Saturday, 8 May 2010

Introducing a framework to motivate staff

Individual motivation definitely represents a topic firmly high at the top of business leaders’ agenda and the theme of a debate which has engaged over time a growing number of HR practitioners and academics. So significant it is assumed to be employee motivation as to many HRM models having been essentially developed with the exclusive intent of providing employers a plan of action enabling these to practically elicit, develop and enhance their employees’ motivation. In essence, it is supposed that individual motivation does represent the real precondition for an employer gaining competitive advantage over its competitors. Yet, individual motivation is also supposed to have a considerable impact on some significant corporate KPIs like productivity and performance to which employers are increasingly attaching a careful, close, constant attention by reason of the sharp competition nowadays characterizing both the global and local markets.

The advanced framework – Table 1 – tries to provide employers with a simple but effective plan of action to achieve the, to put it mildly, ambitious objective.

Table A - Motivation Framework

The first phase of the process is concerned with the identification of individual wants; objective which can be effectively attained by having recourse to content theories. Once employers have identified their employees’ priorities these have to concentrate their efforts on discerning, with the help of process theories, the method individuals adopt to identify and choose, amongst the available options, the best alternative enabling them to satisfy their needs.

The knowledge gained thanks to the implementation of the first two phases of the model should be used by employers to develop and implement the HR practices permitting these to effectively influence the employees’ actions and behaviour. HR policies, which clearly need to be aligned with the overall business strategy, should aim at fostering the behaviour and actions considered crucial by the employer for the successful pursuance of organizational strategy and thus success.

The final stage of the framework is concerned with the identification of the most suitable management style, which consistently with the organizational values and shared beliefs should enable employers to win their workforce trust and inspire integrity.


The importance of the psychological contract
As the process unfolds, employers must constantly pay particular attention to the significance of the psychological contract. Immediately after the establishment of the working relationship in fact both employers and employees create expectations, from which the individuals’ psychological contract essentially develops.

The strength of this unwritten contract sorely depends on the employees’ trust and belief that their employer will “honour this deal” (Guest and Conway, 2002). The eventual breach of this “reciprocal obligation” from the employer’s side, albeit based on an unwritten contract, is very likely to produce remarkable effects in that it would be perceived by employees as a threat to the stability of their job (Porter and al., 2006). Individual commitment and engagement would irreversibly decline and with these the level of employee performance and willingness to go the extra mile. It would clearly be the overall organization’s capability to gain competitive edge which would be thus eventually jeopardized.

Content theories
Many studies and investigations have been conducted over time with the aim of determining whether a direct link between reward and motivation can be actually established. The findings of these studies have led to the formulation of two different theories: one supporting the existence of a strong, direct cause-effect relationship between the two elements (Frederick Taylor, 1917) and the other backing the opposite idea that people are motivated by the social factor only (Mary Parker Follet, 1926 and Elton Mayo, 1949).

As regards this particular aspect, appears to be particularly important to pinpoint whether it can be assumed that individual wants might be consistently, collectively identified and assessed. Alderfer (1972) contends that every person essentially has the same needs. Individual wants are nonetheless differently perceived; this diversity sorely depends on the different importance and level of priority each individual attaches to each need, which essentially accounts for different individuals showing a different attitude towards the same need.

Particularly relevant amongst content theories is also the two-factor theory developed by Frederick Herzberg (1957), according to which individual performance is basically affected by two groupings of factors: “motivator” and “hygiene” factors. The former positively influence performance, whereas the lack of the latter causes individual dissatisfaction. Differently from Frederick Taylor’s, Herzberg reached the conclusion that money does not represent a motivator, but rather a hygiene factor; it can prevent dissatisfaction, but does not positively influence performance. These conclusions are indeed supported by several more recent studies, amongst these the survey carried out by the National Training Awards (2010) according to which 76 percent of respondents claimed that only when seeking a new job they consider pay as the most attractive feature, whereas just a relatively measly 32 percent maintained to be motivated by money.

