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Motivators: Understanding Conditions that Affect Human Behavior

 Tools for Personnel Management

By William P. Fisher, Ph.D.

One of the enigmas of human relationships is how to best get other people to do exactly what you want them to do. This can be particularly crucial in an employer/employee relationship.

Until somewhat recently, there was a major debate in management circles as to whether one person could motivate others, or if supervisors only influence the conditions through which employees become motivated. The debate has concluded in favor of the latter premise.

There are approximately 10 motivating factors that set the stage in which behavior of people is influenced. Insight and judgment are needed, however, to determine what combination appeals to which people at any given point in time. That is the management challenge.

  1. Idealism. Some people are motivated by ideals that build on their personal value system. The call to go above and beyond normal duties, to give extra or prolonged effort because it’s the right thing to do, or the belief that one can reach higher personal and/or organizational fulfillment is a powerful motivating influence.

  2. Accomplishment. Trainers have long known that trainees should be given readily achievable tasks in the forepart of their training so that achievement can be self-recognized as a spur to continue developing. Getting things done provides sustaining momentum.

  3. “Team-mating.” Some people have a strong need for affiliation and to be part of a larger group which gives a sense of camaraderie. People seek and need acceptance and a group’s structure and its inherent support systems bolster individuals’ sense of belonging. Most people act because they don’t want to let the team down, or be subject to the team’s sanctions.

  4. Independence. Other people are motivated by autonomy. They like being held individually accountable, setting their own pace, functioning in their own style, and exercising their discretion. They perform best without close supervision or being engulfed by a bureaucratic maze.

  5. Fear. This is a controversial element, but if you define “motivated” as behavior undertaken irrespective of willingness or cooperation, then fear has to be recognized as a powerful motivator. Fear can be intra-personal (fear of embarrassment, for example), or inter-personal (intimidation by others, for example.)

  6. Prestige. Recognition factors stir some people to action in that they not only want to be connected with a first-class group, but their position within the group compels them to act in a certain way. For example, a reputation of never having missed a day of work is motivation to continue an unbroken attendance record.

  7. Rationality. Logic plays a part in the performance and motivation of people. Therefore, it is important to have everyone see the big picture –– not just his or her own more limited sphere. If one is told, for example, you are going to sell a product or a service at a financial loss, it becomes logical if it is understood that the draw of the loss leader results in greater overall profit.

  8. Safety. Along with security, safety is a powerful motivator for many people. Not just physical safety, but emotional safety and comfort as well. The older one gets (an employee who is approaching retirement, for example), the larger conservation looms, and radical changes or upsets are not always welcome.

  9. Compensation. People like to be rewarded and money certainly plays a part, but it is not the “be all and end all” for many employees. Other forms of compensation, such as a positive environment, benefits, awards, and compliments, all play an important part. Money is just a number above a certain lifestyle level for many people, and is certainly not always the first –– or only –– motivator to affect behavior.

  10. Curiosity. Motivation for some people is based on the intellectualization of solutions to problems and challenges that are presented. Thus, behavior is governed by wrestling with and overcoming obstacles that are set before them. System developers, for example, often state that it is the challenge that attracts them to their job and drives their activities. Their motivation lies in the thrill of breaking new ground.

William P. Fisher, Ph.D. is the Darden Chair in the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. A former CEO of the National Restaurant Association and the American Hotel and Lodging Association he is the recipient of numerous awards including the CHRIE Educator of the Year and the Michael E. Hurst Award for Educational Excellence, and is a Diplomat of the National Restaurant Association's Educational Foundation. An author and noted speaker, he serves on corporate boards in concert with his consulting assignments. A former U.S. Air Force Officer, he is a graduate of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration.

Reprinted with permission from Cayuga Hospitality Review.  All rights reserved.


Cayuga Hospitality Advisors

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Also See: Six Ways to Identify a Company in Decline; Wise business lessons learned from a social psychologist - not a financial analyst / William P. Fisher. Ph.D. / April 2011

Do You Think Like a Leader or a Manager? / William P. Fisher. Ph.D. / October 2009

A Wake Up Call, The Shadow of 9/11: Terrorism and Premises Liability for Hotels / Carroll Dubuc / September 2009

You Need to Reset Your Exit Strategy / Jim Burr / September 2009

The Electronic Guestroom / Jules A. Sieburgh / September 2009

LEADERSHIP: The Basis for Management / William P. Fisher Ph.D. / September 2009

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