Theories of Motivation

Theory of MotivationDescriptionKey Insights
Maslow’s Hierarchy of NeedsHierarchical theory based on human needsPeople have five levels of needs, from basic physiological needs to self-actualization.
Herzberg’s Two-Factor TheoryFocuses on job satisfaction and dissatisfactionIdentifies hygiene factors and motivators as separate factors influencing motivation.
McClelland’s Achievement Motivation TheoryEmphasizes the need for achievement, power, and affiliationDifferent individuals have different motivational needs based on these factors.
Expectancy TheoryBased on the belief that effort leads to performance and performance leads to outcomesMotivation is influenced by the perceived likelihood of success and the value of the outcome.
Self-Determination TheoryEmphasizes intrinsic and extrinsic motivationAutonomy, competence, and relatedness drive motivation.
Goal-Setting TheoryFocuses on setting specific, challenging goalsGoals provide direction and motivation for individuals and groups.
Equity TheoryConcerned with fairness in rewards and outcomesPeople are motivated when they perceive fairness in the distribution of rewards.
Reinforcement TheoryEmphasizes the role of rewards and punishmentsBehavior is shaped by consequences, including positive and negative reinforcement.
Cognitive Evaluation TheoryExamines how extrinsic rewards affect intrinsic motivationExtrinsic rewards can enhance or diminish intrinsic motivation depending on factors like autonomy.
Job Characteristics ModelIdentifies core job characteristics influencing motivationJobs with high levels of skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback are more motivating.
Self-Efficacy TheoryFocuses on an individual’s belief in their ability to perform tasksHigh self-efficacy leads to increased motivation and performance.
ERG Theory (Existence, Relatedness, Growth)A modification of Maslow’s hierarchyIndividuals have three core needs: existence, relatedness, and growth.
Vroom’s Expectancy TheoryAddresses the relationship between effort, performance, and outcomesIndividuals consider expectancy, instrumentality, and valence when assessing motivation.

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

Herzberg’s two-factor theory argues that certain workplace factors cause job satisfaction while others cause job dissatisfaction. The theory was developed by American psychologist and business management analyst Frederick Herzberg. Until his death in 2000, Herzberg was widely regarded as a pioneering thinker in motivational theory.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was developed by American psychologist Abraham Maslow. His hierarchy, often depicted in the shape of a pyramid, helped explain his research on basic human needs and desires. In marketing, the hierarchy (and its basis in psychology) can be used to market to specific groups of people based on their similarly specific needs, desires, and resultant actions.

Lightning Decision Jam

The theory was developed by psychologist Edwin Locke who also has a background in motivation and leadership research. Locke’s goal-setting theory of motivation provides a framework for setting effective and motivating goals. Locke was able to demonstrate that goal setting was linked to performance.

SOAR Analysis

A SOAR analysis is a technique that helps businesses at a strategic planning level to: Focus on what they are doing right. Determine which skills could be enhanced. Understand the desires and motivations of their stakeholders.

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is motivated by the prospect of earning a reward or avoiding a punishment. Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is motivated by the desire to do something for its own sake. There is no obvious, external reward for behaving a certain way. 

Theory X and Theory Y

Theory X and Theory Y were developed in the 1960s by American management professor and social psychologist Douglas McGregor. McGregor believed there were two fundamental approaches to managing people in the workplace to get things done and benefit the organization. Theory X and Theory Y are theories of motivation used by managers to increase the performance of subordinates.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

fixed mindset believes their intelligence and talents are fixed traits that cannot be developed. The two mindsets were developed by American psychologist Carol Dweck while studying human motivation. Both mindsets are comprised of conscious and subconscious thought patterns established at a very young age. In adult life, they have profound implications for personal and professional success. Individuals with a growth mindset devote more time and effort to achieving difficult goals and by extension, are less concerned with the opinions or abilities of others. Individuals with a fixed mindset are sensitive to criticism and may be preoccupied with proving their talents to others.

ERG Theory

The ERG theory was developed by American psychologist Clayton Alderfer between 1961 and 1978.  The ERG theory is a motivational model based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The ERG theory is based on an acronym of three groups of core needs: existence, relatedness, growth.


Groupthink occurs when well-intentioned individuals make non-optimal or irrational decisions based on a belief that dissent is impossible or on a motivation to conform. Groupthink occurs when members of a group reach a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the alternatives and their consequences.

Personal Mission Statement

Candidates attach motivation statements to resumes to convince the HR specialist that they are the most suitable hire for the position. For this reason, they are sometimes referred to as motivation letters. 

Wheel of Life

The idea behind the wheel of life is credited to self-improvement pioneer Paul Meyer who founded the Success Motivation Institute in 1960. Despite numerous interpretations of the wheel of life in more recent years, each version shares the common purpose of personal transformation.

Job Characteristics Model

Hackman and Oldham’s job characteristics model is a framework that businesses use to design jobs that facilitate employee motivation. Hackman and Oldham’s model is based on the idea maintaining motivation in the workplace lies in the job itself. While mundane tasks were found to decrease productivity, more varied tasks had the opposite effect. Hackman and Oldham identified five job characteristics that enrich a role and cause employee motivation, satisfaction, and performance to increase: skill variety, task identity, task significance, task autonomy, and feedback. These factors are linked with three psychological states that improve an employee’s motivation in the workplace.

Premack Principle

The Premack principle posits that an individual will perform a less preferred activity (low probability behavior) to obtain access to a more preferred activity (high probability behavior). The Premack principle was developed after a study of capuchin monkeys conducted by David Premack in 1965. Premack later conducted a similar experiment with children and found that irrespective of their preference between pinball and candy, they would perform the less desirable activity to get what they wanted. The Premack principle can also be useful in some workplace scenarios as an employee motivation tactic.

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is motivated by the prospect of earning a reward or avoiding a punishment. Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is motivated by the desire to do something for its own sake. There is no obvious, external reward for behaving a certain way. 

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