How Can You Motivate Knowledge Workers?

Expectancy Theory
Knowledge Center


Next Topic

Expectancy Theory > Best Practices > How Can You Motivate Knowledge Workers?

How Can You Motivate Knowledge Workers?
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
In the current 'knowledge era', the question what motivates knowledge workers, and, being a manager, how you should motivate and manage them is important.
In their article "The Progress of Small Wins" in HBR May 2011, Professor Theresa M. Amabile and researcher Steven J. Kramer are reporting interesting findings and formulate a principle.
By the way, this principle reminded me strongly of above summarized Expectancy Theory (1964) of Victor Vroom (the article itself does not mention this).
According to Amabile and Kramer what motivates knowledge workers is surprisingly simple: the sense of making progress in meaningful work (they call this the Progress Principle).
In this Progress Principle, 3 elements are important:
1. Sense (similar to Vroom's Expectancy)
2. Making Progress (similar to Vroom's Instrumentality)
3. Meaningful (similar to Vroom's Valence)
According to the authors 'this sense of making progress is fundamental to human nature, but few managers understand it or know how to leverage progress to boost motivation'. This while even limited progress (or lack thereof) can already boost (or decrease) morale and engagement and make them more (or less) productive!
Chances are that you, being a member of 12manage, are managing several or even many knowledge workers. What should you do? Quite simply: support this progress. How?
This part of the article I liked most. Interestingly, the authors distinguish between:
- 'Catalysts' (actions that support work): setting clear goals, allowing autonomy, providing enough resources and time, helping with the work, openly learning from problems and successes, and allowing a free exchange of ideas. Beware of the negative counterpart of catalysts, 'Inhibitors', such as failing to provide support and actively interfering with the work.
- 'Nourishers' (actions that support the person): respect, recognition, encouragement, emotional comfort, opportunities for affiliation. Beware of the negative counterpart of nourishers, 'Toxins', such as disrespect, discouragement, disregard for emotions, and interpersonal conflict.

Knowledge Workers Motivate Themselves
G.J. Bouwman, Business Consultant, Netherlands, Member
A Dutch book I like is "Leidinggeven aan professionals? Niet doen." (Ed: Leading professionals? Don't.) written by Mathieu Weggeman. What I like is that it mentions that knowledge workers are motivated by themselves.
He also writes about the time knowledge is valueable, called half-live (halfwaarde tijd).
For me it is important that I can do projects which help me to get more knowledge, reach goals. And important: not to get bored with useless rules.

Bucks and Rush on Motivating Knowledge Workers
Gustavo Ruiz, HR Consultant, Spain, Member
Where is the money? Many knowledge workers tell the boss: "show me the money". This is one of the unknown (yet well known) factors.
Another one (in my opinion) deals with the outcome speed. Young workers within the IT industry seem to be quite eager about "the bucks". Specially when come to talk about search for talent, money and rush are extremely important nowadays, perhaps more than when Vroom formulate his model (1964). Greetings.

Be a Leader..
Nelson Hernandez Manso
If somebody ask for the money, don't take it. I am with Bouwman: knowledge raise, power in company.. "To boldy go an alpha manager". Use the last 3 levels of Mazlov pyramid.

The Candle Experiment
In this video Dan Pink says for 21st century tasks, the mechanistic, reward-and-punishment approach doesn't work, and often does harm.
In short, Pink says there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. And here is what science knows about motivation:
1. Those 20th century rewards, those motivators we think are a natural part of business, do work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances.
2. Those if-then rewards often destroy creativity.
3. The secret to high performance isn't rewards and punishments, but that unseen intrinsic drive. The drive to do things for their own sake. The drive to do things cause they matter.
I believe it is very relevant to this discussion.

Motivation of Knowledge Workers
barhoumi chawki, Coach, France, Member
If we understand the expectancies of (knowledge) workers, we can realize the objectives of the firm.

