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How do I Identify Employees’ Needs to Motivate Them Better?

By understanding what pressing, unfulfilled needs people have, managers can motivate them. So the key to motivating employees becomes accurately identifying a person’s needs, then using that information to inspire him or her to do the best possible job. All motivation comes from within, but managers can identify the rewards and recognition that will influence their employees’ internal motivation. This can be done using either Maslow’s, Herzberg’s, McClelland’s, or Mayo’s model.

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Abraham Maslow created a pyramidal hierarchy of needs to describe how people are motivated. At the lowest level are physiological needs—needs for food, drink, and shelter. The next level of need is safety, which includes needs for security, stability, and freedom from fear. The third level of needs—social needs—involves friendships and contacts with others. Esteem and self-actualization are at the highest level of the pyramid. The need for esteem is met when we feel important or are needed by others, and self-actualization needs are fulfilled when we realize our full potential.

Frederick Herzberg’s findings, as described in his Two-Factor Theory, were similar. Herzberg divided people’s needs into five dissatisfiers and five satisfiers. The five satisfiers included achievement, recognition, interesting responsibilities, positive work relationships, and opportunity for growth. The five dissatisfiers were supervision (a manager unwilling to teach and delegate responsibility), administration (including poor communication with the worker), unsafe or unpleasant working conditions, poor interrelationships, and salary (inadequate compensation). He went on to suggest that a good hygienic environment could prevent job dissatisfaction but couldn’t affect satisfaction. Only the job satisfiers could do that.

David McClelland identified the needs of self-motivated achievers whom he believed made up about 10 percent of the population. These high achievers preferred to set their own goals, goals that were tough but realistic, and preferred tasks that provided them with immediate feedback. He felt it was possible to build achievement traits into jobs by including personal responsibility, individual participation in setting productivity targets, creation of moderate goals, and fast, clear-cut feedback on results.

Finally, Elton Mayo argued in favor of small work groups for motivating workers. He felt that when people become part of an informal work group, they experience a social relationship that increases their performance. His research was supported by the experiences of Japanese companies using teams after World War II.

So the work of these researchers has become the foundation for efforts by managers to increase employee job performance.