Tuesday, December 30, 2008

300 Leading Companies Reveal THE Four Drivers of Employee Motivation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My first job after graduate school was coordinating research at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD). I had the privilege of working with an extraordinary team led by luminary leader, Dr. Victor Froelicher. In the four years that our small, productive, and highly motivated team was together, we published 33 major research papers. Several members of our team went on to become productive leaders in their respective fields. What accounted for such productivity, effectiveness, and motivation? The latest research in neuroscience, biology, and psychology confirm that Dr. Froelicher created an environment that satisfied the four fundamental drives (the ABCDs) of human motivation.

Professor Nohria and his colleagues from Harvard surveyed employees at 300 of the Fortune 500 companies (1). They found that you can motivate your team IF you address these four basic, emotional drives:

MotivationReaching$j0378983 A. Acquire. This drive relates to our desire to obtain physical goods, positive experiences, and social status. It is a relative drive - meaning we always compare what we have to others. Many leaders think this drive is met when everyone receives the same share of a reward or perk, regardless of their contribution. NOT TRUE! Equal is often not fair. Dr. Froelicher satisfied this drive by making sure rewards were clearly tied to performance. For example, we were not invited to go to scientific meetings unless we had our research accepted for presentation. The rule was clear and fair: if you didn't conduct excellent research, you didn't attend scientific meetings. How should your employee rewards better differentiate good performers from average performers?

Bondj0198096jpg B. Bond. Human beings have an internal impulse to connect to others. This includes small groups such as our families, as well as larger collectives, including organizations, associations, and nations. At work, employees who feel proud of an organization are very motivated. At UCSD, Dr. Froelicher fostered bonding among coworkers by having Friday afternoon parties, occasional picnics at the beach, and encouraging us to exercise together. In addition, we frequently collaborated with other divisions. We attended their meetings, invited them to ours, and shared best practices. How might you motivate your team by building more camaraderie, collaboration, and cross-functional communication?

To educate C. Comprehend. Everybody wants to make sense of the world around them. We become frustrated when things don't make sense. At work, people try to satisfy this drive by making meaningful contributions. This was satisfied at UCSD because we had a wide latitude in the type of research each of us was able to conduct. We were able to investigate areas that we found interesting and meaningful. We also contributed to each others comprehension by educating each other at our numerous staff and research meetings. How could you increase job flexibility and lifelong learning on your team?

Defendj0082441jpg D. Defend. We all want to defend our property, positions, and accomplishments. This drive is rooted in the fight or flight mechanism that has evolved over millions of years. In a competitive market, staying in touch with what may threaten you is critical and motivating. Knowing that we were competing for very limited research funds kept motivated at UCSD. How can you motivate your team regarding market conditions, threats, and opportunities?

These are the ABCDs of human motivation. (Check out http://blogs.bnet.com/harvard/?p=517#comments for other ideas.) Don't worry if you are unable to affect all of these to the degree you would like. Fortunately, employees understand that there are limits to the boss's ability to change policies. Research tells us that employees attribute as much importance to their bosses meeting these drives as they do to the organization's policies.

So, let me know your favorite motivational tools or how you choose to adapt these ideas to meet the four core, emotional needs of your team members.

Keep on eXpanding,


1. Nitin Nohria, Boris Groysberg, and Linda-Eling Lee; Employee Motivation - A Powerful New Model, ‘Harvard Business Review,’ July-August 2008, 78 - 84.


Bob Gunn said...

Never realized this was so important until I read this blog. I will certainly incorporate these four drivers into my daily routine, and hopefully see some improvement in the future. Thanks again
Bob Gunning

Dave Jensen, Leadership Expert said...

Thanks Bob,

I was amazed at how powerful the research has shown that these four fundamental drivers of employee motivation really are. Keep them in front of you and you're sure to have motivated employees.

Thanks again for your comments, Dave