Process theories
In order for employers to motivate people these clearly need to understand and determine what individuals actually wish and are thus expected to receive. Process theories can definitely help employers to find out how, and on the basis of what, individuals make their decisions, whilst expectancy theories can prove to be particularly valuable to understand the reasoning used by employees to achieve their objective, that is to say reward.

Vroom (1964) developed a theory underpinned by the basic assumptions that people are different, have different needs, differently value results and differently decide what actions take in order to attain an objective. The theory stems from the assumptions that:
- People make efforts (E) to achieve a desired level of performance (P);
- Performance (P) is considered necessary to achieve a particular outcome (O), which produces in turn a reward and is differently valued by each person according to his/her wants;
- Each individual associates with the achievement of the desired outcome a different valence (V). An individual ascribing more significance, for instance, to personal growth gives valence to the career prospects offered by his/her employer and behaves in a way leading to that outcome. By contrast, an employee associating a higher value with personal relationships gives valence to other types of behaviour and outcome (Vroom, 1964).

Assuming “F” to express the “force” applied or the degree of motivation, the whole process can be represented as follows:

F = (E P) x (P O) x V

Where (E) – Efforts, (P) – Performance, (O) – Outcome, (V) – Valence

According to Vroom (1964), individuals create expectations, which influence in turn their behaviour and motivation, based on the assumptions that:

- The efforts made lead to performance (E P)

- The performance reached leads to an outcome that individuals value (P O)

Motivation is thus mainly influenced by two factors, which need to be appropriately known by employers, the individual expectations that:

- Efforts lead to performance;

- The level of performance attained yields valued results.

The importance a person attaches to an outcome gives the measure of his motivation for that specific outcome (Vroom, 1964). Whether individuals believe that despite the efforts they produce they will never be able to reach the standard of performance required by their employer, their motivation is destined to equal zero (P O = 0). Exactly the same result is likely to be obtained whether individuals should believe that the level of their current performance will never enable them to yield the expected results.


Tools to investigate individual wants
Once employers have become acquainted with the way individuals make their choices and form their preferences, to more specifically identify their content employers should organize specific proceedings such as “have your say” sessions, staff consultation forums, large group sessions, internal surveys and similar initiatives (How the changing content of the psychological contract influences reward packages design).


HRM Practices and the role of Managers
During the development of HRM practices, HR Professionals should invariably ensure that these sorely align with the overall business strategy. HRM policies should be hence developed to foster those actions and induce the behaviour considered as appropriate by the employer for the attainment of the desired objectives. HR practices should not only align with the overall business strategy, but should indeed also enable employers to foster the organization’s values and shared beliefs in order to ultimately inspire integrity within the business.

Employers truly considering human capital as the most valuable asset to their organization should have no doubt about the appropriateness of the soft approach to HRM as the best option to which having recourse to in order to motivate staff and enhance individual productivity, as opposed to the hard approach which considers people just as a common resource (Fombrun and al., 1984) and whose adoption typically leads to employees being less engaged, motivated and thus less productive.

The findings of an investigation recently carried out in Ireland by the Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School (Roche, 2011) reveals that, under some circumstances, employers may be justified whether, having no additional options, should adopt the hard HRM approach in combination with the soft one. A blended approach to hard and soft HR management can prove to be effective and indeed necessary, for instance, to help employers to overcome economic difficulties and emerge from downturn periods. Notwithstanding, also under sorely unfavourable financial and economic circumstances, organizations should avert to exclusively resort to the hard approach to HRM. The “soft” approach, underpinned by the central idea which people represent a valuable resource whose abilities, skills and capabilities can genuinely enable employers to gain competitive edge, effectually contributes to the creation of a motivated, committed and satisfied workforce capable to attain excellent levels of performance (Legge, 2005).

To produce effective and long-lasting results HR practices should be hence based on seven crucial pillars:

- Job security and career prospects,

- Selective and sophisticated recruitment procedures,

- Training and development opportunities,

- Status differentiation reduction,

- Effective communications and information circulation,

- Fair compensation depending on performance,

- Teamwork (Pfeffer, 1998).

