Also See:
How To Tame IT Turnover
4 Essential IT Team-Building Tactics

By Ellen Pearlman

Strategic Thinkers:
Nitin Nohria, Boris Groysberg, Linda-Eling Lee

Nohria is the Richard P. Chapman Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School (HBS), Groysberg is an associate professor at HBS and Lee is a research director at the Center for Research on Corporate Performance.

Big Idea:
Motivating employee's to perform is tied to satisfying four of their basic human needs.

"Employee Motivation: A Powerful New Model" published by Harvard Business Review, July/August 2008.

Cross-disciplinary research has uncovered new information about the human brain and how it influences behavior. Four basic emotional needs are hardwired into our brain and drive everything that we do. For a company and its managers, satisfying those needs is key to driving employee performance.

The drives that underlie our motivation are:

The authors of a new article in the Harvard Business Review—"Employee Motivation: A Powerful New Model"—wanted to get a better handle on the actions that managers can take to satisfy those four drives in their employees, so they undertook two major research studies. One study surveyed 385 employees of two global businesses; one a financial services firm and the other a leading IT services organization. The other study surveyed employees from 300 Fortune 500 companies. The authors used four commonly measured workplace indicators of motivation: engagement, satisfaction, commitment and intention to quit. Both studies showed that an organization's ability to meet the four fundamental drives explains, on average, "about 60 percent of employees' variance on motivational indicators," the authors said, noting that previous models only explained about 30 percent.

Some of the significant findings were:

But the most significant finding was that a company has the best chance of improving its overall employee motivational scores by satisfying all four drives. If a company did well on three out of the four drives, the one poor showing could substantially diminish its overall score. A holistic management approach is far more effective than one that satisfies an employee's desire for financial reward or recognition, without also taking into account that person's need to form connections with others, grow and learn on the job and feel safe.

Moreover, it was not enough for an organization to meet these needs-an employee's direct manager has as much responsibility as the company in influencing motivation. The authors found that employees know that even if an organization's policies restrict manager's behavior there is always some "wiggle room" that allows good managers some leeway in their actions. For example, a manager can find ways to link performance and rewards through recognition, choice assignments and bonus pools. And even in highly cutthroat environments, managers can encourage and reward teamwork.

It's no surprise that supportive work environments motivate employees to do their best work. But now we know that this is not just a matter of intuition, it's a matter of fulfilling basic human needs. And if a company and its managers don't fulfill these needs, then employees won't do their best work and will jump at any chance to move on.

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review. Excerpted from "Employee Motivation: A Powerful New Model" Copyright (c) 2008 Harvard Business Review; All Rights Reserved.

Also of interest:
Book: Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton, published by Harvard Business School Press, March 2006. Two Stanford professors debunk many common management practices.
Book: The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their Employees, Retain Talent, and Drive Performance by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, published by Free Press, January 2007. The authors recount powerful methods used by great managers.

CIOZone Question: What have you found is the best way to motivate employees?