With the race to become more productive, more competitive and more profitable having the answer to the question that continues to challenge business managers, how do you motivate people, can be the ticket to winning. Even though Frederick Hertzberg offered a direct and complete answer give them something motivating to do, the question for the majority of business managers remains unanswered. Further, not understanding the depth of Hertzberg’s answer, we’ve even advanced another classification of management—management can’t do it but leadership can—in hopes of meeting the challenge. Yet whether you are labeled a manager or a leader the challenge goes largely unmet.
What could be the root of the problem and the difficulty in dissolving it? Given that this problem arises within a larger context, critically thinking about the general nature of employer-employee arrangement in American capitalism will prove helpful toward developing an understanding.
A System Created Problem
Within the context of a mechanistic materialistic worldview that informs the principles and practices of business management capital employs labor. Accordingly, the underlying and largely unconscious beliefs-in-practice inherent in this mechanistic materialistic system of orientation include: a) individuals haven’t the capacity for self-initiation; b) each individual possess him/her self as property; c) each possess that which they mix with their labor; d) improving one’s lot equates to acquiring more property; e) each is free to do with his/her property in service to his/her material interest (The intent of business, pp 10-30).
In light of this system of orientation, let’s consider what being a non-owner—of being a worker, an employee—within a business organization wherein your labor is bought and owned (i.e. becoming property of the owner of the enterprise) implies for management practice relative to motivation.
As discussed in a previous posting because the business enterprise employs an individual’s behavior, the employee is viewed as a behavioral unit, as a unit of labor to be used in service to the interest (which is profit maximization) of the business owner. Clearly there is nothing in this scenario that speaks to the employee as a self-initiating being, as a person with his/her very own inherent interests and motivations. In this system of orientation, inherent (i.e. intrinsic) motivation doesn’t exist. What exist are external forces (i.e. extrinsic factors) that will cause a behavior in response; consequently all action is reaction. So the seemingly unanswerable question put forth for the longest time of how do you motivate people is antithetical to how people are viewed and treated within the mechanistic materialistic worldview of egoistic economic business (aka American capitalism)—it has no framework for understanding employees as people, as human beings.
That is, in this context, people have no inherent will and all behavior is mere self-serving reaction to what the environment presents. Moreover, the system of thought tells us we “can’t be industrious without being tricked, bribed and forced”—without being acted upon (The intent of business, p 27). Seen in this light it makes sense that the business organization is a space wherein goals are cascaded down the hierarchy of authority and people are held accountable for the results. It is a psychological space where industriousness through compliance and obedience is valued and sought. Further it is where self-initiation would not be in harmony with striving to accomplish the goals of those in authority. After all, it is much more difficult (if not impossible) to successfully command and control self-initiating semi-autonomous people.
Behaviorism Suppresses Self-Initiation
A way of suppressing the inherent self-initiating capacity in others is to create a sense of duty aligned with obedience to authority. Thus in this way management success in getting others to do as one desires is ensured by others’ sense of obligation to authority’s command and control.
Another way of realizing success through command and control is to make the satisfaction of other’s inherent deficiency needs contingent on doing what those in authority desires. This process (aka operant conditioning or stimulus-response behavior modification) involves parceling out rewards and punishments as a way of training others to behavior as desired. Doing something as a means of getting what you need (making inherent need satisfaction contingent on results) makes the job necessary—if you do this (as I command) then you will get that (which you need). Note this can also be a negative contingent proposition; if you don’t do as I wish then you won’t get that which you need (or you will get what you don’t want). Within this carrot-&-stick context, a job then is an activity that has no inherent value or meaning apart from the means it provides—generally the activity itself though necessary is rendered meaningless. In this psychological space there can be no inherent value to what one does. It is a space wherein intrinsic motivation for the work has been expunged.
Additionally, this operant conditioning approach is often taken a step further using Pavlovian classical conditioning to create in the controlee (aka employee) a felt-desire for the material satisfaction associated with the inherent need (e.g. recognition, esteem). Pavlov substituted food with a bell ring and made the dog salivate at the ringing of a bell in place of food, the real need. In this way the desire for the reward becomes internalized as if the reward is the inherent cause with the employee in time coming to believe the desire for the reward is part of his/her nature, when in fact it was slipped in by those in authority, thus supplanting the real need. Marylene Gagne and Edward Deci in their 2005 Journal of Organizational Behavior paper “Self-determination theory and work motivation” labeled this introjected regulation to differentiate it from control by external regulation.
This approach appeals to and grows one’s ego-centeredness—hence the seemingly increase in selfishness and greed in society. Given the contingent and insatiable nature of the reward—one can never have enough stuff—those in authority can maintain control by getting people to commit to and join the rat race. As Adam Smith acknowledged centuries ago, it keeps people industrious in service to wealth accumulation among the wealthy—it is built into the very design of the capitalist system.
Pay for Performance is Prevalent
This introjected regulation (aka control) is realized through a pay-for-performance system practiced in many organizations. In this system a competitive environment is created wherein employees are required to compete for compensation and recognition as a reward for performing as desired. From the employee’s perspective this system is better named performance-for-pay. [For more on the common performance appraisal system see pathway to mistrust, facilitate performance, and replace reviews with leadership for quality.] The employee/controlee thus comes to believe he/she inherently desires the reward (i.e. promotion, position, material gain, being labeled a ‘winner’). Yet what really is happening is those in authority are employing the negative emotion of fear of not meeting basic needs, of not being enough or worthy and of not being respected as a way of controlling behavior in service to the organization’s and management’s material interests.
