Herzberg’s Dog – ‘Movement’ v ‘Motivation’

herzberg's dogHerzberg’s famous article ‘One more time: how do you motivate employees?’ has been reprinted by the Harvard Business Review at least five times since the 1968 original. Presumably this is, as suggested by John Seddon, because people continue not to get the message.

Seddon’s point is fair because Herzberg’s core message contravenes virtually every manager’s intuition about motivation and messes with the head of even the most sincere and enthusiastic leader.

Herzberg’s message?            You cannot motivate people.

What Herzberg advocates is for leaders to find ways to enable people to draw on their own (intrinsic) motivation to do work well. This means creating the environment where people can explore their creativity and abilities and thereby contribute more.

This is different to providing a ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’.  External incentives effectively shape the rules of work – they do not draw from the resources within the person. This means that as people interpret the rules, there may be unintended consequences – manipulation, cheating, internal competition (or hiding good ideas). If punishment is visible it creates fear, reticence to suggest anything new, and of course has a negative impact on morale.

Further Reading

Herzberg, F. (1968) “One more time: how do you motivate employees?”, Harvard Business Review, vol. 46, iss. 1, pp. 53–62

Seddon, J. (2003). Freedom from Command and Control. Buckingham: Vanguard Press.

One thought on “Herzberg’s Dog – ‘Movement’ v ‘Motivation’”

  1. Great post, Simon. I agree wholeheartedly. I have always found the concept of ‘motivating people’ problematic. As you say, it is the responsibility of leaders to create an environment where people can use their talents to do their very best work. Motivation itself, however, must come from each of us as individuals.

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