Pay as Motivator

Motivation is a complex process, and no single theory exists to satisfactorily explain how it works. Rather, like the mythical blind men trying to define what an elephant is, modern management scientists have been touching different parts of the motivation beast and coming out with their own sets of theories of what works, when it does, and why. Skinner’s reinforcement theory (1953) is perhaps the foundation for every study on the matter. By stating that behavior can be shaped, changed, or maintained through positive and negative reinforcement, he implied that people can be made to behave in certain ways using levers of motivation. Later studies merely attempted to find what those levers were.Maslow (1954) proposed five levers he called human needs, with the lowest being physiological, and self-actualization the highest. in between are the safety, social, and esteem needs. He said meeting these needs is the motivational key, which leads others to ask: if pay helps meet each of these needs, why is it that even highly-paid CEOs continue to milk their corporate cow, sometimes fatally? Pay does not seem to give a complete answer.Perhaps Herzberg (1959) had an answer in his hygiene and motivational factors. He argued that a worker would be satisfied if the motivation factors are met, but not if hygiene factors are unmet. However, hygiene factors do not necessarily lead to job satisfaction. And like these other content theories, MacGregor’s (1960) simplistic categorization of employees do not fully explain the behavior of greedy managers who used, to be honest.An interesting trilogy of process theories (Adams, 1963. Vroom, 1964. Porter and Lawler, 1968) goes beyond the tangible and crosses the line into the realm of the mystical. Balance (Adams’s Equity Theory), values and beliefs (the expectancy and instrumentality of Vroom), and intrinsic/extrinsic motivation (Porter and Lawler) point out that money is important, but there are others of greater value that managers need to know about workers so they can trigger the right behavior.Fifteen years (1953-1968) of research concluded that to motivate others, one has to find out why people do the things they do.