This is not an indictment that those in authority have a malevolent intent. It’s that the system of orientation they adhere to makes it highly probable that their associated practices will be inhumane. However, if a person knows or is made aware of this and yet continues with the practice then he/she is intentionally committing a crime against humanity.
Obviously the management problem posed by the opening question is not dissolvable because it is caused by the very principles upon which modern management practice rests. So in the current created psychological space, Hertzberg’s answer is a non-starter! There is no rational way to motivate people whom you view and treat as property. There is no logical way to motivate people whom you believe haven’t the capacity for self-initiation. That is to say, the very psychological space created by materialistic and mechanistic management principles and practice that enact fear opposes the emergence of intrinsic motivation! Hence, in the current system of orientation, how do you motivate people is an unanswerable question.
A Transmutation in Orientation
Therefore to dissolve the problem a significant change is required; a different system of orientation, a different system of thought is needed. A system of orientation that helps us understand that “all that we observe cannot be explained or described as inert matter and motion, or as objects acting upon other objects according to mechanistic laws…Rather the phenomena we observe are the manifestations of energy flow” (The intent of business, p 124). A living systems orientation would enable us see that what lies within each of us is a vitalizing spirit, an energy that is seeking (human) expression.
So the change is a change from a mechanistic orientation (a world of objects) to a living systems orientation (a world of living energy, of life) where people aren’t understood and treated as if independent reacting behavior bundles but rather as deeply interdependent and deeply interconnected semi-autonomous whole persons (human beings). That is to say, we would understand that within each of us is great potential that can be actualized in and through our collective and individual development.
It should be quite clear that behaviorism, which assumes people are intelligent animals but lacking the capacity for self-initiation, must be removed as the guiding theory informing management practice. Instead, in conjunction with being guided by a living systems view, if we use the theories of Maslow, and even Douglas McGregor’s Theory Y, we would be led to a different view of people and a different way of managing. A view that reveals we have the capacity for self-initiation and an inherent need to be self-actualizing.
Envision Then Enact
Guided by this system of orientation and these theories, management principles and practice would not seek to exploit people and Nature. It wouldn’t limit and constrain people to act in reaction to external forces—it wouldn’t lead us to treat people as intelligent animals or simply as bundles of behaviors. Managers would no longer act upon people but rather they’d act with and in support of people, in support of each other’s development as persons. Guided by this system of thought, being productive would mean being humanly productive.
That is to say, productivity mustn’t be limited to material productivity; we each must be enabled to develop as human beings. In so doing, the design, production and distribution of products and services—the work of a business—would provide people the opportunity to fully express their capabilities and in the process to develop as persons. With this as the overarching intent, both management and non-management would be joined in an enlivening vision in support of being humanly productive, which would be quite joyful.
Vision is a heartfelt description of reality that resonates within the depths of people. As explained in the gravity of vision, vision is a “beacon that points the way to a mode of being-in-the-world that brings meaning and joy” in the ever present moment, not at some future time. Thus an enlivening vision is not about a future with more property/wealth acquired (external rewards) but about the eternal present moment wherein one experiences joy—it is about inner value not outer value. Accordingly enacting an enlivening vision affords “the opportunity to experience an inner sense of significance and meaning in engaging with the organization’s work. After all, who would be motivated to do meaningless work! Hence Hertzberg’s very direct and complete answer, give them something motivating to do!
Motivate Through Meaning
Doing what one finds meaningful—having one’s life filled with meaningful activity—makes life joyful and doing what one loves makes doing it a joy. When the work one is doing resonates within his/her very being—when the work itself is motivating—then what one is doing brings forth from within a sense of joy about one’s self, which is very different than the experience of a moment of pleasure from a reward or the avoidance of the pain of punishment. Thus, to be motivated by the work and to realize joy in our work, the work we do must be work that resonates within the depths of our very being; it must be work that is vivifying—hence the need for an enlivening vision.
An enlivening vision emerges from having insight not foresight. It emerges from being in touch with one’s inner self, with one’s very being which is universal. We are creators of the human experience and an enlivening vision speaks to our shared humanness. The cause of our difficulties is the unchallenged notion that we are independent and intelligent animals destined to seek pleasure through the accumulation of material things by any means possible. To dissolve the problem we need to cease enacting this misguided notion. We need to be human and enact a human way of being in the way we design and manage our organizations. Thus it is up to us to enact a better experience, a very humanly productive experience.
Consider as illustration of the difference between participation solely for pay versus participation for meaning. Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir, or worldwide community of singers shows very vividly motivation emerging from meaningful activity. The singers weren’t singing for their supper, they weren’t singing in hopes of being crowned the best voice/singer. Rather they were singing because being part of something meaningful—to make quality music with each other—was motivating and that enabled them to express their unique capability. It wasn’t about singing notes it was about making music together. It was about being part of a choir that produced quality—the expression of the human spirit; contributing to collective collaborative activity that produced quality for others to enjoy.
Lead with Understanding and Caring
Enacting it requires leaders who both understand and care. Authentic leadership requires negating the egoic-self that allows for caring for the development of others and in so doing of one’s self. It also requires understanding one’s self and others as people, each with the potential to become and express more of their humanness and not as objects to be manipulated and exploited for one’s own material gain.
We have a responsibility to both our individual and collective development since we’re partners in the human experience—we don’t just evolve we co-evolve. That is, the human world is an ‘I-We-world’ not a ‘what’s-in-it-for-me-world’.
Don’t you think it is time we all joined the race that is the human race? We all need to be the leader we wish others would be!