Recruitment & Retention Opinion

What (REALLY) Motivates People?

By Emily Douglas-McNab — March 20, 2012 3 min read
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It is important for talent managers to examine and discuss the underlying motivational and incentive theories connected to human behavior, management, and leadership. For centuries, psychologists have observed humans to understand why they do the things they do. Human resource professionals often look at sets of motivational theories in hopes of understanding past behavior as well as predicting future behavior.

There can be many things that motivate a person. Think through these questions to discover what motivates YOU:

• What you value - Family? Work? Making a difference? Health? Wealth? Education? Mobility? Culture? Rights? Work-Life Balance? Performance? Continuous personal improvement? Reputation? • How you were raised - To save money or that money isn't an issue? To always grow personally and reach new heights? To perform only at the level expected but never more? • Your current job - Are you satisfied? Are you engaged? Are you loyal? Are your talents being used? Are you given opportunities to grow? Are you presented with feedback? • Your educational background - What was your major? Do you have multiple degrees? In what fields? • Your current family situation - Do you have children? Are you taking care of yourself or parents and grandparents? • Your current health situation - Are you healthy? Do you require or are you caring for someone who requires frequent or constant medical assistance? Do you take medication? • Your current financial status - Do you own a home? Do you have school loans? Is the amount of money you make 'enough'? Do you own a car? Can you provide for yourself?

There are many behavioral theorists and theories. Some see these ideas as absolute, while others believe that different people can be affected differently by various theories.
The Hawthorne Studies, for example, were one of the first to look at motivation as it relates to performance. From 1924-1932, factory workers outside of Chicago were monitored to see if their performance increased when working conditions improved. Upon first review, it was believed that performance did increase due to enhanced working conditions, but researchers soon realized that these performance gains happened because workers were being observed, not because of a better working environment. This is now known as the Hawthorne Effect, which says individuals are motivated to increase performance because they are being watched.

Victor Vroom developed the Expectancy Theory that rewards must be attractive and that an individual must see and feel a strong reward-performance link. There is also the Reinforcement Theory, which says that rewards must be used to ‘reinforce’ new behaviors. In addition, Edwin Locke developed the Goal Setting Theory that higher performance comes from individuals setting specific, difficult goals and receiving constructive feedback. Also, the idea that people are motivated, positively or negatively, due to their personal beliefs about their ability to perform and complete goals is called Self-Efficacy Theory. This means that if a person does not believe that they can complete a goal, they won’t try.

How about are a few more:

Hygiene Theory was created and explored by the American psychologist Fredrick Herzberg. Herzberg believed that people were affected by two sets of factors: 1) hygiene factors, such as relationships with coworkers, administrative policies and processes, a manager’s ability to lead, benefits, and pay; and 2) motivational factors, including recognition, growth, promotion, achievement, and the work itself.

Douglas McGregor of MIT developed Theory X and Theory Y, which talk to an organization’s beliefs of how people behave and what motivates them. Theory X individuals believe that all people are lazy and will not work unless closely supervised, while those who prescribe to Theory Y believe that people are self controlled and motivated, requiring little or no supervision.

There is also William G. Ouchi’s Theory Z, which adds another dimension to McGregor’s work. Ouci believed that increasing employee loyalty and providing a secured job for life promoted a more stable environment. He believes these systems created high productivity and satisfaction.

This list doesn’t even scratch the surface when it comes to motivational and incentive theory. (Here are a few others if you’re in the mood to do some research: Cognitive Dissonance Theory, Maslow’s Need’s Hierarchy, Self-determination Theory, Need-based Theory, Intrinsic Motivation and the 16 Basic Desires Theory, Behaviorism, and Altruism.)

All of the theories above make sense at some level and no one theory is “correct” for ALL people. Can you also see how they could be blended? Ultimately, what does this all mean for talent managers in education? It shows that determining what (REALLY) motivates educators or other staff in schools is more complicated than it seems.

The opinions expressed in K-12 Talent Manager are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.