terms of how companies can best apply them to their employees and staff as well as how employees can best integrate those two motivational dynamics into their workload.

Arousal theory is completely different from all of the other theories in its application because it is predicated on the basis of an individual being stimulated to perform a particular task or goal. The individual employees must be aroused to a certain extent in order for productivity to occur at least on a neutral level. While it could be rationalized that drive theory was closely linked to arousal theory due to the fact that they both operate on the physiological needs of an employee, drive theory does not take into account any outliers while arousal theory looks at the entire dynamics surrounding an individual's motivation and outlines it as a topic governed by stimulation.

ERG Theory is another effective theory of motivation for the business world as it allows companies to frame the reasons why employees should perform tasks. While rewards are not intermingled with this theory, it does contend that an individual's needs can be met efficiently given its principle. This particular theory could even be compared to the arousal and drive theories in terms of differences because ERG looks at tension and how it factors into effective productivity while arousal and drive do not look at tension per se but do factor tension in their justification for human motivation in that arousal theory argues that tension can encourage an individual to perform and drive avows that tension is often a factor of why that theory is not favorably practiced in the world of business or psychology.

Goal setting theory is different from all of the other presented theories because goals are its main focus and having a definitive timeframe or period where the goal will be executed. There are issues with goal setting theory, however, such as an individual's input of effort into achieving the goal as well as the difficulty or ease of the goal. If similar to any of the other theories, it would only be on the basis of tension potentially being present. Finally, the transtheoretical model of change focuses on stages of behavioral change. The theory does not offer conjecture on whether the behavioral changes are positive or negative, but it does argue for a need for change. The other presented theories are dissimilar to this one because they are not performed in stages but are executed at once.

How Do Companies Use Motivation?

In a Wall Street Journal article by Rachel Silverman, she outlined how companies are utilizing and incorporating motivational theories to make the workplace more productive as well as place that employee’s want to come to everyday. Specifically, she noted how companies are using gaming "to make tasks such as management training, data entry and brainstorming seem less like work" (p.1). This is one example of how companies use motivation to encourage employees to be more productive. In identifying a presented theory in this example, this would be an example of the transtheoretical model at work in that some companies are hoping that by integrating gaming into their employees' daily routine that, that will in effect make for a more productive workforce because the employees will not consider it 'work.'

Some companies have adapted the perks for their employees by offering vacations, free lunches, building gyms inside the workplace, etc. Companies such as Google, which is frequently voted as being one of the best place to work do so on the basis of the expectancy theory. Other companies have also integrated the expectancy theory in their over workforce dynamic by increasing the salaries and bonus capacities of employees. Companies based in the hospitality and travel industries do this, especially, as a financial incentive for employees to perform exceptionally well. By incorporating motivation into the workplace, companies have undoubtedly found that their productivity levels have increased as evident by the aforementioned Google.

Some companies utilize the theories in their hiring process such as Evernote and Voli Spirits, who invite potential hires to corporate functions. By applying the fundamental motivational theories to their practices, this ensures that the potential hires will perform well amidst the company culture while at the same time find it rewarding in the process.

Casserly (2013) discussed in a Forbes article how America's top companies are motivating employees stating that companies 'attack' the motivational element on several levels including having a comfortable working environment, having a reasonable compensation plan and benefits to offer. One company, Questcor Pharmaceuticals cited celebrating wins and more company communication as ways they encourage motivation, while Sturm, Ruger & Company stated profit sharing as one of the items that motivated their employees (p.1). Essentially, organizations should understand that the best way to motivate their employees and have high productivity is to make sure that opportunities of an innovative (i.e. daily gaming) and straightforward (i.e. perks) nature are woven into the company culture.

Real Life Experiences with Motivation

In the writer's own experiences with motivational theories, the companies have used both expectancy theory and ERG theory. It seems as though these two in particular are quite popular both among companies that are of a small stature as well as larger corporations. Expectancy theory seemed and continues to win out among the various motivational theories that companies may consider using because it is ultimately a win-win situation for the organization and the employees because there is higher productivity and rewards that work in conjunction with each other. The writer has a friend that currently works for a hotel and this particular hotel uses ERG theory. The hotel management seeks to satisfy the needs of its employees at the same time in their various elements and components. It has worked thus far for both the company and the writer's friend. One of the most interesting aspects of observing motivational theories in real life application is that there are not definitive ways of knowing what theory or organization uses what motivational theory without reading through several articles or the entire company’s website to gauge as it is not overt in its presentation.

What Managers Should Do

Given the expansion of technology in the world, managers should figure out ways to inject motivational theories into their social media. Companies and corporations are discovering that they can obtain immediate feedback from both consumers and employees through social media. Therefore, managers should come up with ways to motivate their employees through platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram. While there are other platforms, these are the most used by corporations and most likely, employees. LinkedIn was not included in the list due to the fact that it is more of a professional social media platform for connecting in the digital space, while the others allow for more creative use for motivation and do not come across as being overly concerned with 'work' even though they all are.

Each of the theories could apply to the use of social media by managers which makes it even a better option for managers to integrate in their ways of engaging the employee workforce. Additionally, given that companies such as Apple and Google are adding more perks and benefits (rewards) for their employee base, other companies should also consider this in motivation framework. In doing so, this will garner more productivity among the workforce per expectancy theory and also ensure that all of the needs of the employee are being met to a certain extent. Employees love to peruse through the many different perks and benefits that they will receive by working at a particular company and if managers can find ways to engage their workforce to work better and more proficiently by adding additional perks, then it should be done immediately.


Does motivation increase productivity and performance in the workplace? The answer is a definitive yes. Organizations are in need of including the aforementioned theories into their workplace dynamics if they are seeking high productivity in both the short and long term. Additionally, certain theories may factor in better in certain organizational environments so it is essential for all organizations to examine the many different theories such as arousal theory, drive theory and the transtheoretical change model to ascertain which one will work best in their setting. In doing so, the correct and suitable one will be chosen as well as definitively cement an increase in performance and overall organizational wellbeing in terms of employee behavior and satisfaction.

There is reason to believe that if organizations successfully apply motivation to their workforce that it will significantly alter the environment for the better regardless of which particular theory is selected. Each of the presented theories have their pros and cons – so one is not necessarily better than the other; just may be better suited for certain environments. Maslow (1943) was correct in his assessment that individuals are motivated by satisfying their needs and that goals and tasks are completed on the basis that these needs will be satisfied. Given this assessment, if organizations are able to weave motivation into their daily operations, they will gain more revenue and output as well as ensure that the workforce is content and gratified that their needs are being met.


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