Myth of “Motivation”


Being able to motivate is undoubtedly among the primary management skills. Thus, we are flooded with advertising for management training classes in which we are supposed to learn how we motivate our employees. Today, motivation is a keyword–almost a synonym for management. Motivation comes from the Latin movere which means “to move” and thus we all too often associate management with steering the employees in a targeted manner. And Sprenger already correctly points out to us that motivation is much more complex and ambiguous than we have been told in all the management seminars.


The humanistically-characterised motivational approach is undoubtedly interesting–and, for many philosophical discussions, an ideal starting point–only unfortunately, it assumes firstly that we are 100% aware when making our decisions and that we all are fundamentally the same and thus can be moved with the same management methods. However, the aforementioned complexity lies not only in the differences between the human beings, but rather also that we act far less rationally that the Humanists would have us believe. Hans-Georg Häusel reminds us that the human being is strives far less for self-development than we assume, but rather strives for the fulfilment of his emotional systems of balance, stimulation and dominance. When we thus provide external incentives, then we experience involuntary resonances in our limbic systems.


Is now the Two-Factor Theory (also called Motivation-Hygiene Theory) from Frederick Herzberg then wrong in which we have been taught that money does not motivate us? No, Herzberg already indicated back then that motivators alter the satisfaction, but the lack of motivators does not necessarily lead to dissatisfaction. Once again, the answer to the question of what motivates us is more complex than a question to which we can find simple answers. We must learn to understand how we utilise money and what it triggers in various types of people–and, last but not least, whether we can then also live with this reaction. Let’s therefore consider what money is and what it triggers in us. Money is nothing more than an abstract means for satisfying our needs. Now, however, what our needs actually are varies, or better said, is determined by our emotional system. For example, personality types with a strong dominance power use money in order to make their dominance apparent while personality types with a strong balance power would use it to invest in life insurance. Thus, Häusel determines that money is thoroughly limbic.


Brain-friendly compensation systems thus differentiate because they know that we react in emotionally-differentiated ways. In his “Trends 2017”, Andreas Hofmann pointed out that if the variable compensation for individual differentiation is not offered, then either non-monetary offers or other compensation components such as, for example, the base salary will remain in order to take the individual job performances into consideration. However, this model always unfortunately leads to fewer delimitation possibilities. How do we then want to address the various limbic systems with a uniform system? 


It is simply impossible and thus they will promote only a type with a long-term perspective and the others will leave the system. Systems with exclusively base salaries signal security and thus the balance system. Our dominance power is thus not supported. Top-performers are always characterised by a high dominance power. The “everything is equal” philosophy of a base salary repels high-performers because this idealistic-socialistic vision does not satisfy their dominance power. It is thus questionable whether, with mere wage negotiations, top-performers can be sufficiently motivated if they now receive three percent instead of only two percent. In addition, this also conflicts with the principle of fairness that we receive the fixed wage components for a job performance rendered in the past.


It is completely clear to me that more money cannot always be the solution–including not for our top-performers. Our internal compensation system is in principle never satisfied and always wants more; incidentally, a characteristic which good promotion perfectly utilises. Thus, we need methods which are more intelligent, but may also not forget that this habituation effect–which is triggered by the neurotransmitter dopamine–is not just applicable to money. Thus, these days, we can no longer allow ourselves to offer only uniform systems to our employees. Whoever creates uniformity will receive uniformity. However, successful companies need more diversity for motivational purposes and this diversity must also be reflected in our compensation systems.

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