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Theories of Motivation

Several theories of motivation have been put forward to explain the concept of motivation. They help us understand the behavior of human beings and what motivates them to satisfy their ever changing needs.

Theories of Motivation

Abraham Maslow’s motivational theory:

He added to the basic concept of needs by proposing that unsatisfied needs create tension and has a direct influence on a person’s work attitude(#4) and behavior( #1).

His theories of motivation is based on two basic tenets:

Deficit principle: Only when there is something missing/lacking or you need something for your survival will you be motivated to take action about it. (#1 – they fought because they were hungry.)

Progressive principle: Maslow classified needs and put them in ascending order as shown below. Only if a lower order need is completely satisfied will a higher order need take shape. Examples #2, #3, #4 and #5 explain this equally well.

Abraham Maslow’s motivational theory Herzberg’s two factor motivational theories: focuses mostly on the ambiance in the work place. According to him there are two sets of complementary factors that have an impact on the motivational levels of the employees.

Herzberg’s two factor motivational theories

Clayton Alderfer’s motivational theory: is based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory. He categorizes it into three functional categories.

Clayton Alderfer’s motivational theory

McClelland’s acquired needs motivational theory:

Follow completely different approach. His motivational theory understands the uniqueness of each human being and how each one of us will prioritize needs differently. These needs are basically learned through every person’s life experiences and he acknowledges the fact that all of us are not born with these needs.

He basically classifies people into three categories:

People who have a deep seated need for achievement: Their prime motivational factor is a need to excel and prove oneself.

People who have a need to be in control and wield power: They focus on making people do what they would not have done otherwise. They know how to get the job done and get the results they want.

People who have a need for affiliation: They believe in warm, cordial professional relationships. They refrain from indulging in a conflict of any kind.

The McClelland theory suggests that we need to identify the needs of each professional worker in the organization. Based on their needs/personality traits they will have specific work preferences. A good manager is one who creates the right ambiance for each employee based on his needs. They need to find the right person for the right role or create a role to nurture the needs of their employees.


These motivational theories are not a one stop solution for a management crisis. At best, they try to give us insights into what makes us tick, what pushes us to achieve our goals. These motivational theories give us a holistic picture about how employees can be motivated. We need to understand the reason behind the complaints or dissatisfaction of our employees. These motivational theories give us a good idea about how to make the employees of an organization more productive and effective in their output.

But since we are dealing with the complex nature of human beings and a small group of people in our organization, it is difficult to say which theory will prove most effective for our organization. At best they will help us understand them to some extent.

Several factors contribute towards the behavior of employees. Motivating them or inspiring them may help solve the issues to some degree. And that is the main motive of these motivational theories.

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