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62. Frederick Herzberg and motivation for small business

I thought it might be time to consider some gurus on the people side of business. Herzberg’s 1959 book, The Motivation to Work, has had a great influence – and if you do not employ anyone, please do not stop reading now as this is just as relevant to your own motivation. He introduced the matched concept of ‘motivation and hygeine factors’ which are now well accepted as basic truths, partly as a result of Herzberg’s research and that of many researchers since.

The premise states that factors which drive dissatisfaction are not that the same as – or opposite to – those that drive positive motivation. The ‘hygeine factors’ are about salary and work conditions, relationships of all sorts, status etc. But the motivators are about the satisfaction of work itself, recognition, achievement, responsibility and personal growth.

If the hygeine factors are not adequate, effort will be directed to trying to change this, but if these needs are met, this will not of itself generate any positive motivation; this comes from the higher factors. For some it is surprising that salary is not a positive motivator: how do we explain those enormous senior bonuses. Alfred Sloane at GM improved output figures by simply chalking numbers on the floor beside the production lines. The chalk meant recognition. Unfortunately for shareholders, taxpayers etc at the head of large organisations we have allowed it to be accepted that achievement is recognised by money. This was not the case as little as 30 years ago when senior managers did not generally get rewarded with astronomical salaries and the gap between top executive remuneration and the average employee was much smaller.

The implications of this for employers are clear: to keep your workforce happy and focussed you cannot ignore the hygeine factors. But once you have a good base, higher performance will not be delivered by more of the same. You need to move on to addressing the higher ambitions for advancement, responsibility, recognition, achievement and the satisfaction of a job well done. This can be an even more necessary process in a recession when it is more difficult to give recognition by financial means – and in truth this has often been a lazy response. To the extent that not paying an inflated salary is a dissatisfying hygeine factor not because of a restriction of the receiver’s lifestyle but because it implies lower status (See premiership football teams if you want to find obvious examples).

And for the one-man band? Well the same factors apply to your own motivation. You might be driven to slave at a boring function to make sure you can pay the mortgage, but once you are past the hygeine problems, what will raise the higher levels of performance? It will be achievement of goals, the recognition that comes with a successful business, and the pleasure of satisfied customers. So if you are running a business with a product or service that you believe in, you are likley to be more motivated and get more satisfaction than if your business has just become a chore to deliver the hygeine factors.

Money has tended to become the modern Western culture’s surrogate for the badge of achievement and to that extent it does motivate, but it is the achievement not the badge which is important. There are many more powerful motivators to performance so use them for your team and for yourself.