A thorough review of “The Future of work Motivation Theory .”
- By Steers, Richard M., Mowday, Richard T., Shapiro, Debra L., Academy of
Management Review. 03637425, Jul2004, Vol. 29, Issue 3.
“Hamlet - The time is out of joint: Oh cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right.”
Motivation Theory is widely recognized, throughout all possible perspectives of the
management world as an important and essential part of management and of the
performance goals that companies tend to set. Motivation is a subject that is pertinent to
the behavior characteristics of the working staff and of the individual and it is worth
studying as shall be explained later, for it is the scaffolding of one of the two pillars of
competitive advantage (Thurow, 2003) in what has been becoming accepted as the future
of the very concept of advantage itself: quality of human resources (The other pillar being
the quality of technology).
A Further Look into Motivation Theory.
The task of this paper is to evaluate the statements made throughout this article and
basically assess whether the view proposed by the authors on the upcoming work on
Motivation Theory seems accurately forecasted and if the conclusion seem valid given
the evidence researched throughout this paper. As well, Motivation altogether and the
understanding of it will be evaluated in parallel with the development of the review of the
article. Work done on Motivation often seems a chimera of knowledge, and the
evaluation of its evolution is more easily achieved following the article’s overview.
It is important to note that the depth with which this forum (or article) revises the sources
and the trends of thought regarding Motivation Theory is not great. The sole purpose of
the article was apparently to review broadly and to try to apprehend as much of the
entirety of the Theories within an inspective scope, and at the end present the resulting
papers from the AMR calling in 2001. According to the authors, these papers represent
the contemporary views and plausible study and research grounds for the future
Motivation Theory Breakdowns.
Also within the Scope of this Paper in itself is the task to compliment the knowledge
wherever it may seem necessary in all its statements. Since the overlook made by the
authors in the Article is found lacking in depth, some views and historic features are
worth looking deeply into since they present evidence of the further developments of the
Finally, it is found that there is profound importance in realizing which are the upcoming
developments of Motivation Theory and henceforth research on present and perhaps
more contemporary Theories. For such, this paper will contain a review as profound as
possible (within the resources of students) of current and significant thought regarding
The authors begin with a dissertation of the meaning of motivation. In itself, there is an
absence of clarity and description and we feel this must be amended since it is often
found that an answer to a question is half-defined by the way the question is posed.
Hence, most of the description that will follow is constructed for this paper, and focused
on realizing that the deep question is what motivation is as well as quotes from the
The article refers to Motivation as of Latin origin from the word “move” (movere). It
goes on further quoting Atkinson’s definition “The contemporary (immediate) influence
on direction, vigor, and persistence of action” and Vroom’s “a process governing choice
made by persons among alternative forms of voluntary activity”. It claims, with the aid
of Campbell and Pritchard, that motivation has to do with variables that influence and
explain the direction and the purpose of a person’s behavior. Yet, although profound for
most of the time in its definitions, there is yet something to be said regarding the quite
undefined term of Choice.
Many, if not all of the ideas regarding motivation as the set of circumstances which
define the strength, willingness and purpose of people’s work are intrinsically bound by
the idea of choice and liberty. For full understanding one might want to argue that
Motivation is, as understood by the authors of the Article: a desirable and an important
part of the overwhelming goal of performance-enhancing within Business.
To go deeper, and to understand what is searched for, Motivation then becomes a matter
of achieving a sense of comfort and willing deliverance of effort in human resources to
enhance this performance goal. As such, as a pursuit of performance, Motivation adds up
to provoking desirable amounts of commitment towards work and labor from the workers
which are the subjects of study for the sake of the company.
In Sir Isaiah Berlin’s view on negative liberty, -The philosophical concept of negative
liberty is the absence of coercion from others. In this negative sense, one is considered
free to the extent to which no person or person interferes with his or her activity.
According to Thomas Hobbes, for example, "a free man is he that... is not hindered to do what he
hath the will to do."- Hence, Motivation becomes a way to provoke a desire to enhance the
subjects (or the workers’) desire to deliver this effort willingly, under the scope of
enhancing their liberty.
It is important then to define Motivation as a willing setting of the worker upon his/her
task, hence utilizing his/her freedom at most in the service of performance, making the
process of generating such willingness an ethically involved subject altogether. Partly in
knowing this consequence of Motivation, the authors of the Article begin the dissertation
of the history of the study of Motivation Theory with ancient (yet fully latent) views on
Greek hedonism. Being a classic perspective, hedonism was regarded as the search for
pleasurable activities in sound consonance with avoiding painful activities. Again,
fundamentally important (an importance purposefully overlooked by business essayists
and writers and some psychologists to avoid getting involved in ethical questions that
they are not prepared to endeavor into) is the fact that the study of behavior begins in the
parents of civilization as a search for pleasure. Far from presently-weakened ideas of the
western world regarding Sin, the Greeks understood pleasurable activities as desirable
and the understanding of Behavior (And therefore Motivation) derives from the
understanding of what are the circumstances that produce pleasure. Hence, much will
hang in this understanding that perhaps Motivation of the workforce will depend greatly
on how the individual sees and executes their work, more than what the individual
expects from it or the rewards he sees in the path of his/her work.