There is Nothing like Self-motivation
Madan Gopal Agarwal, Business Consultant, India, Member
Firstly, many workers are knowledge workers, so the scope is very wide.
Secondly, there is nothing like 'self-motivation'. Is there any case study (even a single one) to prove that workers were found motivated even when outcome was contrary to their expectations?
Thirdly, expectations of every worker are unique and specific.
Initial motivation of a worker depends upon his/her expectation of the outcome. If the outcome matches (or does not match) the expectation, motivation increases (or decreases). Therefore, to motivate any worker, his/her 'specific' expected outcome has to be understood and fulfilled. This is the only way to motivate him/her.

Motivational Factors
Mrs c usha rani, Professor, India, Member
Knowledge, attitude and hard work are key terms for success. In addition to these, spiritual management such as allowing employees to express their inner feeling is very important. If employees are really in need of job automatically other things automatically will come on its own way. Every employee should have commitment regarding work. Employee should have fear of punishment. Otherwise they will take everything for granted.
Having 26 years of experience in both teaching and industrial experience I can say that out of 10 (approximately) staff members only 3 or 4 workers may work sincerely. Of the remaining, 2 or 3 may work because there is no other alternative to earn money. The remaining 2 or 3 just pass their time. Except money they don't bother about targets at work place.
360 degrees feedback is one of the best solution to motivate and manage knowledge workers. Quality, freedom at work are also important factors to manage and motivate knowledge workers.

Intrinsic Motivation is Possible
Daniel Carriere, Project Manager, Netherlands, Member
Higher educated people are very able to motivate themselves. You as their leader should facilitate in enabling self motivation and taking control over themselves.

Vrooms Theory and Motivating Knowledge Workers
prasad, Professor, India, Member
This entire thing about motivation smells of that Theory X belief. I think it is a fictional thing. There is only being focused in life and excelling. In such a mode of living motivation is non-existent, only otherwise motivation arises as a concept. The way one is educated and raised determines whether one is focused and excelling or not.

The Art of Being a Leader
joko triyono, Director, Indonesia, Member
Vroom's theory is more specific than Maslow or Herzberg. We can apply it effectively with a direct subordinate by knowing individually what they expect, what are the indicators / parameters of achieving goals.
This is one of the leader's tools to motivate with the art of knowing the employee individually.

Career Enhancement
farhadjabeen Shaikh, India, Member
I believe knowledge workers always want more from their work, more autonomy, variety, and challenges. A knowledge worker will move if he does not find opportunities to enhance his career. Career development and upgrading will definitely benefit the organization as well as the knowledge worker.

Group Lobbing as a Motivation
Alexander N. Raikov, Director, Russian Federation, Member
Money and rush are important nowadays for knowledge creation. But they are only a necessary condition.
Immaterial motivation is much more important. It may consist of: scientist reputation, image and merits; getting professional rating; access to useful analytical and expert information; access to the network conversation; getting signs of honor; membership in famous expert groups and associations; taking part in group lobbing of high technology projects.
Taking part in lobbying of projects is also a very important motivation mechanism. In some countries activities of expert communities are considered as a lobbying process which takes place within authorities’ circles.
It is useful to create a special motivation information support system.

Motivating Knowledge Workers
Tony Nasirembe, Management Consultant, Kenya, Member
In a knowledge worker environment, motivation is driven by empowerment and release. Control and punishment are inhibitors of motivation. Recognition of talent and abilities, encouragement and mentoring spurs the passion for better performance and achievement of desired goals.

Balance Between Body, Mind and Soul
Ramakrishnan, Professor, India, Member
It is immaterial whether one is a knowledge worker or a skilled worker. Basically he or she is an individual made up of three components namely body, mind and soul.
Most of the time we look at the physiological perspective focusing on body requirements. Sometime we look at the psychological aspects but rarely we look at the spiritual side. Whether it is a motivational factor (external influence) or an inspirational factor (internal influence), it all depends up on the individual and social circumstance that prevails.
Otherwise, we can simply conclude that it is the traverse process of the individual himself or herself between the three phases and to hold it as a guiding factor.
One can not generalize that we could motivate or inspire any individual with a single method.