The HR practices inspired by these tenets will enable employers to create a stimulating and productive work environment (Marchington and Wilkinson, 2005). Since one size does not fit all, nonetheless, each organization should use the elements which best fit its case; HR policies invariably need to be differently adapted according to every organization aims and objectives. As a general rule, the inspiring principle should be based on the “additive effect” (Porter and al., 2006), according to which the results yielded by every single practice will be reinforced by the introduction and implementation of some others, ultimately producing a synergic effect enabling businesses to obtain a more valuable output.

A bundle of consistent and coherent HR practices certainly contributes to enhance the quality of an organization output and its level of productivity (Guest et al., 2000). Nonetheless, the circumstance that several policies exist within an organization does not necessarily imply that these are effectively, consistently and appropriately managed and executed: to this extent the role of the business management is clearly paramount.

A research study conducted to understand the essence of the link existing between HRM policies and performance according to the AMO (Ability, Motivation, Opportunity) model actually confirms the significance of the influence exerted by managers on staff performance (Purcell et al., 2003). In particular, the study shows that also when organizations introduce practices promoting motivation, job security, communication and involvement, capable to potentially produce “human capital advantage”, these policies need to be supported by “human process advantage” (Purcell et al., 2003), that is, a management willing and able to consistently and effectively execute these practices.

Research also confirms that it is rather impossible for employees stay engaged whether their work is monotonous and poorly designed. Managers should be warned of the greater importance assumed by their role and made aware of the significance of their contribution to the effective and efficient design of their direct reports job (MacLeod and Clarke, 2009).

The “job enrichment” model developed by Hackman and Holdham (1980) can effectively help to explain how managers can practically contribute to the enhancement of employee engagement and satisfaction. This model is based on three “psychological states”, which whether unsatisfied cause low motivation, to wit:

• “Experienced meaningfulness”, which refers to the importance individuals attach to the job these perform. The more an employee perceives his job as important, the higher his level of motivation;

• “Experienced responsibility”, which refers to the circumstance that an employee wants to take and assume responsibility for the quality and quantity of his/her output;

• “Knowledge of results”, which underscores the importance attached by each person to the need of receiving feedback about his/her job.

These “psychological states” are in turn influenced by the task features, namely:

• The variety of skills necessary to perform the task.

The more varied the task, the wider the range of skills required to perform it and the more compelling the employee perception of his/her job;

• The significance of the task performed.

Whether the task is valued an individual is likely to be much more motivated;

• The latitude allowed to individuals when it comes to performing their task.

The more considerable the degree of latitude given to individuals, the more significant is likely to be perceived by employees their individual contribution to the attainment of the organizational objectives.


Currie (2006) suggests that managers can contribute to motivate employees providing them autonomy, opportunities for teamwork and flexibility, and letting them perceive their job as interesting and valuable. Managers, who clearly express appreciation of their staff contribution, treat them as individuals and empower employees, clearly play a remarkable role in their engagement process and can be acknowledged as engaging staff (MacLeod and Clarke, 2009). As contended by Boddy (2008), in order for managers to induce motivation these should offer individuals the reward these value the most, establish a clear line of sight between performance and reward and constantly give employees feedback.

The central importance of the role played by managers is stressed by the dictum “Employees leave their managers and not their employers” (Buckingham and Coffman, 2005). Managers should be aware and never forget that, as put it differently by McLeod and Clarke (2009), people join organizations, but leave their managers. The importance of managers, but also their impossibility to fully attain their personal and unit objectives in the event these do not receive the necessary support from their direct reports, is stressed by Rosemary Stewart (1967), who defines managers as those who gets things done with the help of other people and resources. To receive that help, nonetheless, the appropriate leadership style and behaviour is indeed necessary. In every instance, the leadership style must be appropriate and invariably respectful of human capital. Even under adverse economic circumstances, expressing concern just for production and not also for people would definitely represent a massive blunder.

