The Myth of Motivation

How can employees be motivated? Not at all!

Dr. Marcus Raitner

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A great deal has already been written about human motivation and especially the motivation of employees. The best and shortest summary of it is by Douglas McGregor, who significantly influenced my work on the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership with his book “The Human Side of Enterprise” and his Theory X and Theory Y:

The answer to the question managers so often ask of behavioral scientists “How do you motivate people?” is, “You don’t.”

Douglas McGregor, 1966. Leadership and motivation: essays

Of course McGregor does not mean that people are generally unmotivated. We all have experienced what it is like to be enthusiastic about something and to burn for something, and to be able to work on it or play with it and get into that state that the psychologist and author Mihály Csíkszentmihályi described as “flow”. So this human motivation exists without a doubt.

But that was not the question at issue either. The question was, how can one arouse motivation in other people? And according to Douglas McGregor, there is only one correct answer to this question: Not at all! Real motivation always comes from within. External incentives at best provide movement, but never motivation.

The foundation for this insight is for Douglas McGregor, too, the groundbreaking article by Abraham Maslow “A Theory of Human Motivation” published in 1943. In it, Maslow classified human needs into various categories and ranked them. According to this theory, the basis is formed by elementary physiological needs such as eating and drinking. They are followed by basic needs for physical and mental security and also basic financial security. Next come social needs such as belonging, friendship and communication, followed by individual needs including trust, recognition, status, importance, and respect from others.

According to Maslow these first four are deficiency needs, because the non-fulfillment leads on the one hand to physical or mental damage and on the other hand the overfulfillment of these needs does not bring any additional benefit after a certain degree of saturation…

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Dr. Marcus Raitner

Agile by nature | Rebel without a pause | Working out loud