How to apply the different motivation theories in the appropriate management practices?

By | April 15, 2014

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1.      Brief introduction


In today’s management practice, there are more and more companies that are changing their motivation philosophy to a more humanized, supportive way, so will the traditional scientific way of stimulating employees with money fail and disappear? Or it has kept its effectiveness in some areas. On the other hand, the corporate culture especially the leadership is also undergone dramatic changes as it become more and more popular, although there are relatively less debates and studies on the gender differences over the leadership styles, later in the essay this interesting and worth study topic would be examined and discuses. Then this easy will talk about one of the most popular topic in the modern management theory, the corporate culture. In this part, summarizing benefit of corporate culture and blocks to its creation would be done following by some personal recommendations trying to overcome the blocks to the corporate culture. To make it simple, this essay are trying to explore such areas in trying to answering the following questions:


Q1 How to apply the different motivation theories in the appropriate management practices?


Q2 What are the benefits of corporate cultural, and how to overcome the difficulties in the cultural creation process?


Q3 How is corporate culture works as a strategy to achieve organizational goals? And how to overcome the difficulties appeared in its creation process?




2.      Part 1 Explain motivation to managers


2.1  Importance of motivation in management practice


In today’s human resource management practice, managers may find it hard to make the full use of the employees as human resource because employees are not machines and they are not simply working for the fixed salary, they are expecting more from the employers. And different individuals would not necessarily demand the same thing. And so here comes the concept and theories of employee motivations. Motivation is the activation or energization of goal-oriented behavior (Higueras 2009). And for the employee motivations, motivating the employees towards fulfilling the goals that are set the companies at least has three advantages.


Firstly, low employee turnover rate could be achieved. Infosys, a leading global IT service provider and consulting firm is found by some analysis that its competitiveness has close relationship with its low employee turnover rate, during the 1990s the employee turnover rate of Infosys was around 11 percent compared to the average 25 percent in the IT industry (Tarafdar 2009). And the low employee turnover rate was resulted from the good motivation strategy that the company adopted. Infosys is the first Indian company to provide stock option to employees. And by motivating its employees as precious assets, the company was able to keep a low employee turnover rate and earn competitiveness.


Secondly, employee motivation makes smooth resistance of change from employees such as innovation which would meet resistance from employees, for example in a old large scale manufacturing factory in which a change of equipment program is under processed, the workers may not be happy to accepting the change as they have to learn to use the new equipments and at the beginning of the change, misuse of the new equipments may lead to some accidents that increase the resistance from the employees mentally in particular. In this scenario, compensation and other motivation means could be helpful to reduce the blocks and put the change back on the track.


Last but not least, successful employee motivation could keep the employee providing high productivity and quality service. Just as the old Chinese saying goes: men die for fortune, birds die for feeding (Li, Qing dynasty), only if there is enough of bate, most people could die for it, nor to mention meeting the requirement of the companies to work in high productivity and quality service. In other words, peoples are willing and like to do the job because they are motivated.


2.2  Motivation theory


As Twyla Dell (1988) wrote about employee motivation, “the more you are able to provide what they (employees) want, the more you should expect what you really want, namely: productivity, quality, and service”. So before introducing the theories to motivate our employees, it is necessary and to some extent fundamental to examine the needs of an individual which is also the base of the motivating theories which would be elaborated below.


One famous model of analyzing the needs of human beings is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Maslow 1943) which is the base of many motivation theories. As stated in Figure 1.0 below, Maslow has divided the needs of human beings into five levels through his research with many successful people and the best 1% of the college students (Maslow 1954). There are several assumptions in this model: Firstly, from bottom to top, the five layers of needs are progressing and until the lower layers’ need are met, the above layer’s need would not be demanded. Secondly, because of the gradual progressing, the number of people with higher needs will decrease accordingly, that’s why the shape of the hierarchy is a pyramid. Thirdly, only unsatisfied needs will motivate people to try to meet the needs.


Figure 1.0 Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Resource: Docsiva 2009


Base on the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Douglas McGregor (1960) in his book “The human side of enterprise divided these five layers of need into two levels, physiological and safety needs are grouped as lower order and love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization as higher order and base on this classification and he developed two distinct motivation theories Theory X and Theory Y for managers to motivate employees.


2.2.1        Theory X


The basic assumption of theory X is that: workers’ needs are in the lower order of the Maslow’ hierarchy need, they are demanding security more than anything, they are lazy and from their heart hate the work but they have to work to earn salary. Usually these employees are in low positions in the companies such as production workers, cashiers, security guard and so on. The managers of these employees in the theory X tend to use strict supervision to guide the employees in the expected way.


As the most used motivation theory in the modern management practice the advantages of theory X are great. Firstly, this theory is applicable to most employees as the major of employees are actually seeking money by work, and it is true that many of them will avoid responsibility and work overtime if possible. Secondly, especially in the lower level of the companies’ positions, the gradual satisfaction of the low order needs will bring great effect in motivating people in this level to do as the managers tell them.


