rev. 20 November 2008; get the PDF.

In the inchoate years of the 21st century, the nominal ideas behind Frederick Herzberg’s “Two-Factor Theory” have been largely cast aside in their want of experimental validation1, but the late psychologist’s ultimate conclusion—that “job enrichment” is a good and necessary function of management—is certainly alive and well, albeit superseded by more complete theories about the idea (Miner, 2005, pp. 61, 73-74). In a period of a global “flattening” of cultures and economies (to borrow Thomas Friedman’s nomenclature), when fears about job security are on the rise, long-term career goals are sinking into the dusk latitudes, and cynicism about outsource-happy management and inequality is worse in the United States than it has been since the Gilded Age, how can organizations elicit more than a minimum of effort from their employees, short of threatening or scaring them into hyperkinesis?

Recognition as Extrinsic Motivator

Former General Electric C.E.O. Jack Welch is no stranger to dismissal as a motivator; his “20-70-10” rule functions as a proverbial Sword of Damocles for the business world, wherein during each evaluation cycle, the top 20%, middle 70%, and bottom 10% of the workforce are determined and dealt with accordingly. The top 20% is rewarded, and repeat offenders for the bottom 10% are let go (2006, p. 108). The fate of low performers in the workplace is an important topic, but outside the scope of motivational trends in general. The areas of concern for the author are the proper emolument (not necessarily monetary in nature) of top performers and also the cultivation and motivation of the middle 70% to improve; this latter group, after all, represents the largest likely ROI, given an inexpensive and efficient method of motivation.

Welch, though he seems to have little patience for the dregs of the organizational barrel, is adamant about what is required to motivate: “No company, large or small, can succeed over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it” (quoted in Gallo, 2008). Gallo, in keeping with Welch, insists that public recognition is the zenith of non-monetary motivators, citing several anecdotal examples (2008). This is not a recent addition to the nomological network; Herzberg included such recognition as a Motivation factor in most instances (Herzberg, Mauzer, and Snyderman 1959/2004, pp. 44-46, 49). This phenomenon is well-known to the technology industry, which sees much of this experience in the phenomenon of Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS, by its common acronym); the Apache web server (which powers well over half the sites on the Internet2) is a free product, programmed mostly by volunteers and hobbyists who receive no monetary compensation. Intrinsic motivators such as technical challenges, as well as the recognition within the programmer subculture, are enough to keep development of the program very active3.

In currently high-performing employees, recognition of this sort tends to reinforce the employee’s endogenous motivations and moves his or her perceived locus of control further inward, according to Malhotra, Galletta, and Kirsch (2008, pp. 290-91, 294); this virtual collapse of the intrinsic and the extrinsic is a sort of psychological short-circuit to the employee’s sense of self-actualization. In normal employees (what Welch may categorize as the middle 70%) who may or may not experience as high a degree of intrinsic motivation as the most creative or most energetic employees, recognition may activate more basic motivators such as vanity. In both groups, there is likely to be a combination of the two.

Job Enrichment and Non-monetary Incentives

As organizations grow in complexity—the large and monolithic bureaucracies of wartime IBM, for instance, give way to equally large but decentralized technology firms like Microsoft or Google—it becomes all too easy for the artifices of corporate oversight or regulation to rob competent employees of their autonomy. Though few studies have shown experimentally or observationally a direct causal link between control systems and employee motivation, Drake, Wong, and Salter note that volumes of research have shown such relationships between empowerment (an internal “perceived locus of control,” to retain the parlance of the endogenous/exogenous motivator studies) and task motivation—ultimately, to overall institutional effectiveness (2007, p. 71).

The dispensation of empowerment and autonomy is one of the central tenets of job enrichment—distinct from job enlargement, which seeks merely to add responsibilities—a long-known but too-little-appreciated tactic of organizational behavior that, in essence, seeks to grow the job with the employee (Miner, 2005, pp. 76-77). Spreitzer identified two particular antecedents to feelings of empowerment, namely a connection to the organizational mission, and a context in which to view personal performance (1995, as cited in Drake et al., 2007, p. 75). The experimental context of Drake et al., however invalid it may seem due to its unbelievable mission statement (consisting, to all appearances, of “to make as high a profit as possible”), underscores the correlative relationship between task motivation and overall performance, and also between task motivation and perceived impact of work (2007, pp. 83-84). The population of this experiment consisted only of entry-level workers (p. 72), not any managerial or supervisory positions, which likely slanted its results against significant causal or correlative relationships; blue-collar or entry-level workers are statistically the most likely to resist forms of job enrichment and internalized extrinsic motivators (Miner, 2005, p. 73).