According to the 3D Grid model developed by William Reddin (1970) (obtained by adding a third dimension, that is to say “effectiveness”, to the model developed in 1964 and 1979 by Blake and Moulton, which was only based on “task” and “people” orientations), the most appropriate leadership approach managers should adopt to devote the required degree of attention to both people and task is what he defined as the “executive” style. This style, also intended to favour employee efforts, induce mangers to set “high standards” whilst recognising some differences amongst people and their preferences, which combined with their open interest to both results and people, make them effective motivators. As Reddin (1970) suggests, there is not an ideal management style; to ensure flexibility a contingent approach hence definitely represents the best option.

Total Reward
Amongst HRM practices, reward policies are recently increasingly attracting employers’ interest. Since it is nowadays widely recognised that financial reward hasn’t a powerful, if any, influence on individual motivation, reward should be most aptly extensively regarded as total reward.

Several and divergent theories have been indeed formulated over time about financial reward and its impact on staff motivation. The study conducted in Ireland by Roche (2011) revealed that some of the hard HR measures taken by employers were intended to reduce employee pay; the simultaneous adoption of the soft HR approach was actually intended to prevent and counterbalance the negative impact on motivation which should have been caused by having exclusive recourse to the hard HR approach (aiming in essence at reducing financial rewards).

This is indeed a good example of the “hygiene” role played by financial reward. In this instance a pay reduction is indeed seen, as was intended by Hertzberg, as a factor potentially likely to trigger demotivating effects. Despite a pay increase is unlikely to positively impact individual motivation, by contrast, its reduction is likely to produce detrimental effects to this extent. Notwithstanding, extrinsic reward too should play a role and should be hence taken into consideration, as part of a whole, in a framework aiming at enabling employers to motivate staff.

Total reward, as a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards, clearly takes into due consideration the results obtained by Hertzberg by means of his studies. Intrinsic components of reward represent motivating factors, whereas extrinsic rewards, that is to say the hygiene or healing components, may help employers to ultimately curb and contain the eventual decrease in motivation.
Individuals are different and differently value things, these can thus differently attach importance to intrinsic or extrinsic rewards:
- Intrinsic rewards relate to the job and are represented by the benefits individuals derive from the job experience. They can be expressed by a feeling of achievement, accomplishment, satisfaction and recognition;
- Extrinsic rewards are separated from the job and refer to the benefits provided by the others, to wit: pay increases, cash bonuses, company shares, profit sharing and so forth (Total reward – What should be considered before addressing the issue and Can Total Reward be considered an additional model of HRM?).
Several studies reveal that individual performance is actually positively influenced by financial reward when to perform the job are required mechanical skills only, whereas financial reward can produce even counterproductive effects when jobs require, for instance, creativity. In the latter case, financial reward even seems to act as an inhibitor of creativity and good performance. This circumstance might be explained by the fact that whether a job just requires mechanical gestures and movements an individual can derive satisfaction only from the speed and frequency this is able to produce output. There is nothing else this can do to improve the production process; neither have this any other option available to him/her to influence the quality of his/her output. The low Growth Need Strength (GNS) theory too may actually come to play and help to explain the phenomenon (How the changing content of the psychological contract influences reward packages design).

The total reward approach can indeed effectually support employers in the establishment of a motivating workplace, what matters the most is that this is designed and developed consistently and coherently with individual wants and expectations.

Individual well-being
Well-being is fundamental for individual motivation. Engagement is not just about macro-economics, the individual psychological self-being provides indeed valuable, measurable benefits to an organization (MacLeod and Clarke, 2009). This is indeed influenced by a number of factors: the behaviour exhibited by line managers, the meaningfulness of the tasks performed by employees, the level of stress characterizing the workplace, the individual possibility to enjoy an appropriate life-work balance, the sense of belonging developed by employees and the robustness of their psychological contract.

Many organizations invest in these specific aspects attaining measurable benefits in terms of reduced absenteeism and turnover rates. In order for employers to attain this objective, notwithstanding, these need to inspire and foster integrity. To this extent it is sorely crucial that managers behave consistently and coherently with the organization shared values, beliefs, culture and vision.


Longo, R., (2010), Introducing a framework to motivate staff, HR Professionals, [online].