Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

Where do you stand on motivation?

Do you relate to the 'boss-as-decision-maker, carrot and stick approach' or believe that real motivation comes from the employee and the job?

It's worth thinking about because an early theory of management seems to be having a resurgence of popularity and it highlights a real point of difference in the ways we motivate other people.

Technology makes it easy to reduce some work to a minor contribution to a process. The check-out operator at the supermarket simply gives us the routine smile and greeting and passes our groceries through a scanner. Many machine operators pull levers or push buttons eight hours a day. Fast food employees around the world follow a procedure so tightly controlled that their product looks exactly the same whether we buy it in Sydney or New York. The marketing encourages us to expect that sameness and even value it.

It’s clear that limiting an employee’s input allows many highly successful organizations to produce at greater speed, with less cost and more profit. The opportunities to develop others in such organizations are limited to some basic, but clearly useful, skills and habits such as turning up to work on time, working sociably in a team, following instructions and cleanliness.

A very different approach helps our employees develop more sophisticated and useful attributes such as independence, problem-solving skills, creativity, practical and intellectual experience, commitment to long-term goals - as well as motivation.

Enrich their jobs

More than 40 years ago, Frederick Herzberg, professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University, was promoting job enrichment as a way to motivate and improve performance, but it can also develop skills. You could try it at your sports club and with your children too.

Enrichment works if you create jobs that are ‘personalised’, so that the employee can succeed and say. ‘I did that’. Give them authority to make decisions in a complete task, give them the freedom to decide how the job will be done and make them accountable for the results. Herzberg's intial research with typists revealled significant improvements in their performance and motivation - though it took a couple of months for them to adapt to their new independence.

A more recent study gives us more insight into job enrichment and allows us to design work to give people more motivation and satisfaction with their work. Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham studied 658 American workers in blue collar and professional jobs. They confirm the importance of making sure that the jobs are personalized and that employees have autonomy and are held accountable. But Hackman and Oldham added that the work should:

  • require a variety of skills
  • have some significance (and that the employees know that it is significant to the organisation or their colleagues)
  • provide direct and clear feedback.

Hackman and Oldham showed that well-designed jobs were significantly more motivating and that workers were more satisfied with their work, performed better and took fewer days off work.

Enriching jobs is a particularly effective way to develop employees provided the jobs are truly enriched, not just more work for them to do. It’s essential to be prepared for their performance to drop and to provide support and training through what is, for many people, a difficult time of adjustment and growth.


Frederick Herzberg, One more time: how do you motivate employees? Harvard Business Review, Business Classics: fifteen key concepts for managerial success, 1991, pp 13-22

William J. Paul Jr, Keith B. Robertson and Frederick Herzberg, ‘Job enrichment pays off’, Business Classics: Fifteen key concepts for managerial success, 1991, Harvard Business Review pp 141-58

J. Richard Hackman & Greg R. Oldham, Motivation through the design of work: Test of a theory, Organizational Behavior and Performance, 1976, vol. 16, pp 250-79

John Kelly, ‘Does job re-design theory explain job-redesign outcomes?’, Human Relations, 1992, vol. 45, no.8, 753-74

Ronald E. Riggio, Introduction to Industrial/Organizational Psychology, 1996, HarperCollins Colleage Publishers, second edition pp203