According to the Hacker-Lawler theory of job enrichment, employees will work effectively toward an institutional goal only insofar as it aligns with their personal goals; since contemporary literature downplays the importance of “hygiene” factors in supplying the needed motivational incentives (Miner, 2005, pp. 76-77), this usually comes in the form of “Engagement with the Mission.”

It is farcical to think either that all employees will buy into the organization’s mission statement (even presuming it is meaningful and relevant), or that encouraging such buy-in will necessarily evince an increase in efficiency or raw productivity. Writing for BusinessWeek, Liz Ryan emphasizes the power of hygiene factors (such as the 2008 Q3-Q4 economy) to overwhelm the capacity of feedback, praise, or engagement as a motivator (2008, p. 13). Satisfying hygiene factors, such as competitive pay and benefits, a socially-engaging work environment, and job security is increasingly difficult, due to both economic fluctuations and the cutthroat nature of the recent trend of global markets and outsourced jobs (especially entry-level jobs). Failing the ability to offer all of these things (or even assuming them), she writes, “lose the corporate happy talk and be honest with employees” (p. 13).

Hackman and Oldham’s Job Characteristics Model, the spiritual successor to Herzberg’s notions of job enrichment, identifies five motivating traits inherent to a job: skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback (Miner, 2005, p. 78). Herzberg’s original writing on the subject included such examples as empowering the employee to schedule his or her own work (within constraints), giving the employees small budgets and direct responsibility for costs within the the context of their work, and making sure that the ultimate recognition for results is kept as part of the job, instead of shifting to a supervisor or a departmental level (1976, as cited in Miner, 2005, p. 66). These satisfy the latter two parts of the Hackman-Oldham model (responsibility for outcome and recognition for outcome, respectively), but not necessarily the first three, which deal much more with perceived meaningfulness of the task; in this case, the connection to organization which Spreitzer belabored, as well as the complexity and variety of the task, must satisfy the the remaining traits. The distinction as made by Pugh and Hickson (2007, pp. 236-37) is important; adding more iterations of the same task or introducing similarly “undemanding” work will not suffice. These kinds of new tasks require some measure of autonomy or self-governance, and must have the necessary recognition and requisite learning built in.

Job Satisfaction as Mediator

Economic trends are only one proximate cause of job satisfaction, which Crede, Chernyshenko, Stark, Dalal, and Bashshur define as the amalgam of everything from such distal factors as economy to extremely localized factors such as “disposition”—that is, intrinsic motivators (2007, p. 517). Importantly, they argue that any framework which seeks to measure, predict, or explain employee motivation and satisfaction must necessarily extend to factors which “influence the perception of organizational actions,” and not simply quantifiable or objective measurements (p. 516). Since job satisfaction in some way mediates the difference between objective job characteristics and employee response, this is an important piece to consider (pp. 516-517). Crede et al’s conclusion is that antecedents of job satisfaction experience too much unique variability unless multiple antecedents are addressed simultaneously—that is, unaddressed approaches to job satisfaction, and ultimately employee performance and behavior, tend to act as limiting agents. Even the if the extrinsic factors most proximal to an employee are addressed, endogenous motivators (“dispositions,” in Crede et al’s parlance) may yet affect the end result (pp. 532). In any case, it would be difficult to isolate purely extrinsic and purely intrinsic motivators, since they rarely exist in isolation (Malhotra et al., 2008, p. 291)

Practical Applications and Implications

Outside of the vacuum of theories, what does any of this tell managers about how to motivate employees and cultivate the workforce to its maximum potential? Given the aforementioned environment of slimmer margins, corporate cynicism, and concerns about long-term sustainability, what is the best way to apply the theory of job enrichment?

As is so often the case, the Google corporation provides an obvious example. At once a financial powerhouse, a technological titan, and a media darling, Google has become synonymous with the “right” way to run a company. Their policies have historically been rich grist for the mill of both technology pundits and business reporters alike: at little or no cost to them, employees are given benefits such as free (excellent) food, health care, ski trips, car repair, recreation rooms, and unlimited sick days (Lashinsky, 2007, pp. 72-73). These are extrinsic factors which, on the face of it, satisfy only hygiene factors, and will therefore increase motivation and performance only asymptotically. As one piece of Google’s broader approach toward attracting and keeping the best minds in the industry, however, it builds a sense of community and a mutual relationship of value and respect between the organization and its employees. Take, as a notable example, Google’s “20%” policy, which demands that employees spend a fifth of their time on a separate pet project of interest (p. 77). Gmail, Google’s web-based email offering, was just such a project. This kind of job enrichment satisfies task variety, fosters the perception of autonomy insofar as an employee is free to choose the direction of the project, and of course results in both internal and public recognition if the project is promoted to Google’s canonical offerings.

