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Understanding Employees' Motivations - Indispensable for Leaders & Organizations

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Understanding Employees’ Motivations:

Indispensable for Leaders & Organizations

[pic 1]

Pierre-Louis Marchal

Essay submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree:

Master in Management

IE Business School

To: Prof. Ignacio Alvarez de Mon

Organizational Behavior

December 2016

Section 4


Good leaders and motivated employees are two essential components of a well-functioning organization. In this paper, I will argue that you cannot have one without the other. Indeed, it is impossible for leaders to emerge if they work with demotivated individuals. However, if, and only if, leaders make the effort of understanding what drives the other members of the organization and subsequently adapt accordingly, will the workforce remain motivated, dynamic, effective, and loyal.  Unfortunately, motivation is probably one of the complex fields of organizational behaviour. The only certain thing is that we all need it to live up to our full potential. However, from one individual to another, sources of motivations can greatly vary.

 K.W. Thomas (2009) identifies three main drivers of employee engagement. According to his theory, some employees will look for sense, those people need to find meaning in their day to day activities in order to understand the purpose of their actions. On another hand, for others, the key driver is competence: the possibility of becoming an expert in what you do. At last, for some, working in autonomy is what is most motivating.  

David McClelland (1961) also classifies dominant motivators in three categories, however, they differ from Thomas’. He argues that people are either motivated by achievement, power, or affiliation. In other words, some of us are primarily driven by the goals and challenges we set ourselves, for others what matters is to have control and influence over others, while for the rest, what’s essential is belonging to a group and building/maintaining good relationships.

Frederick Herzberg (1959), on another hand, distinguishes between two main categories of motivators: intrinsic and extrinsic. Both are important, but independent and qualitatively very different. In fact, an absence of extrinsic motivators (reputation, money, status, …)  will leave you demotivated while intrinsic motivators (growth potential, learning opportunities, challenging work…) are the only motivators capable of generating extra motivation.

We could carry on discussing classifications of other authors but what matters is to understand that even though we are all driven by different things, many of our motivators fall within certain categories. Finding out what motivates others is therefore not an impossible task, and when managers make the effort of understanding what their employees are seeking in their jobs, this is when they become true leaders. Indeed, this allows them not only to find the right words to motivate their peers, but also to assign the right people to the right position within the organization. People will therefore perform much better and hence improve the organization’s environment and overall performance.

In my opinion, this topic is perfectly illustrated in the “Wolfgang Keller at Königsbräu” case, where we studied the interpersonal conflict between Keller and Brodsky. In my opinion, the incompatibilities in managerial style we identified between the two men come from the fact that they are driven by completely different things and that Keller simply ignored Brodsky’s motivations when taking over Königsbräu’s Ukrainian subsidiary. I will rely on the three motivation models described in the first part of my work to show that things could have gone much more smoothly if Keller had considered Brodsky’s motivations. In other words, if he had been a true leader rather than a mere middle manager.

First, if we use Thomas’ model, it is pretty obvious that Brodsky’s main driver is autonomy. A driver which, in the past, did not prevent him neither from maintaining “distant but cordial” relationships nor from achieving great results as a manager. Therefore, if Keller had taken this into account, he could have predicted that Brodsky would never have gotten “his feet wet in dealing with customers”. Moreover, he also could have known that interfering with his area of expertise was probably the best way to undermine Brodsky’s motivation to adapt to the new strategy.

If we decide to use McClelland’s model instead, the case clearly indicates that Brodsky’s key motivator is power (or arguably achievement), but certainly not affiliation. However, to consolidate the company’s distribution network, Keller, when taking over the subsidiary, decided to immediately adopt a “service-oriented commercial strategy” where personal relationships are of the utmost importance. However, when your commercial director has Brodsky’s profile, this may not be the appropriate decision to make.

At last, we can analyze this situation using Herzberg’s framework. This helps us understand why Brodsky seemed to be completely discouraged when working for Keller. Indeed, by being so inefficient at improving his behavior, Keller failed to provide Brodsky with the extrinsic motivators necessary to avoid job dissatisfaction. Indeed, Brodsky is an intellectual who values his status. He was, for instance, the only one to decline the use of the familiar form of “you” to address his colleagues. Therefore, having a manager ten years younger than him was already difficult to accept, but the fact that this same manager questions everything that he does and maintains better relationships with his subordinate (Zelenko) than with him is just impossible to accept for Brodsky. All of this illustrates that in a complex and changing environment where there was an urgent need for a leader with strong soft skills (see Kotter, 2013), by appointing a great manager instead, the Vorstand created an organizational disaster which left all protagonists miserable.



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