August 5, 2013


Motivation - Definition

Motivation is a process that starts with a physiological or psychological deficiency or need that activates a behavior or drive that is aimed at a goal or incentive.
Thus, the process involves needs, which set drives in motion to accomplish a goal  (anything that alleviates a need and reduces a drive).
To understand the process of motivation, one has to understand the meaning of need, drive, and goal and the relationships among them.

Needs, Drives and Goals (Incentives)

Needs: Needs are created  or come into existence whenever there is a physiological or psychological imbalance. A need exists when cells in the body are experiencing a shortage of food or water.
Drives: A drive is a deficiency with a direction. Drives denote actions and intention to act by individuals and they are exhibited to alleviate needs.   Drives and motives are terms used interchangeably. Drives provide an energizing thrust toward reaching an incentive or goal.
Incentives or goals: Anything that will alleviate a need is an incentive or goal in the motivation cycle.  Attaining an incentive or goal will tend to restore physiological or psychological balance and will reduce the drive up to zero level.
The concept of needs was discussed further at this stage by Luthans. It will appear as Maslow's hierarchy of needs at a later stage in the discussion of motivation theories.


The drives, or motives, may be classified into primary (and general), and secondary categories.
The primary motives are unlearned and physiologically based. Common primary motives are hunger, thirst, sleep, avoidance of pain, sex, and maternal concern.
Luthans has written that a separate classification for general motives is not always given.  But such a category is useful. The general (also termed stimulus) motives are also unlearned but are not physiologically based. Curiosity, manipulation, activity, and affection are examples of general motives.
Secondary motives are learned motives. They are more interesting in the study of organizational behavior. The needs for power, achievement, affiliation, security, and status are major motivating forces in the behavior of organizational participants.
Motivator can be a general term that can describe a need, a motive, incentive or a person.
Motivators can be extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivators are the visible consequences external to the individual (e.g., money), usually contingently administered by others, to motivate the individual. Intrinsic motivators are internal to the individual, and are self-induced to learn, achieve, or in some way better oneself.

Content Theories of Motivation

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs that set up drives. Physiological needs when present in a person take precedence and drives to satisfy the physiological needs dominate other drives. Then come safety needs. Next in the precedence are love needs. Esteem needs and self actualization needs set up drives subsequently.  A philosopher once commented that hungry stomachs cannot listen to the necessity of thinking about the higher world.
 Hierarchy of needs
Self actualization needs
Esteem needs
Love needs
Safety needs
Physiological needs
This theory made managements aware of diverse needs of people and also on the necessity of finding the dominant need of a person at a point in time.

Alderfer's model

Alderfer identified three groups of core needs.
The existence needs are concerned with survival (physiological well-being).
The relatedness needs stress the importance of interpersonal, social relationships.
The growth needs concerned with the individual's intrinsic desire for personal development.

Herzberg's two factor theory

Hygiene factors
Company policy and administration
Supervision, technical
Interpersonal relations, supervisor behavior
Working conditions

Work itself
Luthans has commented that although such a content approach has surface logic, is easy to understand and can be readily translated into practice, the research evidence points out some definite limitations. There is very little research support for these models' theoretical basis and predictability. The trade-off for simplicity sacrifices true understanding of the complexity of work motivation. On the positive side, however, the content models have given emphasis to important content factors.  In addition, the Alderfer model allows more flexibility, and the Herzberg model is useful as an explanation for job satisfaction and as a point of departure for practical application to enrich jobs.

Process Theories

The process theories provide a much sounder theoretical explanation of work motivation. The expectancy model of Vroom and the extensions and refinements provided by Porter and Lawler help explain the important cognitive variables and how they relate to one another in the complex process of work motivation. The Porter-Lawler model also gives specific attention to the important relationship between performance and satisfaction. Porter and Lawler propose that performance leads to satisfaction, instead of the human relations assumption of the reverse. A growing research literature is somewhat supportive of these expectancy models, but conceptual and methodological problems remain. Unlike the content models, these expectancy models are relatively complex and difficult to translate into actual practice, and, consequently, they have made a contribution but are not the final answer for motivation in the field of organizational behavior and human resource performance.

More recently, in academic circles, equity theory has received increased attention. Equity theory, which is based on perceived input-outcome ratios of oneself compared to relevant other(s), can lead to increased understanding of the complex cognitive process of work motivation but has the same limitation as the expectancy models for prediction and control in the practice of human resource management. More recently, this equity theory has been applied to the analysis of organizational justice in the workplace.
Control and agency theories, coming from other disciplines, are representative of other approaches receiving recent research attention in organizational behavior.


Managers cannot use only one motivation theory. There is a need to combine motivation theories and use them simultaneously as well as appropriately. To elaborate the idea further Maslow's theory and Herzberg's theory are not opposing theories. Equity theory does not oppose other theories. It brings out the importance of equity in any organization. Even highly paid managers, will become depressed if they are treated unfairly at any stage in their career.

Cross-Cultural Studies

 Cross-cultural studies of motivation are taking place in two areas. First, variances and similarities among motives and the relative importance of motives tend to indicate that there are routine differences in various cultures. Second, continuing research is oriented toward the understanding of which motivational theories are culture bound and which are more applicable to cultures other than the United States.


Luthans, Fred, Organizational Behavior, 9th Edition, McGraw Hill, New York, 2002

Interesting Web Pages to Refer to

Hull's Theory (Motivation),
Making Employee Motivation - A Partnership



Updated 5.8.2013
Published on blog on 8.12.2011
Article originally posted in motivation
Knol Number 162
The article got 100 pages in a day in Google Analytics data on 23.6.2010

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