The Article goes forward into the end of the nineteenth century in that epoch where the
mind was studied with lack of romanticism. Overvalued as it may seem Homer and
Shakespeare had already explored the human mind successfully, yet it is another matter
that continuously eludes academic researchers, for the interpretation of literature as a
statement of culture is something of supreme difficulty for business authors and academic
Within this epoch, the seriously and quite irresponsibly overlooked theories of current
Psychology researchers such as Freud and James are mentioned in the article as focusing
on the instinctive nature of human beings. Naturally, since at that time Business literature
was inexistent, referring to it as partly originating Motivation Theory is a necessity. Yet
overlooking its fundamental contribution relating to the nature of the human mind (in a
deep perspective with regards to human understanding that would culminate in the
controversial works on understanding of the continental Philosopher Derida) is a mistake
that the Authors make. In fact, current relevant evaluations of Motivation Theory are
constantly reevaluating and basing their arguments on the study of the human mind. As a
matter of fact, should this present tendency no be present, it would have to be stated that
it should be so. Studies (both Medical and Anthropological) should be taken in an inter-
disciplinary manner in the studies of worker performance just as much as they should be
utilized in Current Business thought.
Following these commencing statements the Article deepens into more elaborate ideas
that would suit the Business understanding of motivation more delightedly (but
apparently not deeply enough). The article continues with the 1920s psychologists such
as Thorndike and Hull in which the concept of learning is introduced. It is stated that
“posited that decisions concerning present or future behaviors are largely influenced by
the consequences of rewards associated with past behavior” a primary yet fully relevant
statement in which light upon the immediate reasons and causes of behavior relate to past
behavior. The behavior that was successful in the past is bound to be successful once
Skinner, from the 1930s streamline of thought is mentioned and its operant conditioning.
It is said that during this period it is even further understood that individuals create
relationships links between actions and their consequences, and that these links are
further referred to in the individual’s mind in the future.
At the following step in the Article a distinctive milestone is reached. It is stated that
“While psychologists were focusing on instincts and drives, managers were focusing on
more pragmatic issues”. It is then made clear that from here onwards a tendency is born,
a tendency to become perhaps too pragmatic in its entirety towards behavior. Frederick
Taylor is introduced, with the birth of scientific management that would give birth to
mass production (a haven for performance seekers) and creators of cultural fears
portrayed in Huxley’s A brave new world. These ideas were basically founded on the
ideas that while looking into efficiency as the measure of performance, a lot of
technological advances were created that degenerated later into the abuse of physical
conditions for the workers for there was few if no study whatsoever as to the implications
on most of the advances in the studies of scientific management. Altogether it was
regarded as a theory bordering on the technocratic side of management of human
resources; this coupled with “company efforts to maximize productivity without
simultaneously increasing employee rewards, eventually served to discredit this system,
leading to the widespread rise of unionization efforts in the 1930s”.
Further on, more specific schools of thought were rising these times, a series of eras that
would yield the eventual rocketing of Motivation Theory. Mayo’s group dynamics work
of the 1930s and the further views that there was a need to see employees as human
beings rather than subjects dominated the remainder of the 1930s.
Further on the Article describes the Hierarchical Studies by Maslow in the 1950s
involving need hierarchical theory which name a few principles that are worth
mentioning. The fulfillment of needs such as physiological needs, safety, security,
belongingness, esteem and self-actualization are vital then for the successful working
conditions and performance of the worker. Later these principles or needs were re-
categorized in these three branches: existence needs, relatedness needs and growth needs.
The “Golden Age” of Work Motivation Theories arrives
The so-called “golden age” arrives with the process theorists’ view on how to accomplish
the full knowledge of the sources of motivation. The article claims that it focuses on
delineating the process underlying work motivation, contrasting with identifying factors
associated with motivation in a relatively static environment. These new thinkers
generate the view of a dynamic perspective, they are constantly looking and searching for
relationships across time and happenings and their relation with humans at their
workspace and workplace.
According to the article, these schools of thought generated the cognitive theories of
motivation that try to understand the thought processes that individuals have to perform
or go through in figuring out which behavior is most adequate or appropriate for them to
use at their workplace. In their view, they state: “Behavior is a purposeful goal directed,
and largely based on conscious intentions”. Quite certainly this school of thought had
completely forgotten what other generations of behavior students (such as the
aforementioned Freud and James) had found in their research of human behavior.
