Word manipulation has somewhat negative connotation. Typically, it is perceived as a word used for describing unethical conduct, even though its two definitions in the Merriam-Webster dictionary carry a positive meaning. A definition of relevance to Positive Manipulation Theory is “skilful handling or operation, artful management or control”.
Type “motivation at work” in Google Books (chose my favourite ‘Preview and full view’) and first 10 (1000) books will present you with similar, if not the same, formulas for successful motivation. Job enrichment, participative management, self-management, job enlargement... All presented as intrinsic motivation and expected to spark interest for and enjoyment of the task assigned to employee.
On the other hand, extrinsic motivation is presented as old fashioned and less efficient. It is also said that high levels of some extrinsic motivators, monetary rewards particularly, are considered to be in contrary to job motivation (Herzberg, Mausner, Snyderman, 1993, p.116). Herzberg also classifies monetary rewards not a motivator, but a hygiene factor, a factor which if not present causes dissatisfaction. Job security is placed in the group of hygiene factors as well.
If managers conclude that they want to motivate people by helping them to satisfy their needs and they dive into the literature searching for the advice on which needs are to be targeted by their motivational efforts, they will find clear instructions: target higher level needs; not much benefit from targeting needs belonging to the lower level. Terms lower level and upper level needs are based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where lower level needs are Physiological, Safety and Belonging and upper level needs are Esteem and Self Actualization. Some authors imply that upper level needs only need attention as lower level needs are already satisfied by modern societies; one of them is the founder of the theories X and Y, McGregor (as cited by Lauby, 2005).
Various examples of people being motivated by higher level needs are available in literature; Ford and Heaton (as cited by Bogie, 1998) give pilots as an example. They say that pilots are motivated by the level of decision making power they are given by airline (higher level needs), more than they are motivated by the monetary means (lower level needs). As one of the reasons pilots are not particularly worried about money, Ford and Heaton mention that they usually have their own businesses at home and the prestige of being a pilot is of their primary concern.
To conclude this introduction, to motivate employees, managers are recommended to use intrinsic motivation, to make job more pleasurable and more interesting (job enrichment and enlargement), to induce self management in the employees and to make them a part of the decision making process by giving them opportunity to actively participate. Monetary rewards are not considered major motivators, but rewards are recommended to be at, or above of, what is expected to be a minimum by employee.
Even with all this theoretical guidelines available, some older than 50 years, the literature still acknowledges a lack of work motivation and considers it a serious factor affecting productivity (Schwartz, 2006; Lientz & Larssen, 2006) and long term job satisfaction (Herzberg at all, 1993). Authors also consider motivation difficult to achieve and affirm that what motivates one person does not motivate other (Blanchard, 2007). This is particularly important as we live in a time of cultural diversity, which is adding to the existing complexity induced by employees’ differences in education, age, gender or belongingness to socio-economic groups. It can also be said that what motivates person in one life situation, does not motivate it in other.
Thus, in reality, there will be more then upper level needs to be targeted in motivational efforts. It would be difficult to believe that self-esteem and self-actualization avenues would be of interest to an employee who is in a mortgage crunch situation on a brink of a losing a house in an economic recession period when unemployment is high. And this is a common situation today. Or for an immigrant who moved to a different country at 35 years of age and is building his life again from scratch. In the country where I live, this is not unusual. What about a single parent in financial distress? Again, with high percentage of divorces and difficult economic times around us, this is a widespread situation.
According to Maslow, drives for satisfying low level needs are extremely strong and satisfaction of low level needs overrides satisfaction of higher level needs. This implies that if employee’s house is threatened (shelter) and if employee is in financial difficulties (scared for not being able to satisfy physiological needs), no motivational efforts targeting esteem or self-actualization would work. On the other hand, lower level needs are strong motivators, presenting a good opportunity for organisation to help employee satisfy the needs while channelling employee’s motivation towards productivity. Organisation can gain significant respect from the employee in this case.
Taking employee’s vocation in consideration, it will have to be concluded that different motivational efforts will be required for motivating a road worker working on 157th mile of the remote road, then for motivating a scientist working on a break-through formula. Particularly if affected by certain situational factors; even simple raining or snowing makes a difference. Snowflakes seen through the window of the warm room produce different emotions then snowflakes decorating one’s eyebrows while freezing on the cold weather. And certainly influence development of different attitudes towards the work.
Organisations are to behave according to ethical and legal guidelines prescribed by the established policies and regulations. But organisations sometimes have to deal with unethical employees. Or at least with employees whose attitudes are causing counter-productive work behaviours. Motivating those employees to change work behaviour is sometimes very difficult if attempted by using standard means. During the rough economic times, when unemployment is high, reminding them about the possible termination of their employment could be efficient if other efforts failed to give the result. Even termination of the employment for the hardest cases as an example is not unethical as it is for the benefit of the majority of employees.
- All, or at least good part of motivational efforts have to be initiated by manager directly in charge for the individual to be motivated. Initiative to not be communicated to employee before approved.
- Manager in charge has to be capable of recognising employee’s needs. To be able to do that, manager has to satisfy the following:
- Possess a high level of emotional intelligence,
- To maintain constant direct contact with employees,
- To establish and keep functional, easy to use communicational channels,
- To participate in all formal and informal networks, Grapevine particularly.
- Motivational efforts suggested by manager are to be discussed and approved (with or without alteration) by HR department.
- Upper management to be the resource resolving disputes between HR department and manager in charge, if any. Disputes reaching upper management level are to be considered serious failure of HR department. This is to help motivate HR department to invest more effort in finding beneficial solution.
- Manager in charge is allowed to suggest punishment reinforcement (termination of employment) in required situations.
- Manager in charge is allowed to communicate potential punishment reinforcement, including the potential termination of employment to employees. Consultation with HR department required.
- Potential punishment needs presenting as a result of a situation, not as a direct threat. Grapevine to be a preferred communication channel. The simpler the message, the better it will be understood and easier to spread.
- Motivational initiatives are coming from managers directly involved in the management of target employees, not from detached organisational departments.
- As initiative can be personalized to the needs of the individual employee, it will be more effective than centrally coordinated, routine motivational efforts.
- As the employees would recognize a manager as the initiator of the motivational initiatives, the result would be at least the following:
- Manager gaining respect of the employees
- The employees more openly communicating their needs to the manager
- Manager more openly communicating feedback about performance to the employees
- Personalization of motivational efforts can develop and increase employee’s sense of belongingness to the organisation.
- Higher productivity.
- Low staff turnover.
The process is called Positive Manipulation because it involves motivating employees towards realization of organisational goals by using constant recognition of employees’ needs and crafting response to them. Personalization of motivational efforts is creative process and requires understanding of the situation within the organisation, employee’s circumstances and understanding of the external environment among others. The process indeed requires ‘skilful handling or operation, artful management or control’ as many factors are out of organisational control and sometimes of very sensitive nature.
Positive Manipulation is not about taking advantage of the organisation’s powers and it is not defined in a purpose of exploitation or mishandling of employees.
- Defining framework for manager's training