Employee Motivation: A Powerful New Model-Article Review Summary

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Employee Motivation: A Powerful New Model-Harvard Business Review 


Main Point/ Introduction

This article throws light on what drives people to work and how an organization can satisfy these drives to keep them motivated at the workplace. It is accepted wisdom that motivated employees can yield better corporate performance and greater productivity. The authors also present a comprehensive model describing the levers that managers can pull to fulfill these drives and strategies that can enhance employee motivation despite the organizational constraints.  This article reveals that people are guided by four basic emotional needs or drives, such as a drive to acquire, bond, comprehend and defend. The organization can fulfill these emotional drives by a primary organizational lever specific to each drive, such as reward system, culture, job design, and performance-management & resource-allocation processes. Basically, there are particular strategies in each of the lever, which an organization can take to motivate its workforce to better overall organizational performance.

New Concepts/Definitions:

Many new concepts have been learned in this article, such as employee motivation, their emotional drives, and organizational levers for addressing them.

Employee motivation at the workplace has been defined by four commonly used workplace indicators: engagement, satisfaction, commitment, and intention to quit.

Four drives underlie motivation, and each of which is independent, and they cannot be ordered hierarchically or substituted one for another, such as:

  1. The drive to acquire: We all are driven by scarce material and immaterial things to satisfy our desires for well-being. Not only physical goods such as clothing, house, etc., but also our experiences such as traveling, entertainment is included in this phenomenon. At the workplace, employees desire to be promoted, have a separate corner office, have fringe benefits and perks, competitive pay, etc.

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Lever-Reward system: organization can satisfy the drive to acquire by its reward system because the reward system sharply differentiates between good, average and poor performers; sets rewards clearly to performance.

  1. The drive to bond: humans as social animals have a natural desire to be associated with others. When employees feel proud of being associated with the organization and develop camaraderie among each other, they get motivated for work. However, when this drive is not met, this leads to negative motivation in employees and loss of morale.

Lever-Culture: organization can satisfy their employees’ drive to bond by cultivating a culture characterized by mutual reliance and friendship among workers, value collaboration, teamwork, and encouragement for sharing of best practices.

  1. The drive to comprehend: We also have the drive to learn new things happening around us to make sense of the world. At the workplace, employees’ desire for a challenging job, learning new things motivates them to enable them to grow, and a monotonous or lack of creative work demoralize them and force talented ones to seek new challenging organizations.

Lever-Job design: organization can motivate its workforce by fulfilling its drive to comprehend by designing meaningful jobs having distinct and important roles in the organization.

  1. The drive to defend: a sense of security is also natural in humans as they try to secure their belongings, their families, friends, ideas, and beliefs against any external threats. Employees also have the drive to protect their current position, job, and role in the organization. That is why people often show resistance to change.
  2. Lever: Performance-Management and Resource-Allocation Processes: by using this lever, an organization can fulfill its workforce’s sense of feeling secure, as it would increase the transparency of all processes, ensure emphasis on their families, build trust among them by designing and granting transparent rewards, recognition, and assignments.


  • Facts:
  • One of the facts is that the authors have conducted two studies; in one, 385 employees of two leading financial and IT services firms were surveyed, while in the other, they surveyed from 300 Fortune 500 companies.
  • Another fact described in the article is a real example of NatWest’s reward system, which was dominated by politics, status, and employee tenure when Royal Bank of Scotland acquired it.
  • Another fact is that in 2005, Sonoco was named one of the top 20 talent-management organizations in the United States by Hewitt Associates.


Bias/Faulty Reasoning

The article mostly relies on empirical research conducted in two stages and successfully suggests ways to address four human emotional drives that lead to motivation. However, it has ignored, to some extent, the external factors that may also contribute to employee motivation. Moreover, the authors say that the four drives are independent and cannot be substituted one for another seems faulty in the present economic and business scenario.  Because if the employees are satisfied by their reward, they may get motivated to foster camaraderie among themselves rather than feeling stressed.


The article has a lot of strengths, such as:

  • It has successfully suggested a solution to address four motivation drivers at the workplace by conducting two surveys in Fortune 500 companies.
  • The subject has also used concrete examples to support its viewpoint at each stage of the article.
  • The role of a direct manager that is often ignored in motivational research works has been clearly mentioned in this article.


The flaws in the reasoning presented in the article are very few:

  • The article has only focused on internal organizational factors as levers that can shape employee motivation.
  • The external job factors have almost been ignored in this research work.



Here we take the example of Cirque du Soleil, a world-renowned carcass company committed to designing challenging jobs to fulfill their employees’ drive to comprehend. Despite grueling rehearsal and performance schedules, it attracts and retains performers by accommodating their creativity and pushing them to perfect their craft. Its employees also get to say a lot about how performances are staged, and they are allowed to move from show to show to learn new skills. Also, they get constant collegial exposure to the world’s top artists in the field.


In short, the complex system of managerial and organizational factors influences employee motivation. The company can cultivate a workforce of motivated employees who drive greater productivity and performance by using the model presented in this article and fulfilling their most fundamental needs.


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