Apparently, the cognitive theory seems to casually avoid the subject of individuals’
sometimes unexplainable behavior and sets of radical choices upon their lives. As a
matter of fact whole schools of thought (Such as Existentialism) were created based on
the idea that human nature was indeed altogether a continuous set of daily radical
choices. In our view, the cognitive view is overtly simplistic and has a serious lack in
reality. The golden Age must have gone by rapidly to be able to advance, for their
theories had even weaker foundations than those of their psychoanalytical predecessors.
Again, the Article returns to point out an important conclusion from Porter and Lawler
which is an incorporated feedback loop in employee relationships: “ ..if superior
performance in the past failed to lead to superior rewards, future employee effort may
suffer as incentives and the reward system lose credibility in the employee’s eye”. Once
again we find that the only constructive advance here has been an ability to re-phrase
what has already been written In the past. The theory of the feedback loop just explained
is extraordinarily similar to the concept of learning developed earlier by Thorndike,
Woodworth and Lull about how future behavior is seriously influenced by the
consequences of past behavior. There is no clear development here from ideas from the
1920s, the learning concept from then is very much alive and perhaps it is the Business
world that has changed so far at this point.
Another Theory which according to the article is created during this period as well is the
Goal-Setting Theory. This idea is founded on the quite logical and eventual evolved idea
that the specificity of the goal that is set will aid on guaranteeing its fulfillment. This
theory though simple, seemed to be of much more use for the goal’s specificity, time
span, definition are indeed more concise items to focus on and make management of
Motivation indeed an easier and more efficient task.
The view on Recent Developments.
According to the Article the most recent developments are much more integrated with
re-developing and reviewing already existing ideas and theories and extending its fields
and its applications. The authors also claim that during the 1990s there was a grave
decrease or debacle in the research done in this area which according to the authors it
seems rather surprising since according to their own statements : “A motivated workforce
is frequently cited as a hallmark of competitive advantage”. This claim seems reasonable
for there is serious work done by a few authors who believe that enhancing and
producing engagement in workers and employees is one of the fundamentally
advantageous capabilities a firm or undertaking could have.
MIT economist Lester Thurow claims that companies in the future will be competing on
the level of quality of their technology and of their human resources, making the issue of
Motivation a serious one. Such an issue, as both the authors of the article and us believe
should be one that should be generating a great amount of literature and yet there seems
to be little.
According to the Article there is still much to be written about Motivation and there is
still much to be understood: “Most observers of the corporate world believe that the
traditional relationship between employer and employee is gone, but there is little
understanding of why it ended and even les abut what is replacing that relationship”.
The authors of the article believe that new models have to be constructed and that there is
still much to be learned, their views of what is coming is presented in the following
The view Ahead
The Authors of the article produce at the end of the article a list of the most recent studies
on Motivation done by Academia-dwellers and writers after a call issued by the AMR in
2001 for papers in relationship with motivation.
Many papers are mentioned among which are the work of Ruth Kanfer and Phillip L.
Ackerman on the study of life-span related issues at the workplace. Adult development
and cognitive capabilities and the effects of aging over the working life are looked at with
a new perspective. Also, the work of Hugo M. Kehr on the influences of explicit and
implicit motives and perceived abilities on motivation in the workplace using a
compensatory model is mentioned.
Other works mentioned are the work done on self-categorization theory and social
identity process by Naomi Ellemers, Dick de Gilder, and S. Alexander Haslam and the
work on metatheories on work motivation developed by Edwin A. Locke and Gary P.
Among those mentioned a very particular one refers to a very relevant approach to
motivation, an article into which we have looked into with further depth for it seems to
contain much more structure that the others and has, in our opinion more relevance.
The ideas developed by Myeong-Gu Seo, Lisa Feldman Barrett and Jean M. Bartunek
have strong structural backbones in both the neurobiological and psychological
disciplines in their approach. For starters, they have an approach that seems scientifically
relevant, an approach on a human characteristic with a medical optic. Regardless on the
accidental relevance other work has had in psychology the lack of broad-view perspective
because of the lack of medical fundament is avoided in this particular work. The
extraction of medical knowledge from the discipline into the understanding of behavior
gives this work much more weight and therefore reliability. Their work encompasses the
understanding of three spectrums of behavior: direction, intensity and persistence. They
create a view in which the medical structure is used to understand core affective
experiences further. This understanding would surely identify an explanation of how
work-related affective feelings can influence the three spectrums of behavior.
The power this paper could have is yet underestimated. Consider our prior efforts
throughout this paper in explaining what motivation was exactly and its relationship with
the liberty of the individual. Therefore the effect the study of the definition of the limits
of an individual’s liberty through his relationship with those surrounding him/her and
with the amount of power he/she possesses is vital to understand what it is that motivates
the individual at work that should encompass the broader picture: starting from a medical
point of view such as Seo, Barrett and Bartunek’s work and going on to a further
evaluation of power such as McClelland and Burnham’s study on power. For this stress
we have made on this point we will look upon this work as reference on our views of the
future of Motivation Theory as well as the article: Power Is the Great Motivator (HBR,
2003) from the Harvard Business Review.
