5th Edition PMBOK Guide–Chapter 9:Theories of Motivation


With regards to the material in Chapter 9 on Human Resources Management, PMI likes to pose questions on its tests for the PMP or CAPM certification test on theories of motivation of one’s project team members.    The purpose of this post is to review these theories, and give some practical advice for the project manager who would like to use them to motivate his or her project team  members.    This post is adapted from a talk I gave for Toastmasters at the OC Project Masters Club in the Leadership Excellence Series in order to earn my Advanced Leader Bronze award.


1.   Introduction

Theories of motivation are part of the Human Resource knowledge area those that are covered as part of the Project Management Body of Knowledge or PMBOK. Just a word of caution: these are not listed in the PMBOK Guide, but if you study for the PMP exam, you must study these theories of motivation as part of the Human Resources Management knowledge area. That is why they are included in any of the well-known PMP exam prep textbooks, like Andy Crowe’s or Rita Mulcahy’s.

Being a good project manager is motivating your team. Our sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, once said “If your actions inspire others to dream more, to learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” How do you get people to dream more and learn more so that they will do more and make your project successful?

To discuss this, I will first present theories of what is it that truly motivates people, and then discuss how as a leader you can provide this motivation.

2.   Theories of Motivation

There are several theories of motivation mentioned in the PMBOK, but I think they can all related to the most elaborate theory, that of Abraham Maslow.

His hierarchy of needs expresses that people have a certain priority of needs or motivations. The needs of one level need to be fulfilled before the person is motivated to attend to the higher level of needs. The bottom level is physiological needs. If a person’s basic physical survival is assured by getting food, water, oxygen, sleep, etc., then the person seeks the needs of the next level, that of safety or security.

Examples here include employment, healthy, family, and property. If those are fulfilled, the social needs are at the next level, and these include the need for friendship, colleagues, and sexual and emotional relationships.

If these needs are fulfilled and you are a member of a society or group, then you need self-esteem, or the respect of others. You can have a relationship with others without being respected by them. This respect can come from achievements that are recognized by the group.

And finally, if you do have confidence or self-esteem, you are free to grow and develop, or what is called self-actualization. You want to learn new things and solve problems; you are free to express yourself.

When we get a raise, we are being motivated at the level of physical needs. When we get a promotion, we are motivated by the level of self-esteem or earned respect. But the highest form of motivation is when we are not motivated by others, but by our own desire to grow and develop our skills. In reality, you cannot fulfill people’s needs at this level, you can only fulfill them up to here. From here on, people have to motivate themselves, but you can at least but them in a good position to be able to do so.

3.  Douglas McGregor—Theory X and Theory Y

Let’s go through some of the other theories of motivation. Douglas McGregor at the MIT Sloan School of Management said that there are two kinds of ways of dealing with team members.

You can use management Theory X, which assumes that people need supervision and need to be pushed into doing something. Theory Y on the other hand is where you assume employees are self-motivated and you just need to motivate them so that they pull themselves towards the goal.

If you’ll notice, Theory Y acknowledges this top layer of self-actualization needs, where Theory X assumes that people are just interested in satisfying their more immediate needs, either physical or social.

4.  Herzberg—Dual Factors (external/internal)

The psychologist Frederick Herzberg postulated that people were motivated negatively by external factors such as the work environment. If you have a negative work environment, it will affect your performance. Therefore it is necessary to have a good external work environment in order to perform well. But it is not sufficient for good performance. That is, if the environment is poor, people will perform poorly. But if the environment is a healthy one, they may or not perform well. What guarantees good performance in a worker is not an external factor, but an internal one.

Again, you can relate this to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs because the external factors are the ones lower down in priority. Once these are fulfilled, people need something else, an internal motivation, in order to thrive in the workplace.

5.   McClelland—Acquired Needs

Finally, another psychologist named David McClelland developed his own theory of needs, Acquired Needs which said that people are motivated by different things, namely achievement, affiliation, or power. Achievement-oriented people work best when they have challenging goals. Affiliation-oriented people work best when they work together with others in a team. Power-oriented people work best when they are organizing and influencing others.

But if you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you can see how this maps really well onto the top 3 categories. Those who have social needs will be more affiliation-oriented. Those who have needs for respect by others may be power-oriented because they want to influence others. However, self-actualizing people will be achievement-oriented, because the ones that are in competition with are not others, but themselves.

6.  Review of Maslow model

The one superior feature I see in the Maslow model is that, in reality, it subsumes the categories that the others have developed. But also, it is fluid and dynamic, meaning that a person can, depending on their external and internal circumstances, change their needs and therefore their basis for motivation. The other theories I mentioned tend to put people into categories that are perceived to be static, and people are in reality not static at all.

So all the theories agree on this point, which is that internal motivational factors are superior to external ones. But since people are different, and have different needs and motivations, how do you know what will work for each person?

Matching team members skills and personality types to the job

That’s where your powers of observation come into play. Let me bring a system of recognizing different personality types to your attention, called Myers-Briggs.

It was developed by Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers in 1942, and was used in World War II to test women who were working for the first time in munitions factories and other jobs outside the home to know what type of work they would be most suited for.

7.   Myers-Briggs: Extrovert vs. Introvert

There are four dimensions in the Myers-Briggs assessment, but I will relate just one which should be familiar to everybody: Extroverted vs. Introverted. This basically determines how you focus your attention and gather your energy.

On one episode of Star Trek, for example, Captain Kirk thinks he is going to punish Scotty by telling him he can’t go on short leave. Scotty is delighted because he is says that will give him some time to catch up on his reading of technical journals. It was not perceived by him as a punishment, but as a reward, because Kirk and Scotty have opposite personality types.

So find out what your team members skills are but also what their personality type is, so that you can match your motivation to his or hers.

8.  Reward properly

As a leader, you must reward people in such a way to motivate them to exhibit positive behavior and stop negative or undesirable behavior. Now what this behavior is depends on the context, but does it help further the project towards completion or not?

  1. Recognize them immediately or as soon as possible after the achievement, to encourage repetition of the behavior.
  2. Reward behavior that you want that is better than the standard. You can recognize or acknowledge behavior that meets the standard, but a reward should be something extra given for extra effort.
  3. Address undesirable behavior. This is crucial and controversial, because if you do not address that behavior, others on the team that do perform well will become discouraged. However, criticizing someone’s behavior in front of others may decrease their motivation, so I find it best to talk to that person individually so that issues of esteem with regard to the group do not show up. One way to address people’s concerns about others on a team is to have an issue log. This lets the person know that their concern is being addressed.
  4. Eliminate obstacles. If there is something in the environment, and not let’s say another person, who is causing a problem for a team, do what you can to eliminate that impediment.

I think the best way to get a feel for this in Toastmasters is to pay attention to how you do your evaluations. There’s a lot that goes into an evaluation that is directly applicable to being skilled at motivating others to improve.  So in retrospect, recognizing that different people have different motivations based on their individual needs and personality types will help you recognize what to use as motivation. You also need to learn when and how to use that motivation to both increase positive behavior and reduce negative behavior of a team member.

So with that, I hope I’ve motivated you all to improve your performance as  leader of your project team.

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