Different Types of Motivation Theories

Motivation in the workplace Employee Motivation in the Workplace: Different Types of Motivation Theories
Part 3

Does money motivate people effectively? In part 1 of this series on HR theories of motivation, we answered that question. No.

Well, if not money, how do we create an environment where people are motivated?
Check part 2. The key: create productive work relationships.

But people are different; so how do we build productive work relationships with all types of people? In this last installment on workplace motivation, we’ll cover some of the main theories for how various people motivate themselves.

Of the many different types of motivation theories, I would like to highlight three that are of particular use:

  1. David Merrill and Roger Reid’s work on the four personal styles
  2. David McClelland’s theory of motivation involving three basic needs: achievement, power, and affiliation
  3. Fredrick Herzberg’s work on money as a demotivator at work

There are many more good motivation theories – Maslow, Myers-Briggs, etc. – but I’ve found these three to be most useful in managing groups.

The Power of Intrinsic Motivation

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The starting point for all three different types of motivation theories is that they are built on the concept that intrinsic motivation is much stronger than extrinsic. This bedrock fundamental is perhaps the most powerful concept to apply in your work; see my post on top employee motivators for a more thorough review of incentive plans.

Briefly, it means that to get great results, you need people to be intrinsically interested in their work. Your efforts to control, set expectations, and reward people are all methods of extrinsic motivation, which helps explain why managers are often disappointed with employee results when relying on those motivation tools.

So, to help you get better results, here are three methods of intrinsic motivation that all build on that intrinsic bedrock.

Employee Motivation Theory 1: Personal Styles

In their theory on motivating different types of people, Merrill and Reid identify four personal styles:

Style Major Drivers Prefers to
Driver Action Oriented: Focus is on present time frame, direct action. Minimum concern for caution in relationships. Tends to reject inaction. Control, Tell
Expressive Intuition Oriented: Focus is on involving others, future time frame. Minimum concern for routine. Tends to reject isolation. Emote, Tell
Amiable Relationship Oriented: Focus is on relating, supporting; present time frame. Minimum concern for affecting change. Tends to reject conflict. Emote, Ask
Analytical Thinking Oriented: Focus is on cautious action, “getting it right”, historical time frame, cautious action. Minimum concern for relationships. Tends to reject being wrong. Control, Ask

* Information adapted from their book, Personal Styles & Effective Performance.

Application: To help people feel connected intrinsically with their work, structure their work so these personal style needs are met.


Style More Effective Less Effective
Driver • When you want to make a point, ask, as in, “What do you think of this idea?”

• Get things done quickly that are going to be effective, even if they aren’t perfected.

• When you want to make a point, lecturing them, as in, “Here’s how it is."

• Spending time in reflection and consideration, in an attempt to perfect.

Expressive • Make work a party while you’re getting stuff done; breathe life into work.

• Make use of their good gut instincts.
• Spend 3 hours in a room sequentially creating a step-by-step checklist.

• Don’t trust them until they can “prove it.”
Amiable • Include effectively when a group tackles a project, and not just the “amiable” coworker; they’ll feels others’ “pain” if their input is excluded.

• Act trustworthy, and trust them.
• Try to get results through intimidation and application of stress.

• Divide and conquer; use conflict – of ideas, of emotions – to try to get best results
Analytical • Give them space to get grounded – to get it “right” – before they proceed to action.

• Assign complex problems where you need absolute confidence in the details.
• Use conflict to try to get best results.

• Push, push, push, especially if towards an outcome that favors your self-interest.

• Ask them to “wing it”, to bet the company on their “hunch.”

Employee Motivation Theory 2: McClelland’s Theory of Motivation

Style More Effective Less Effective
Seek: To excel; may avoid both low- and high-risks as a result, in order to pursue meaningful success. Work alone or with other high achievers
Seek: Either personal or institutional power. Either way they want to direct others, but the institutional power is in service to the institution’s success, so those with that focus tend to make better managers. Direct others
Seek: Harmonious work relationships, to accept, to be accepted, and to include others. They can be more comfortable conforming to group norms. Work in settings with significant personal interaction

Application: To help people connect intrinsically with their work, structure their work so their major need is met. The “Power” need correlates to the “Driver” above; “Affiliation” to the “Amiable” above.

What’s new here is the “Achievement” need. It can cut across all the Merrill and Reid personal motivation styles. The key here is to surround high achievers with other high achievers. To be their best, they need to know they’re on a team capable of pulling off a worthwhile, attainable mission.

Employee Motivation Theory 3: Money as a De-Motivator

Frederick Herzberg was a clinical psychologist and pioneer of “job enrichment.” He proposed the Motivation-Hygiene Theory, also known as the two factor theory of job satisfaction. According to his theory, people are influenced by two sets of factors:

Motivator Factors Hygiene Factors
• Work itself
• Responsibility
• Promotion
• Growth
• Achievement
• Recognition
• Pay and benefits
• Company policy and administration
• Relationships with co-workers
• Physical environment
• Supervision
• Status
• Job security
• Salary

Application: To create an environment where people motivate themselves, you must adequately take care of the hygiene factors. If you don’t, demotivated employees will likely result. The key here is that “adequate” is enough; you don’t need an outstanding physical environment because it won’t increase employee motivation noticeably. In sum, the “hygiene factors” have a downside if not done well, but not much of an upside potential impact on employees, even if they’re done very well.

Then, allow the “motivator factors” to work for you – these are the factors that have the real upside and can make a strong contribution to your results. And note, they are almost all methods of intrinsic motivation.

The one “extrinsic” item on the list, recognition, can be made intrinsic if it’s in the form of encouragement, rather than as a reward. For example, in Soul of a New Machine, Tracey Kidder writes that the “reward” for successful hi tech engineers is…the chance to tackle the next cool project! “Congratulations on the great results. I’m not at all surprised. Now let’s figure out how you can make that kind of an impact again,” is more powerful than “Atta boy/girl” in whatever form, whether bonus, plaque, employee of the month award, etc.

A Summary of Employee Motivation Theories

Employee motivation is simple.

  • You can’t motivate people.
  • You can provide an environment where people motivate themselves.
  • Apply what you know about people’s styles to strengthen their individual work “environment.”
  • And along the way, focus, focus, focus on intrinsic motivation factors.
  • Which means: Build strong work relationships and expand those relationships so that more is possible.

These different types of motivation theories are simple in concept. What makes it hard is that all of the above mean building a healthy, vibrant work environment, and that work is as vulnerable as building any other effective relationship in your life.

Hopefully, in these posts on employee motivation, we’ve given you some signposts to help guide the way.

As always, we’re curious about your thoughts!


Stuart Jennings

Part 1 - Motivation in the Workplace: Why It's Not All About Money

Part 2 - Motivation in the Workplace: Top Employee Motivators

Part 3 - Different Types of Motivation Theories

Is there an HR management topic you would like to see covered on Compensation Today? Write us at comptoday@payscale.com.


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