Basic Assumptions about Motivation and Motivating

Managers and management researchers have long believed that organizational goals are unattainable without the enduring commitment of members of the organization. Motivation is a human psychological characteristic that contributes to a person’s degree of commitment. It includes the factors that cause, channel and sustain human behavior in a particular committed direction. Motivating is the management process of influencing people’s behavior based on this knowledge of ‘what makes people tick’. Motivation and motivating both deal with the range of conscious human behavior somewhere between two extremes (1) reflex actions, such as a sneeze or flutter of the eyelids and (2) learned habits such as brushing one’s teeth or handwriting style.

You need to understand several basic assumptions as we delve into theories of motivation and motivational practices by managers.

First, motivation is commonly assumed to be assumed to be a good thing. Do you ever hear people praised for being unmotivated? We are taught in a variety of settings (including school, church, family, work, and organized sports) that you can’t feel very good about yourself if you are unmotivated. Wal-Mart puts this assumption about motivation into daily practice.

Second, motivation is one of several factors that go into a person’s performance. Important too, are such factors as ability, resources and conditions under which one performs. You can be highly motivated to pursue a career helping people as a medical professional. But to that motivation must be added to your scientific ability, learning resources at your college (such as up-to-date laboratories), and such conditions as regular access to your professors. Wal-Mart associates get latitude to act – a kind of resources in addition to receiving motivational messages from their supervisors.

Third, managers and researchers alike assume that motivation is in short supply and in need of periodic replenishment. Motivation is like the heat in a house during winter months in Northern climates. Because heat gradually escapes, the furnace must cycle on frequently to maintain the warmth of the house. Motivation theory and motivational practices deal with processes that never really end, based on the assumption that motivation can ‘escape’ over time.

Fourth, motivation is a tool with which managers can arrange job relationships in organizations. If managers know what drives the people working for them, they can tailor job assignments and rewards to what makes these people ‘tick’. Thus, knowledge about motivation joins strategic plans as inputs into the process of designing relationships at organizations and distributing power in those work relationships. The Wal-Mart store visits and the responsibility given to associates are two cases in point.

All these assumptions run deep in the discussion about the evolution of motivation theory that follows the example below. At the same time these assumptions are not necessarily timeless.

Ownership is motivating at Springfield Remanufacturing Corp:

At Springfield Re-manufacturing Corp, (SRC) survival was a key motivating force. Once a part of International Harvester, Springfield was cut loose by the financially troubled parent. Harvester offered to sell the company to the former employees, who accepted the challenge, even though they would have a large debt load. The 119 new owners, managers, supervisors and workers set out to enter what they termed the ‘great game of business’.

Two slogans guided their actions and motivated them. You get what you give and it is easy to stop one guy, but pretty hard to stop 119. To play the game successfully they felt, they needed to think in untraditional ways about how a company should be run. Their idea was that at the heart of the game of business is the simple proposition that the best most efficient most profitable way to operate a business is to give everyone in the company a voice in saying how the company is run, stake in the financial outcome good or bad. The rewards of the game are continuous improvement in the livelihood of everyone involved.

SRC remanufactures engines and engine components, a noisy, dirty business. The key to the success and growth was educating all the employees about the business and sharing knowledge so that everyone could do his or her job as well possible. New recruits to the company are told that only 70 percent of the job is disassembly or other tasks; the other 30 percent is learning. All receive basic financial training on understanding and making money. The training is reinforced at meetings designed to promote team spirit and help everyone make sense of the business.