Employee Motivation: A Powerful New Model

I have read and reviewed almost all of the anthologies of articles previously published in Harvard Business Review. Recently I re-read several that are relevant to books I am now reading and will soon review. Here’s one of the articles, co-authored by Nitin Nohria (recently appointed dean of Harvard Business School), Boris Groysberg (HBS) , and Linda-Eling Lee (Center for Research on Corporate Performance) that was first published in HBR about three years ago. Here is a very brief explanation of what it offers.

Motivating employees begins with recognizing that to do their best work, people must be in an environment that meets their basic emotional drives to acquire, bond, comprehend, and defend. So say Nohria and Groysberg, of Harvard Business School, and Lee, of the Center for Research on Corporate Performance. Using the results of surveys they conducted with employees at a wide range of Fortune 500 and other companies, they developed a model for how to increase workplace motivation dramatically.

The authors identify the organizational levers that companies and frontline managers have at their disposal as they try to meet workers’ deep needs. Reward systems that truly value good performance fulfill the drive to acquire. The drive to bond is best met by a culture that promotes collaboration and openness. Jobs that are designed to be meaningful and challenging meet the need to comprehend. Processes for performance management and resource allocation that are fair, trustworthy, and transparent address the drive to defend.

Equipped with real-world company examples, the authors articulate how to apply these levers in productive ways. That application should not be selective, they argue, because a holistic approach gets you more than a piecemeal one. By using all four levers simultaneously, and thereby tackling all four drives, organizations can improve motivation levels by leaps and bounds. For example, a company that falls in the 50th percentile on employee motivation improves only to the 56th by boosting performance on one drive, but way up to the 88th percentile by doing better on all four drives.

That’s a powerful gain in competitive advantage that any business would relish.

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