Our Look Ahead.
“..when it comes to managing big companies, the desire for power--that is, a manager's
desire to have an impact, to be strong and influential--is more important than the need to
get things done or the wish to be liked.”
The article Power is a Great Motivator (HBR, 2003) from the Harvard Business
Review, despite its age, has huge relevance in this topic concerning Motivation. We have
stressed before that there is a profound relationship between an individual’s Motivation
(the desire, the wish the effort to work: Broadly) with the individual’s liberty. Within the
scope of liberty we spoke of the more liberal British thinkers’ definitions like Berlin’s
negative liberty in which an individual’s liberty is the confinement of everyone else’s
liberty and its understanding as space were there is no coercion. Motivation in itself, as
we defined it represented a matter of both morale and ethical perspectives, for to achieve
successful amounts of motivation one would have to generate behavior that would be (as
Greek hedonism would have it) pleasurable and therefore motivation lies somewhat in the
scope of satisfaction of positive urges in the individual. The moral perspective enters
when the manager and the researcher understand that whoever is responsible for the
creation of motivation is becoming altogether responsible for making the employee
behave in such a way that is both pleasing to him and enhancing of performance for the
firm. These two conditions could be opposite in intent, and care must be taken in order to
not fall into a simple reward system.
The article by McClelland and Burnham refers to a flattening of the more traditional
hierarchical system of power in organizations, meaning that the newly coming standards
for distribution of power in organizations will change and will have surprising effects on
motivation. The article also emphasizes on the positive effects a desire for power has on a
feeling of success within the employee and his/her effectiveness on the workplace. The
Article talks about a survey done in which top managers and their subordinates were
interviewed and results yielded that the better managers were those with more thirst for
power. Also, the power being channeled towards the good of the company also created
“better” managers. This illustrates that power managed within a certain channeling can
produce powerful results in motivation considerably improving the organization’s
performance: “Correlations between employee morale and sales figures show that
individuals who manage by fiat are less effective than those whose style is more
As well as the understanding of this ability Power has to produce motivation, it is also
important to notice the current elimination of hierarchical traditions: “In his retrospective
commentary, David McClelland considers his earlier findings in light of his research into
two important changes that have occurred in the workplace since HBR first published
this article 27 years ago: large hierarchical organizations have flattened out, and female
managers have entered the workplace in full force.” This serves an accidental purpose
that will be looked upon in father work done on Motivation Theory with absolute
certainty. Power shifting its position in organization will create Theories in the
distribution of power horizontally and vertically (perhaps a new term could even be
created if it hasn’t already: diagonal, to refer to power between disciplines and
departments) in which the allocation of power will be regarded as a tool for generating
positive motivation with absolute focus on a Company’s performance since all power
costs in expense is the enhancing of direction. One thing that at least can be said about
the shift of old ways as compared to possibly upcoming new ones in regarding to
generating Motivation is that Reward systems will tend to be abandoned, most apparently
regarding the larger return rate of motivation in involving changes within the distribution
of labour and power within the Organization. An Employee’s pay, salary and wealth
often have little relevance on the commitment the worker has on the company’s
performance, let alone “rewards”. The future works, just like suggested in the article
evaluated (Steers, Mowday and Shapiro) must include relevance to deeper studies of an
individual’s satisfaction and the still relevant importance of distribution and allocation of
- The Future of work Motivation Theory. -
By Steers, Richard M., Mowday, Richard T., Shapiro, Debra L.,
Academy of Management Review. 03637425, Jul2004, Vol. 29, Issue 3.
- Sir Isaiah Berlin (Philosopher) - "Two Concepts of Liberty" (Essay) (1958).
- William Shakespeare - Theatrical play: The tragedy of Hamlet, First seen on
stage on 1598.
- Nancy r. Katz - Incentives and performance Management in the Public
Sector. Harvard University June 2000.
- Thurow, Lester Dangerous Currents: The State of Economics. NY: Random
House, 1983; also published in United Kingdom.
- Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World (1932)
- Taylor, Frederick W. - The principles of Scientific Management (1991)
various publications. Online editions
- McClelland, D. A. & Burnham, D. H. (2000). - Power is a Great Motivator
(Harvard Business Review, 2000)
- Ochsner, K., & Feldman Barrett, L. (2000). - The neuroscience of emotion.
Chapter in T. Mayne & G. Bonnano (Eds.), Emotion: Current Issues and
Future Directions. New York: Guilford.
- Abdel Magid Al-Araki, Førsteamanuensis- Web page for class