Thinking : Motivation


Motivation is both a psychological and a physiological process. To motivate means to give incentive to. There are many factors that can increase motivation. Increases in motivation can lead to changes within the brain. In particular the structures known as the Hypothalamus and the Limbic system. These changes extend their influence to other parts of the brain and to the rest of the body through the endocrine system. This is a system of chemical messengers that can have measurable effect on the performance of an individual.

It is generally agreed that motivation is experienced at two main levels. These are the primary level which is the desire to satisfy basic demands such as oxygen, food, water etc, and the secondary level which include social needs etc. An individual would only satisfy secondary needs when primary needs are satisfied (in general).

Changes in the levels of motivation can be very subtle and can be the result of the sum of several influences rather than one. These influences can be either external or internal.


Most people have experienced changes in ‘drive’, in the motivation to carry out some task. Sometimes the changes in motivation arise from a switch from secondary needs to primary needs. This may occur when the body needs food or sleep for instance. Other changes seem to arise from the way external events trigger internal brain activity. The motivation to perform well at a certain task may suddenly change when it becomes known that ones best friend is seriously ill. This change is often strongly felt. Why does this happen?

Those who make a living from motivating others have made some interesting observations. For instance:

  • Why is it easier to motivate after failure than after success?
  • Why is motivation different on different days?
  • How is motivation, or lack of it, infectious?

Other less direct questions that arise from motivational issues are:

  • Does the motivation of a sales person affect sales?
  • Why does advertising affect sales?
  • How does advertising influence the buyer?



It is believed that human motivation is driven by a set of needs. These needs are arranged in a hierarchy with the most fundamental at the base. When the most basic needs are satisfied, then the individual can begin to satisfy higher needs. It is not necessary for complete satisfaction of basic needs before higher level needs can become motivators. There is overlap such that when most of the basic need is satisfied then a little of the next higher level need can become a motivator. However, individuals with extreme hunger are unlikely to be motivated by scientific endeavor.


Maslow's Hierarchy of
                needsMaslow's hierarchy theory provides several layers of motivational influences. Elements that are more fundamental motivational influences must be satisfied before next level elements become motivators. i.e. intellectual fulfillment is unlikely to become a motivator if extreme thirst remains an unsatisfied motivator.

  • Actualisation :Self fulfilment cognitive needs
  • Esteem : Strength, Reputation, confidence, Importance
  • Social : Affection, Belongingness
  • Safety : Security & stability, Dependancy, Protection Freedom from Fear.
  • Physiological : Hunger and Thirst, Sex

X Y Theory

McGregor proposed that supervisors may hold one of two opposing beliefs about motivation, affecting their treatment of staff.


  • People Inherently dislike work
  • People must be co-erced or controlled to do work to acheive objectives
  • People prefer to be directed.


  • People view work as being as natural as play or rest.
  • People will exercise self direction and control in the achievement of objectives that they are committed to.
  • People learn to accept a seek responsibilty.

Hygiene Factors

Herxenberg suggested that there are motivators that increase a persons job satisfaction. These include achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility advancement and growth.

He also suggested the existence of Hygiene Factors that act as demotivators. These include company policy, supervision, working conditions, interpersonal relations and salary.

Motivators can produce long term positive effects whilst hygiene factors tend to cause only short term changes.

In general, motivators relate to what a person does whilst hygiene factors relate to the situation in which the things are done.

3 Needs Theory

McClelland proposed a motivation theory based on three basic needs.

The need for achievement

  • Achievement
  • Personal responsibility
  • Feedback (to help an individual to measure achievement)
  • Moderate risk (to avoid excessive risks)

The need for power

  • Influence
  • Competitive

The need for affiliation

  • Acceptance and Friendship
  • Co-operative (cooperating with individuals & groups)

Goal Setting

Providing an individual with specific goals can increase performance. Difficult goals, if accepted, can result in a greater increase in performance than easy goals.

A goal can be defined as an image of a future level of performance that the individual wishes to achieve. Providing specific goals helps an individual to focus on improvement in a specific area. Without this focus, the means to improve can be unclear.


Vroom argues that an individual will act in a certain way based on an expectation that an act will be followed by a specific outcome. The individual will be influenced by the attractiveness of that outcome. Effort, Performance and Attractiveness are influenced in the following way.

  • Effort : How hard will I have to work to achieve this?
  • Performance : What is the Reward?
  • Attractiveness : How much do I want this reward?


Vroom argues that an individual will act in a certain way based on an expectation that an act will be followed by a specific outcome. The individual will be influenced by the attractiveness of that outcome. Effort, Performance and Attractiveness are influenced in the following way.


Making a Difference

Across a broad range of sectors, including the business and industrial community, there is broad agreement that staff motivation is important and has a direct effect on performance of staff and therefore the organisation.

  1. Well motivated staff tend to choose to do more.
  2. Poor motivation can cause staff to blame the organisation.


  • Working with the best, top, people. People who are good at their job and confident.
  • A well established appraisal scheme, taking note of staff needs.
  • A significant opportunity for training and improvement.
  • High levels of communication and involvement.
  • A happy friendly supportive working environment.
  • Good promotion prospects.
  • Praise when deserved.
  • Success is a motivator.
  • Having something to strive for.
  • Pressure to perform well.
  • Making people feel responsible for success.
  • Recognising and acknowledging their difficulties.
  • Goal setting and establishing personal targets can improve motivation.


  • Harmful decisions taken by others that are outside of the individuals control.
  • Setting too many personal goals, it is better to concentrate on one or two.
  • Problems from, say home life, can de-motivate during work.
  • The use of unfamiliar terminology.
  • High levels of stress.
  • Outside influences preventing staff carrying out their work.
  • Direct criticism.
  • Accusative company policies such as automatic sickness reviews regardless of circumstance.
  • Becoming aware that there is no hope.
  • Insufficient reward.
  • Having unreasonably high demands and having them refused.
  • Increased accountability and blame.
  • Changes to working practice.
  • Not knowing what one is supposed to do.
  • Not knowing how long employment will last for.
  • Not knowing what one is responsible for.

Other Factors

  • A persons ability to concentrate.
  • IQ may be a factor involved in motivation.
  • Being a public figure.
  • Direct Confrontation.
  • Individual Ego.

Education may be a strong factor influencing motivation. Eg concentration & IQ.


  • Why does enthusiasm sometimes disappear in a relatively short space of time?
  • Does the motivation of a sales person affect sales.
  • Why does advertising affect sales?
  • How does advertising influence the buyer?


  • Motivational improvement tends to result from a combination of influences rather than from one factor.
  • It is easier to motivate after failure than after success.
  • Sometimes it helps to know the motivational state of others, particularly when there is a competitive environment in force.
  • People are variable in their nature, some have huge mood swings for instance.
  • Attitudes are contagious.

Other comments

Motivational programmes that are based mainly or solely on belief are dangerous. The setting of short term and possibly long term goals where real and measurable achievement is made can be very successful. A feeling that everything is good and that success will surly follow may lead to personal disappointment when things go wrong (as they inevitably do some of the time). There is no substance to the beliefs and stress may result. The individual believer may be unaware of the effects of stress because of their positive attitude. They may work long hours and take on more work and responsibility, thus making the stress worse.


An interesting and brief introduction to motivation can be found in Microsoft Encarta.

The foundations of Physiological Psycology contains information concerning the physiology of motivation and Cognitive Psycology by Robert J. Sternberg dicusses Motivation in connection with creativity