Cultural Factors in Motivating Knowledge Workers
Per Ola Post
Very often we face books written in the US explaining how the human behaviour is. I am often struck by the fact that cultural dimensions are not taken into consideration. The fact is: what is motivating a Japanese is not obviously motivating an Italian or a US citizen.
In my culture the money motivates someone to change job but not so much to make a better performance at the job he/she has for the moment. If the money would be the main motivator, how come a lot of people choose to put so much effort into hobbies or charity?
Summary: do not take any theory from the US and assume as a fact that it's also valid in your context. We are much more complex and different than that.

Motivation for Result
ADENIJI ADETUNJI, Accountant, Nigeria, Member
A motivated staff member, driven by his needs, will no doubt be a productive employee. Managers need to identify these factors. When aligned to the emotional quotient of the employee this will produce expected results.
Vroom has captured it all in the sence that personal needs determine the level of performance and outcome. It's like a general question with an individual answer: 'What do I stand to gain?'

Distinguish Stimulus and Motive
Inna Borodina, Professor, Russian Federation, Member
Motive is not the same as a stimulus. Money is a stimulus.
A motive is a "real" perpetuum mobile. It is a system with feedback.

Motivation Differs for Everyone
Jacob Andrews, Entrepreneur, United Arab Emirates, Member
There is no single universally accepted definition of motivation. It is a state of mind and it differs for everyone.
Hence every manager struggles in the following areas of motivation:
- How to make positive energy for human behaviour & attitude,
- Identifying the positive energy factors for such behaviour,
- How this positive energy is maintained without interruption.

How Can You Motivate Workers?
J. D. Popham, Professor, China, Member
Background: I teach, in English, a management course & an intro stats course to Chinese students at a tier 2 univ. In China. I start off with a ppt outlining my "mission statement" (to make them the best possible "product" on graduation so they can find that hard-to-get job). It is rough going at the start, but my behaviour is consistent no matter what, effort is publicly praised and poor behaviour is identified and dealt with immediately in class. One has to demonstrate to the students that the teacher can be trusted to be consistent and compasionate, no matter what. In addition I had to adapt to Chinese ways. For example, teamwork is a critical component of the culture and so I have the "team" solve the problem. I am "(in)famous" for being so strict, and yet the students rewarded me with the designation of being the most influential teacher of the school. Also, my wife and I have been invited to students' homes. So perhaps the leader of the group (at least in a collective society) plays an important role.

Motivating Knowledge Workers
Natarajan Ramanathan
Due to space constraints, let me just put bullet points:
A. Knowledge is like water - it will go and accumulate at the lowest point. That is something the management needs to know - management's job is do "resource marshalling" or using the right resources at the right time.
B. Have the humility to accept that management does not have all the answers - but they should know within their team who could be encouraged to search for the answer and once it is found, reward them
C. Respect knowledge and knowledge workers especially those who implement 'applied knowledge' to work situations
D. Make them feel wanted in the right sense of the term
E. The title of the Jeffrey Archer's book, "First among the Equals' is pretty much applicable in the era of knowledge workers - there is so much of technology evolving, you have to utilize these knowledge workers to get a broad spectrum view. The management / manager by oneself can not assimiliate all the knowledge;
F. Be a torch bearer to knowledge.

Then... Managing is an Art
Nelson Hernandez Manso
Wonderful! A lot of knowledge, a lot of people to understand and motivate, including the manager.
I agree, strongly with C. Usha and Popham. Country culture matters! And the bullet list.
Remember, they are humans with expectatives and the job/enterprise has expectatives too. We (all of us) use / used a test to choose specific people with specific training and culture. We need to manage the "personal deviations from the center of the normal curve". Beer and barbacues aren't enough to motivate them. We need to gain their respect as their shields against the higher management, we need to teach them the "work in a group" and give a good example ourselve. Managing people is an art.

Fostering the Context, Rewards and Recognition
David J. MacCoy, Management Consultant, Canada, Member
Knowledge workers from information technology, financial services, scientific research, engineering and health services are largely self-motivated, but the CONTEXT in which they work is critical.
Management/leadership can foster the context to enhance the performance of knowledge workers. Managers can clearly communicate and negotiate the meaning of the work, the milestones along the way and the outcomes being sought to help guide them while leaving sufficient room for creativity. Rewards (financial and others) for achievement play a big role as does recognition. Managers have a responsibility for maintaining constructive relationships and creating a positive climate within which knowledge workers can perform at their best.

