Motivation theory and what does it mean to thrive?

Piers Bishop · November 10, 2015

As you can imagine, that’s an important question to us. And in a field full of similarly vague concepts (happiness, satisfaction, engagement, motivation and so on) it seems an important question to answer.  After all, we’re selling the idea that it’s possible and desirable to thrive at work, and that thriving will carry a whole raft of benefits, so maybe we need to defend that idea.

Trouble is, the words get in the way – you can spend many happy years wandering round the academic literature on motivation and asking what leads to what, and you’ll find it extremely hard to reach any concrete conclusions because the words are not only vaguely defined but they mean different things to different people.

So I’d like to start by doing something else, and asking a question that gets you to the heart of what’s needed more quickly and reliably.  Please will you now close your eyes and take yourself back to the best time you ever had at work.  A time when you felt, over a sustained period, that you were enjoying work, getting things done and feeling satisfied at the end of the day.  The kind of time that made you feel good at the end of the day.

As you might expect, we’ve asked a lot of people about their memories of that kind of work, and what it was that made them feel that way.  The results are interesting: in companies with different kinds of people making or doing different things in different ways, staff say very similar things. If you’re familiar with motivation theory from Maslow to Pink via Herzberg and SDT, or if you have studied the 4C model that underlies WeThrive, you will not be surprised by that.

Asked what people think characterises a really good place to work, people mention things including ‘friendship’, ‘learning’, ‘doing something useful’, ‘feeling of achievement’, ‘making things happen’ and ‘doing something meaningful’.  Oddly enough, they tend not to mention salary, or (less surprisingly) paperwork, performance rankings or the annual review.

Does it matter that people management centres round pay and performance management, carrots and sticks, while the reasons people go to work are quite different?  Of course it does – there’s a 24-carat contradiction here and it needs sorting out. Some big companies like GE and Accenture are moving away from this framework now, which is great, and shows the direction the world is going in.

If you don’t have their budget, or just want something that just works, out of the box, we can help you out today – WeThrive works out the reasons why people who could be happy and doing well are not.  It uncovers what you have to do so your people are having the kind of day that you remember as being the best of working life, and suggests the conversations you need to have to make things change for the better.  Then it’s up to you…