Explain the ways in which a manager may apply motivation theories to achieve effective performance by employees in an organization

Motivation is a key part of a manager’s job because through it the manager is able to make people want to perform activities so that goals can be achieved.

Motivation can be defined as the process, which influence people to behave the way they do. Motivation is concerned with the reasons for human behaviour, it explains why people behave in a certain manner.

Motivation theories are divided into two main categories: content and process.

The content theories attempt to explain the specific things that actually motivate an individual at work i.e. what motivates?
The process theories focus on how behaviour is initiated, directed and sustained i.e. how does motivation occur?

An understanding of these theories will help managers motivate workers and improve organizational performance.


1. Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory

He found that the factors that cause job satisfaction are separate and distinct from those that cause dissatisfaction. Examples of dissatisfaction are company policy, administration, salary, job security and working conditions. Examples of satisfiers (hygiene motivation) are recognition, growth and responsibility. Herzberg also pointed out that the opposite of job satisfaction is not dissatisfaction and vice versa.

This theory teaches managers to eliminate dissatisfaction by providing reasonable satisfiers and at the same time enhance motivation by improving factors that cause satisfaction.

2. Abraham Maslow’s Need Hierarchy
This theory is based on the idea that human needs can be arranged in order of importance from the most basic. Once a need is fairly well satisfied, it no longer motivates behaviour and man is then motivated by the next higher level of needs. Maslow divided human needs into five levels; physiological needs, safety or security needs, social needs, esteem needs and self-actualization needs.

This theory is important to managers because it spells out the needs that people have. When managers know what people need, they will be able to help them satisfy these needs. Management’s decision must show concern for peoples needs e.g. satisfy esteem needs by providing opportunities for advancement..

3. Alderfer’s Modified Need Hierarchy Model (ERG)
Alderfer condenses Maslow’s five level needs into three levels based on the core needs of existence, relatedness, and growth. He do not see the needs as a hierarchy and suggests that more than one need may be activated at the same time.

4. McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y
Theory X which is based on autocratic management assumes the average person hates work and will try to avoid it so he must be coerced by threat and punishment. Theory Y which is based on participative management assumes that work is normal and committed people are self motivated and like responsibility.

These theories have a good lesson to managers: They must know that each employee is unique and must be treated as such. People should not be forced to fit into the rigid theory or into one manager’s viewpoint.

5. McClelland – Need based motivation
He said that people have three basic needs that motivate them – power, affiliation and
achievement. Achievement is shown by the desire to succeed and not fail.

This theory is important to managers because it says that the achievement motive can be taught.

6. Skinner – Motivation through positive reinforcement
Skinner said that all behaviour is as a result of stimulus, he emphasized positive reinforcement. Managers who follow Skinner’s style emphasize praise and encouragement. Money is also considered to be a positive reinforcer.

Process theories (expectancy and goal) change emphasis from needs as in content theory to the goals by which workers are motivated. They attempt to explain and describe how people start, sustain and direct behaviour aimed at the satisfaction of needs.

Vrooms expectancy theory says that an individual’s behaviour is formed not on objective reality but on his subjective perception of that reality. He identified 3 factors that stimulate a person to put an effort into something: Expectancy, Instrumentality and Valence.

Goal theorists (e.g. Locke and Lathlam) suggest that a goal in itself is a motivator i.e. working towards a goal. Performance is seen to improve when persons set up specific rather than vague goals for themselves.

Equity theory provides a very useful elaboration of the process theory of motivation. It focuses on individual’s feelings of how fairly they are treated when compared with how others are treated.

The process and content theories are very relevant to management in the 2000s. Together they give a comprehensive view of the motivational process and take into account the ways individual judges his situation and the link to effective performance. In a world of increased emphasis on cost-efficiency, and employee flexibility, they provide a fruitful direction for managers to take. Motivation however remains a very complex matter to understand because of the dynamic nature of both the human being and the environment.

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