Similarly, Google’s famously simple mission statement—”Don’t Be Evil”—is precisely the sort of organizational goal that encourages employee buy-in (though Google’s sex appeal as a business and a think tank doesn’t hurt).

Yet even Google, which is to the 2000s what Microsoft was to the 1990s, faces and occasionally fails at these same organizational problems. The loss of top executives and engineers to new, perhaps more exciting startups is problematic (Montalbo, 2008, p. 29); though hardly hemorrhaging talent yet, Google is taking steps to prevent just such fate by looking at sabbaticals and lateral movement, among others (Lashinsky, 2007, p. 78). Yet it becomes inevitable, now that Google employs well over 15,000 people, that less individual recognition is forthcoming, more work focuses on the maintenance of established products rather than the development of new ones, and the economics of providing its legendary benefits to a much larger workforce becomes problematic.
At Google, autonomy is still the most widely-followed tenet of job enrichment. According to Mantalbo, Craig Neville-Manning, Google’s engineering director, stresses the importance of autonomy for employees even as Google as an organization takes on more of the structure (and strictures) of a much larger company (2008, p. 33).

The continued trend toward a global economy increases the supply of cheap labor across all industries. As such, more emphasis is placed on the most creative, highest-performing, and most dynamic employees, who, though likely self-directed by endogenous motivators, still require continuous job enrichment in order to stay engaged. While pay and benefits are both important and necessary, they are—in terms of job satisfaction and performance—secondary to true job enrichment. This is good news for cost-conscious organizations, but the corollary is that effective management may be even more difficult to accomplish, especially in an organization which subscribes to the more traditional view that employees are inherently lazy and wasteful unless coerced otherwise.

References

  • Crede, M., Chernyshenko, O. S., Stark, S., Dalal, R. S., & Bashshur, M. (2007). Job satisfaction as mediator: An assessment of job satisfaction’s position within the nomological network [Electronic version]. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology, 80(3), 515-538. from Business Source Elite (26978346).
  • Drake, A. R., Wong, J., & Salter, S. B. (2007). Empowerment, Motivation, and Performance: Examining the Impact of Feedback and Incentives on Nonmanagement Employees [Electronic version]. Behavioral Research in Accounting, 19, 71-89. from Business Source Elite (23952103).
  • Gallo, C. (2008, May 23). Motivate Your Employees Like Jack Welch. BusinessWeek. Retrieved November 17, 2008, from http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/may2008/sb20080523_761806.htm
  • Herzberg, F., Mausner, B., & Snyderman, B. B. (2004). The Motivation to Work (7th ed.). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction. (Original work published 1959)
  • Lashinsky, A. (2007, January 22). Search and Enjoy. Fortune, 155, 70-82. Retrieved November 19, 2008, from Business Source Elite (23657847).
  • Malhotra, Y., Galletta, D. F., & Kirsch, L. J. (2008). How Endogenous Motivations Influence User Intentions: Beyond the Dichotomy of Extrinsic and Intrinsic User Motivations. Journal of Management Information System, 25(1), 267-299. Retrieved October 27, 2008, from Business Source Elite (33245054).
  • Miner, J. B. (2005). Organizational Behavior I.: Essential Theories of Motivation and Leadership. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
  • Montalbo, E. (2008, October 20). Growing Pains for Google. ComputerWorld, 42, 28-33. Retrieved November 19, 2008, from Business Source Elite (35001302).
  • Pugh, D. S., & Hickson, D. J. (2007). Great Writers on Organizations (3rd ed.). Hampshire: Ashgate.
  • Ryan, L. (2008, September 22). Managing Amid Economic Uncertainty. BusinessWeek, 13. Retrieved November 21, 2008, from Business Source Elite (34588441).
  • Welch, J., & Welch, S. (2006, October 2). The Case for 20-70-10. BusinessWeek, 4003, 108. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from Business Source Elite (22469902).
  1. Ironically, the timeline of Two-Factor theory’s gradual disappearance from the study of organizational behavior has been marked by a concomitant enshrinement of the theory into the canonical face of the field (Judge & Church, 2000, as cited in Miner, 2005, p. 72).[]
  2. c.f. Netcraft’s monthly report, which as of November 2008 calculates Apache’s market share at 50.34%[]
  3. Occasionally, given a high-profile program, recognition extends beyond mere programmers and into the mainstream. A good example of this is Ben Goodger, a developer involved with the initial release of the Firefox web browser, who received interviews, magazine covers, and speaking offers in 2004 and 2005 as a result. See also Bitzer, Schrettl and Schröder’s “Intrinsic Motivation in Open Source Software Development” (2004).[]
§3373 · December 7, 2008 · Tags: , , ·

Leave a Reply