Definition of motivation
What is motivation? Authors offered various definitions. Robbins and Judge (2013) looked at motivation as “the processes that account for an individual’s intensity, direction, and persistence of effort toward attaining a goal” (p. 202).
Luthans (2011) considered it as “a process that starts with a physiological or psychological deficiency or needs that activates a behavior or a drive that is aimed at a goal or incentive” (p. 157).
Bauer and Erdogan (2012) viewed it as “the desire to achieve a goal or a certain performance level, leading to goal-directed behavior” (p. 197).
Despite the varying definitions, these sample authors share common ground on how they see motivation as a natural human attribute.
They agree that motivation is a process that moves people to achieve their goals. It is a vital aspect of a person’s behavior since it is the reason why he or she acts or does a particular task or activity.
It is what drives people to action. It is the reason people behave in a certain why.
As such, motivation is central to describing, explaining, and rationalizing people’s behavior. It is therefore used as a reference to understanding and appreciating human behavior.
Is there a universal approach to motivation?
The existence of common ground does not mean that there is a universal approach to motivation. There is no singular, definitive approach to motivating people.
People have their individual reasons for behaving in a certain way. They are motivated for different reasons.
There are as many grounds of motivation as there are people. This is due to their individual differences. People simply differ regarding they think and feel, what they need and want, and what they do.
Individual differences mean that people are by nature and nurture different from each other. People are by nature distinct from each other because of their individual genetic codes or popularly known as DNA.
They are also nurture different from each other because of their varying environmental influences such as family, friends, school, work, community, media, and other factors. Individual differences tend to be consistent and stable over time.
That is why they are considered to be reliable for describing, explaining, and rationalizing why and how people are motivated.
In other words, individual differences figure prominently in determining the motivation of people for behaving in certain ways.
If individual differences are considered valid factors of motivation, then it would be difficult to use a universal approach to be applicable and cover all these individual differences.
Theories on motivation
A testament to the recognition of individual differences as a way to describe, explain, and rationalize why and how people are motivated is the presence of numerous theories on motivation.
Hierarchy of Needs Theory, ERG Theory, Two-Factor Theory, Acquired-Needs Theory, Equity Theory, Expectancy Theory, Reinforcement Theory, Self-Determination Theory, Cognitive Evaluation Theory, Self-Efficacy Theory, Attribution Theory, Control Theory, Agency Theory, Job Characteristics Model, and Goal-Setting Theory (Robbins and Judge, 2013; Bauer and Erdogan, 2012; Luthans, 2011) are only some of the theories that attempt to describe, explain, and rationalize why and how people are motivated.
The sheer magnitude and variety of these theories and approaches point to the fact that there are so many ways to view why and how people are motivated.
This runs contrary to using a universal approach to motivating people. If there is a singular, definitive approach to motivation, then it would not have been possible for all these theories to emerge and propose varying approaches to why and how people are motivated.
It would be downright misleading if only one approach that is considered universal meaning applicable to any case or situation is used in the sense that it would not capture the complexity of human behavior.
It would not be accurate to declare that a person is motivated by a single factor. Take the case of completing a college degree.
If the Goal-Setting Theory is used as the universal approach to motivation then finding a decent job may be considered as the motivation or reason for completing a college degree.
But this rather obvious reality has been debunked, time and again, by the complexity of human behavior.
If resources are not provided as positive reinforcement throughout the course of a long-winded study, then the student may not sustain his or her effort or even desire to finish his or her education regardless of his or her goal to get a decent job later on.
This is the line of thinking taken by the Reinforcement Theory. Another possibility is the student does not intend to continue his or her education anymore since he or she lacks the resources.
It might be that the student would need to work to supplement his or her family’s income.
In this case, the physical or physiological needs take precedence over the esteem or actualization needs as explained by the Hierarchy of Needs Theory.
The goal of completing a college degree to get a decent job loses its motivating power since basic human needs are more urgent.
Evidently, a universal approach to motivation is too limited to be useful in describing, explaining, and rationalizing the complexity of human behavior.
To further complicate matters, this explanation is only applied to a single individual with his or her unique conditions and circumstances. The application may be different or may not applicable at all to other individuals.
Another critical issue is the choice of the universal approach to motivation. If there is going to be a universal approach to motivation, which among the current crop of theories should qualify as the universal approach.
The choice should be comprehensive enough to cover all the finer details of describing, explaining, and rationalizing why and how people are motivated but at the same applicable to all cases meaning all people.
No theory captures this essence at the moment. Thus, it is not only inappropriate but also impractical to have a universal approach to motivation.
Bauer, T. and Erdogan, B. (2012) An introduction to organizational behavior. Creative Commons.
Luthans, F. (2011) Organizational behavior: an evidence-based approach. 12th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
Robbins, S.P. and Judge, T.A. (2013) Organizational behavior. 15th ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
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