Motivating Knowledge Workers
There are approximately 17 theories on motivation.
The expectancy theory of Vroom is one of the five Theories of the Processes, in addition to the theories of Adams, Folger and Lreenberg, Locke and Bandura.
Also, we have got the Theories of Contents: Maslow, Alderfer, McLelland, Herzberg, Hackman and Oldham, Deci and Ryan and Shamir.
Finally, we must also have into account the Theory of Consequences, with experts like Luthans and Kreitner Skinner, Pérez López.
Finally, motivation based on the consequences we can analyze about the intrinsic and extrinsic contributory and relational commitment, which properly they can be about continuity, affection and standards.
As you can see there are many theories of motivation, but all are partial. All provide some small matter which we use to understand the human behavior and motivations. They are like traffic signs: they guide you; you have to know them, but above all, after more than 25 years of practical experiency on the issue I can tell you 15 Principles of Human Motivation.

Motivation of a Knowledge Worker
Miguel S. Cordovez, Manager, Philippines, Member
Provide a clear and definitive motive or reason to take action.

Extrinsic Motivation
bliss ogbanga, Director, Nigeria, Member
The varying shades of opinions from different contributors on Vroom's expectancy theory make the debate an interest reading. Indeed I am benefited. I support the view that most people are motivated or inspired to do something especially for personal benefit.
Those who are inspired are said to be self-motivated, to them externalities are immaterial. Jesus, the best man that ever trod the earth, did all that he did for all humanity without any personal benefit or material reward from his beneficiaries.
But most men, whether knowledge worker or not, still operate at the lowest level of spiritual progress, thus must desire extrinsic rewards to motivate them toward achieving objectives coinciding with the organisation's goals.
Managers task is to determine what personally interest's his subordinates and try to marry this creatively with those of his firm.

6 Sources of (Individual) Motivation
David Whitfield, Professor, United States, Member
From reading Wlodkowski and McGregor, I believe motivation is owned by the individual; it comes from within.
Motivation stems from need. If I have a need to eat, love, or whatever, I will become motivated and accommodate that need.
Once the need is recognized, motivation is triggered; behavior will follow. This is related to McGregor's arousal: that which gets us going and why; and his choice: why we do one thing rather than another.
Finally, since one cannot motivate another, there are 6 sources that foster motivation that work in successful organizations:
1. Accomplishment;
2. Power;
3. Recognition;
4. Responsibility;
5. Security; and
6. Self-expression.
If leaders provide followers with a sense of the 6 sources of motivation, they will foster motivation among their staff or team members.
Again, motivation is owned by each of us; and you cannot force it.

How Can You Motivate Workers?
KATHRYN STEINER, MBA, Entrepreneur, United States, Member
People do need to be nourished as Editor included, to be inspired as Bliss indicated, ultimately "achieving" by finding personal fulfillment in the work they are doing.
Knowledge workers must not be viewed as being only as valuable as their particular performance in an area. They must be acknowledged as adding value to the organization, as David Whitfield included; the 6 sources that foster motivation must be present in order to achieve the balance that contributes to an organization's success.

Motivation of Knowledge Workers
Lloyd Madzokere, Student (Other), Zimbabwe, Member
Knowledge workers can be motivated by the work environment and the business culture of the organisation.

Motivation of Knowledge Workers
KATHRYN STEINER, MBA, Entrepreneur, United States, Member
Yes, the work environment is a major motivating factor, in addition to the business culture of the organization. Reasonable expectations based on strategic workflow enhances relationship building. The foundation is built on ethics, mission, and values, contributing to positive interactions both internally across teams and externally with customer/clients.

