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Why is it important for managers to know about motivation theories?


The key function of managers is ‘getting things done’ through employees. The following assignment looks at the role of motivation and why it is essential for managers to be aware of the various motivational theories and how the motivational theories could be implemented in a professional context to achieve organisation’s goals and objectives.

Motivation has been defined as: the psychological process that gives behaviour purpose and direction (Kreitner, 1995); a predisposition to behave in a purposive manner to achieve specific, unmet needs (Buford, Bedeian, & Lindner, 1995); an internal drive to satisfy an unsatisfied need (Higgins, 1994); and the will to achieve (Bedeian, 1993).

Organisations exist to achieve corporate objectives and employees working in those organisations aide in achieving those objectives by working towards their individual goals and targets. In an ideal world, if every individual was providing his best performance then organisational goals would be met sooner too; however in the real world it is often not the case. Organisations lag behind and more often than not the reason is a demotivated staff. An understanding of the basic human nature is important for effective employee motivation in the workplace and also for effective management and leadership.

In today’s business world with rapid changes happening all around, it has become even more important for managers to motivate their staff and help their staff in optimising their performance. Besides, research and observation proves that motivated employees are more creative and productive in the work place.

Several theories of motivation have been presented amongst which Maslow’s theory states the purpose of human existence is ‘Self-actualisation’ and the only way that state can be attained is when the basic human needs are met. Thus according to Maslow, human needs can be represented in the form of a pyramid.

According to Maslow, the basic human needs are:

  • Physiological needs
  • Safety needs
  • Love needs
  • Esteem needs
  • Self-actualisation.

Whilst Herzberg theory states that in a work environment context there are mainly two factors which determine the motivation levels of employees. The first set of factors which he termed as the hygiene factors do not lead to positive motivation, however a lack of those hygiene factors could lead to de-motivation. Herzberg’s theory is particularly useful as it discussed the importance of providing a good working environment and to a certain degree highlighted the importance of a good working environment in achieving a better performance from employees. Herzberg’s work categorized motivation into two factors: motivators and hygienes (Herzberg, Mausner, & Snyderman, 1959).

Motivator or intrinsic factors, such as achievement and recognition, produce job satisfaction. Hygiene or extrinsic factors, such as pay and job security, produce job dissatisfaction. McGregor’s theory stated that staff would contribute more to the organisation if they were treated as responsible and valued employees. Likert (1967) suggested that for an organisation to perform better, managers must adopt a participative-group system, whereby, leadership is by the superiors who have complete confidence in their employees and motivation takes the form of economic rewards which is further based on goals set by participation.

Various other theories presented by Vroom, equity theory etc all discuss how employees can be motivated and should be motivated to enhance performance. As stated above individual performance taken collectively determines organisational performance and when organisational performance is not up to the required level, the organisation would not be able to sustain itself and might loose out in competition.

Motivation theories provide an insight into what makes an employee perform better. It provides managers with a tool to motivate employees and helps them in understanding how the staff can be managed better. It is therefore no surprise that the area of human resource management and organisational behaviour is looking into how important it has become for organisations to focus on retaining ’employees’. Recent literature has emphasised the importance of knowledge management. It is a known fact that high labour turnover, costs the company which results in lowering the level of profits. Profit maximisation is the ultimate corporate objective, it would be fair to say that is the sole reason why companies exist to maximise profit, generate revenue and anything that can result in increasing profit levels will be looked upon favourably.

Lack of knowledge about motivation theories might lead the managers to believe that monetary incentives are the only way of motivating staff, however, the theories has helped the managers in understanding that individuals have different needs. It might be that employee A prefers to have more responsibility as compared to employee B. Hence increasing A’s responsibility and appreciating A motivates him more than B who would be satisfied with getting a monetary incentive. Similarly, employee C might be a single mother who would prefer to have more flexibility in the job and would be able to perform better if the work that she is doing enables her to look after her child and work. The above examples prove that in a professional environment for a manager it has become even more important to understand the needs of his ‘internal’ customers.

A concept which can be borrowed from marketing is if the customers’ needs are met the organisation’s objectives can be achieved. The argument can be extended in this context as well where it can be said that when internal customers are kept happy, external customers will automatically be happy. The above is an example to explain Vroom’s theory, according to which rewards and incentives should be based on what the employee perceives to be important rather than what the managers perceives to be important. Thus he aimed to explain employee motivation by explaining the link between how individual goals influence individual performance. Thus the knowledge of motivational theories provides a deeper insight into the psychology of employees and staff.

The importance of organisational performance cannot be highlighted enough. Research and surveys are being conducted to understand what can improve the organisational performance and the obvious link is individual performance. Performance more generally is defined as a function of ability and motivation. However, in order to motivate staff it is important to have an effective performance management system. In order to provide rewards to the staff it is imperative to have appropriate benchmarks to measure the performance. Literature in this area has highlighted the importance of having formal appraisal systems which can either be in the form of self-evaluation or 360 degree appraisal, top-down, bottom up etc. The above mechanism enables managers to scientifically assess and then provide appropriate rewards and incentives to the staff, whether monetary or non-monetary in nature.

In addition to the performance levels, retaining staff by continuously striving to motivate them helps managers to retain knowledge which the employees have acquired over the period, it helps the employees to complete tasks faster as they are already aware of how ‘things are done around here’ and more importantly it helps the systems to be developed so that work can be done quickly. It helps in achieving specialisation and employees acquiring key skills.

Thus the main tools a manager must have to motivate his/her staff are:

  • Approval, praise and recognition
  • Trust, respect and high expectations
  • Loyalty
  • Removing organisational barriers which might stand in the way individual performance
  • Job enrichment
  • Providing Financial incentives
  • Good communication.

Even though there is not a perfect formula for motivation in the workplace however, an understanding of how the human nature works can help managers to perform better and keeping the end goal (corporate objective) in mind the challenge for every leader and manager to reach a balance where organisational and individual performance can be maximised to reach the same goal.


From the preceding paragraphs it can be concluded that it is imperative for managers’ to have a thorough understanding of the motivation theories. However, it is easier said than done. There is no simple answer of how to motivate people, though an understanding of the theories does help. It enables the managers in enhancing not only the individual but also the organisational performance. The primary objective of organisations’ is to survive, sustain and grow and the objective can be met when the employees and staff are happy.

This can be achieved by understanding the motivation theories and implementing them effectively to achieve optimal results for the organisation. Thus it can be said that effective implementation of the motivation theories can help the organisations’ to have a competitive edge and it can serve to be a source of sustainable competitive advantage which would ensure its growth, survival and maximised revenue generation in the long run. Thus, it can be concluded for managers’ to perform efficiently it is imperative for them to have knowledge of the motivation theories.


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  • Bratton, J. and Gold, J., Human Resource Management: Theory and Practice, (2003), Palgrave Macmillan
  • Hall, L., Torrington, D. and Taylor, S., Human Resource Management, (2004), FT Prentice Hall
  • Hook, C. and Foot, M., Introducing Human Resource Management (Modular Text for Business and Economics), (2005), FT Prentice Hall
  • Marchington, M and Armstrong, A., Human Resource Management at Work, (2005), Chartered Institute of Personnel Development
  • Mullins, L.J., Management and Organisational Behaviour, (2004), FT Prentice Hall
  • Purcell, J and Boxall, P., Strategy and Human Resource Management (Management, Work and Organisatons), (2002), Palgrave Macmillan
  • Schwarz, R.M., The Skilled Facilitator: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers and Coaches, (2002), John Bass and Wiley.

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