The limitations of the theory X are also apparent, as analyzed in the book “Organizational Communication” (Papa, Daniels & Spiker 1997), the managers that adopt the theory X in their management practice, as they consider that all the subordinates are working in exchange for money, so these managers tend to use coercion and punishment to force the subordinate to work in their way even there are problems with such ways. In this way employees’ esteem will get hurt and so the relationship between managers and employees will not be harmonious.


2.2.2        Theory Y


In contrast, as in theory Y, the assumptions are going in a totally different direction. For the employees in the higher order in the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they are usually in high positions in the companies or have good occupations such as professionals, managers and so on, the theory Y suggests that these people are self motivated, creative and ambitious, they are goal oriented and work extraordinary hard to achieve self esteem and even self actualization. At work, employees in theory X tend to accept responsibility and so for the managers that in charge of these self directing employees, strict control and punishment is not absolutely necessary and such measures do not work well in motivating employees advance further. In contrast, managers should provide chance and create condition for the employees to achieve themselves at work. Also it is important for the managers to use necessary benefit and compensations to increase the commitment of these employees to the company and reduce the employee turnover among these people.


The advantages of theory Y are three folds: Firstly, with greater empowerment demanded from the employees, the managers’ role would be change to facilitator, coach rather than supervisor (Unknown 2008), less decision making job would be for the managers, so the level of the management intensity will be reduced and thus reduce the management cost. Secondly, the employees’ potential ability and creativity would be stimulated and activated in the work environment. With lager arena, employees are encouraged to make their decision in their own perspective rather than following strict guidance. For instance, Google, the one of the most vivid and fast growing IT company, encourage all the employees to spend 20% of their time on the new projects at their own interest (Stross 2004), and the result is surprising with the 20% project employees provide with the company a lot of prototypes of creative product and service. Finally, theory Y’s management theory increases employees’ commitment to the company by providing more humanized and agreeable working environment.


On the other hand, despite the above advantages the theory Y’s disadvantages are also obvious and restrict the application of the theory in practical management scenarios. One fatal defect the of theory Y is that it cannot be applied to the most large scale companies, and the Google case is totally a very different situation in which most of its employees are highly paid professionals, in the usual cases of some multinational companies application of the theory Y in all the level of the employees would not be practical because many of them are not self motivated and would avoid responsibility if possible. On the other hand, with the loose supervision and trust from the management teams, in a long run, some employees may find it hard to keep high productivity in their job and thus cause low work efficiency for the companies.

2.3  Recommendations to line managers and senior mangers


As we know in a large manufacturing firm, ling managers are usually in charge of the assembly line workers and implementation of the company’s detailed management order which the senior managers are in charge of the lower management team and the corporate direction and policy making. Taking into the consideration of the differences of the job content and responsibility between the two kinds of managers, different motivations could be adopted accordingly.


2.3.2        Recommendation for line managers


As for the line managers, their subordinates are workers that are usually doing low skills, low paid and tedious jobs in the assembly lines, the most need for them is salary and security in employment in the lower order of the Maslow’s hierarchy need, so for the line managers the motivation theory of theory X is recommended. The reasons are two folds:


Firstly, the assembly line system and similar systems are rational in nature (Ritzer, 2000) which could not allow too much changes and room for the employees to make their own decisions. The original purposes and nature of the assembly line are to achieve efficiency, predictability under rational management to fulfill the most important target: profitability. Within a assembly line, even job rotation is not allowed because the more one employees works in a particular part of the assembly line, the more experienced he or she is going to be, what’s more the jobs in the assembly line are guided by detail instructions without any room of making other changes. If the theory Y is applied here, chaos and inefficiency would be expected.


Secondly, theory X could help maintain high efficiency of the assembly line workers.

It is important to create a link between reward and performance (Holtz, 2004) in an assembly line working environment. For example, in an investigation done to a subsidiary of a leading textile service company in Europe, some routine work of the subsidiary is performed in an assembly line by a team consists of 20 persons. When asked about whether a raise in the salary will affect their motivation, six out of ten who answer the question agree that the salary raise will affect their motivation with one saying that the rise should be big plus a bonus (Jusufi & Saitovic 2007). So the incentives to satisfy the low order needs of the assembly workers are still working well to motivate the workers.


2.3.3            Recommendation for senior managers


As for the senior managers, their subordinates are middle managers such as the line managers as mentioned above, these employees are well educated and most them are creative and ambitious to achieve the way to motivate these subordinates are different from the way to motivate the assembly workers. Taking into the consideration of the importance of motivating the middle managers as they serve as a bridge between the strategy side and the performance side (Gebler 2009), the theory Y is recommended as the motivation theory to be applied on the management work of the senior managers. The reasons are two folds:


Firstly, the middle managers are categorized in the higher order of the Maslow’s hierarchy need; they have been relatively satisfied with lower needs such as safety and physiological needs, a motivation theory that focuses in the high needs of the middle managers will be helpful for the senior managers to motivating the subordinates.


Secondly, the empowerment that is provided under the theory Y is critical to the successful implementation of the routine management work and the development of the carrier life of the middle management. Even though the middle managers are in the lower class of the management teams, they are also doing part of the management work, and even the routine management work requires creativity and sufficient empowerment from the senior managers and it is not possible that the senior managers could monitor every decision that is made by the middle managers.