Positive and Negative Reinforcement
The real reinforcement is the positive one, because it is the only thing that makes people feel special. Positive reinforcements act constructively engaging. Happy people create things and have no problem to repeat tasks, increasing the commitment or effort to win the recognition they expect.
On the other hand the negative recognition puts the person on guard, he appeals to the feelings of self-defense and survival and encourages pride that causes the following response: "this can not happen anymore". Negative reinforcement produces scary, distant, distrusting, and emotional detached persons. Not binding, rather hurt. Something inside the person, however small, dies.

Knowledge Workers are Motivated to Live, Love, Learn, and Leave a Legacy
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
@Dr Ramakrishnan: In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we add Heart to Body, Mind, and Soul. Stephen Covey talks about 4 basic needs: physiological, emotional, mental, and spiritual. We strive to live, love, learn, and leave a legacy.
There is an intelligence and quotient associated with each need:
- Live: physical intelligence, PQ
- Love: emotional intelligence, EQ
- Learn: intellectual intelligence, IQ
- Leave a legacy: spiritual intelligence, SQ
We typically associate knowledge workers with IQ, but all 4 intelligences are required and possible sources of motivation.

Heart Relates to Body, Mind, and Soul and Reducing Toxins and Inhibitors
KATHRYN STEINER, MBA, Entrepreneur, United States, Member
@Gary Wong: I found your comments interesting, particularly the leave a legacy, spiritual intelligence. I think that spiritual intelligence can be interpreted in many different ways... Was considering eliminating toxins and inhibitors by additional application of PQ, EQ, and IQ...

Making a Contribution as a Source of Motivation
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
@Kathryn Pawley Steiner: I like your connection of the Heart with eliminating toxins and inhibitors, the things that we need to overcome in a relationship in order to Love.
While some people will connect their faith and religion with spiritual intelligence, others will interpret it as making a contribution. Self-motivation arises from the inner need to make a difference now and be remembered for doing so.
It's the story of the 3 bricklayers, when the 3rd one is asked if he's building a wall he replies: "No, I'm building a cathedral." That's how he wishes to be remembered.

Circular Arguments and Impossible Demands on Managers... Again!
Howie, Management Consultant, Australia, Member
@Madan Gopal Agarwal: Yes and this task is huge and the capacities for managers to do this are largely absent.
Most people do not know their own motivations. How are managers expected to know them. Well... If being able to do this fits with the manager's motivations then it is OK. But the same principles for knowledge workers fit for managers. It is a circular argument not dissimilar to faith.

Motivating Knowledge Workers is Applicable to my Current Project
KATHRYN STEINER, MBA, Entrepreneur, United States, Member
The manager on our new project has been asking what motivates me, making this discussion immediately relevant. The elements Jaap has included from the HBR article work together to foster success, for both the individual and the team.
Discouragement can be present early on in a project, as there is additional stress as the project gets up and running, people get accustomed to working together perhaps for the first time, and new processes and procedures are implemented.

Provide Climate for Motivation
Ralph Cagna, Entrepreneur, United States, Member
@Jacob Andrews: As a former military officer, we were exposed to several theories of leadership and motivation in our pre-commissioning training.
After synthesizing everything, I have come to believe that everyone is self "motivated" to do (or not to do) something. As a leader, I cannot actually motivate them, but can try to provide the climate for motivation to occur. That climate be different for each person.

Provide the Climate for Motivation
@Ralph Cagna: I am thoroughly agreeing with you. A leader or manager may create special conditions in order to help people to do something, but THEY are the ones who have to act, to put the shoulder to the wheel.
Things can be achieved in the traditional settings, but if we need the results to be superb, the people inside our teams must be integrated in the objectives, they have to live them, breath them and really want to reach the target enthusiastically. These feelings are residing in the hearth, so this is the playground of managers. At least, developing the adequate conditions is a good and solid step, but - see my Principles of Human Motivation - there are many things to do to improve the motivation and to encourage the people in your teams.

Special Interest Group Leader

Interested? Sign up for free.

Expectancy Theory
Best Practices

Expectancy Theory
Knowledge Center


Next Topic

About 12manage | Advertising | Link to us / Cite us | Privacy | Suggestions | Terms of Service
© 2019 12manage - The Executive Fast Track. V15.1 - Last updated: 20-8-2019. All names ™ of their owners.