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Learning Culture-An Employer's Guide to Motivating Employees

Updated on March 11, 2014

Categories of Motivation

There are two categories of motivation;

intrinsic, or motivation that comes from within a person,

extrinsic, or an external reward a person strives toward

There are many factors affecting how or why a person is motivated such as personality, personal life, interest, skills, job types they possess, and even their current mood. Employees base their motivation on the outcome, or the rewards or benefits of what they will receive from their input, or performance.

Employee Value

Employees are a company’s most valuable resource. They produce goods, they provide customer service, they innovate, and help a company attain a competitive advantage in an ever changing environment. If the company has the right organizational structure, working environment, management styles, and motivational techniques to keep employees happy, it can motivate its employees to grow with the business and adapt to constant changes. Why is it important to motivate and create a happy work environment? Well, like captains of ships know, a mutiny can arise when motivation and happiness are lacking. The unhappiness, lack of focus, boredom, or incorrect perceptions of an employee can demotivate them. In turn, this can negatively impact the company’s goals and ability to maintain a competitive advantage.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


Employee Motivation Theories

What makes a person wake up to their alarm and get out of bed, long before they are ready? Why would someone spend more time at work than at home? Why do people further their education when they don’t have to? The answer is motivation. Whether the motivation is for a paycheck to meet their needs of food and shelter, or because working long hours will produce a promotion or raise, or because education will secure a better job with additional benefits, they do it to achieve more than they have right now.

A company can tap into employee’s motivation to meet company goals and maintain the competitive advantage over competitors. A company expends a lot of money recruiting, selecting and training new employees. Companies want to avoid losing the investment in a new employee by motivating them to achieve performance goals, organizational goals, and self-development goals. In turn, the company benefits by retaining knowledgeable, skilled, and motivated employees.

Motivation is the though process or feelings that drive someone to do something to achieve goals (Jones & George, 2011, p. 430). There are two categories of motivation; intrinsic, or motivation that comes from within a person, and extrinsic, or an external reward a person strives toward (Jones & George, 2011, p. 430) There are many factors affecting how or why a person is motivated such as personality, personal life, interest, skills, job types they possess, and even their current mood (Jones & George, 2011, p. 430) Employees base their motivation on the outcome, or the rewards or benefits of what they will receive from their input, or performance (Jones & George, 2011, p. 431). Outcomes can be the prestige of a company or its reputation and working for them, the benefits they offer to employees, the educational assistance, pay rate, or opportunities within that company that will make their input worth that outcome.

There are several theories regarding what motivates people. The Expectancy Theory devised by Victor Vroom states that there is an equation to motivation that envelopes the employee’s perception of what level of effort will be construed as high performance which will lead to desired rewards (Jones & George, 2011, p. 433). Another theory is the Hierarchy of Needs devised by A. Maslow which asserts that employees climb a ladder of needs, sufficing each need before they move onto the next. These needs are basic necessities like food and water, security and stability, social interaction, self-esteem, and self-actualization or the need to determine their potential as a human being (Jones & George, 2011, p. 438). Alderfeis’s ERG Theory is similar to the Needs Theory, yet he states employees are motivated by necessities, relationships, and finally growth and all can be striven for simultaneously (Jones & George, 2011, p. 439). Another theory is David McClellands Need For Achievement, Affiliation, and Power Theory which theorizes employees are motivated by the strong desire to overcome challenges, being liked, having good relationships, and achieving power or influence over others (Jones & George, 2011, p. 440). Additionally Locke and Latham’s Goal Setting Theory state employees are motivated by challenging and specific goals (Jones & George, 2011, p. 443). Finally the Learning Theory suggests an employee is motivated by improving their own knowledge, being autonomous, and being more valued through development and learning (Jones & George, 2011, p. 443). As the theories are reviewed they hold a common denominator, the need for growth, achievement, and satisfaction.

Employer Motivation

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Learning Organization

A common denominator of motivational theories is achievement through learning. An unchanging factor in business is change. Marrying an employee’s desire to be better with a company’s learning environment to keep ahead of the game is mutually beneficial. A manager and company can achieve employee motivation through providing a learning environment where employees are given tools to learn with the advances in the company’s industry, as well as through self-development to yield a motivating and learning environment. There are five principles to creating and managing a learning organization: empower employees to experiment and be creative, encourage employees to use complex or sophisticated ways of thinking, group activities and team learning, build a shared organizational vision, and use systems thinking (Jones & George, 2011, p. 231). By empowering employees they are given a sense of self-worth and autonomy. They can be creative with less restriction which can motivate them to come up with creative approaches to problems, avoid problems, and innovate. Encouraging employees to use complex thought processes increases creativity, increases their knowledge of the organization and other functions, and can lead to innovation for the company, and motivation for the employee to continue to think high-level.

Using group activities satisfies the common need amongst the motivational theories for interaction and personal relationships as well as provides the opportunity for the employee to learn other functions and other employees to actualize the correct perception of what they do, and also gives them a sense of belonging. When people feel like they belong, they want to be there. Thus motivation is achieved. A shared organizational vision can create a firm organizational culture, but it can also set goals for the employee to motivate them to strive toward something. Goals are an important aspect of motivating an employee because it provides direction and challenge. Reviewing the theories, challenges and goals are a motivating factor.

Finally, Systems thinking is a strategic management approach to creating a management and leadership development organization (Jones & George, 2011, p. 231). By utilizing a strategic approach to creating a learning environment with team building, social interaction, goal setting through team effort, the company is setting up an environment where an employee feels valued, invested in, and provided with opportunities to self-actualize their potential. This strategy and type of organization can draw in a skilled talent pool that is willing and desires to learn, and retain them. Thus the investment in them is profitable, and their input to the company will match the outcomes of reward the company offers. However; a company cannot just focus on a learning environment only to motivate employees, but it’s the best way to motivate them to stay with the company while increasing its competitive advantage. If a company has employees and candidates that want to work there, they have won half the battle. Pay, performance appraisals, health and educational benefits, and the ability to move up within the company should be considered as well to maintaining a healthy motivational balance.

Cannon's Employee Motivation Self-Discovery


Employee Motivation


Conclusion: Invest in your greatest investment

A company’s learning environment can impact the motivation of an employee. Highly motivated employees possess high performance, high input, a desire to learn, innovate, and grow with a company as long as the company provides desirable outcomes. In turn, the company will have seasoned staff that is skilled and motivated to advance the company through innovation and customer retention. The first step in a company’s plan to create a learning environment is realizing the value of employees and how they want, and need, to be motivated.


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