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History of Motivation

The elemental questionnaire has been developed from consideration of many different theoretical approaches to studying motivation spanning seven decades. The following are of particular relevance:

Murray (1938): latent and manifest needs

According to Murray, motivational needs can be classified as latent (lying dormant within the individual) or manifest (active, having influence on behaviour), and it is exposure to appropriate environmental triggers that causes latent needs to become manifest. For example, people who are high in the need for achievement may be only mediocre in terms of academic performance throughout their college years, but if they are presented with a realistic challenge in the work situation (to match their ability at the task) they will start to out-perform people of equal ability who are lower in the need for achievement. elemental is used to place people in work situations which will present the appropriate triggers to fire up their individual needs and produce maximum effect on their performance.

Maslow (1943): self-actualization

Maslow’s theory of motivation includes the hierarchy of needs, where at the peak self-actualization is proposed as a state all individuals strive to achieve. Maslow defines this in terms of ‘being all you can be’. More recently, other theorists have suggested that ‘being all you want to be’ better accounts for individual differences in the tendency to strive, and in the context of intrinsic motivation ‘being where you want to be’ impacts as having very real meaning, especially for those who are not where they want to be.

McClelland & Atkinson (1953): the achievement motive

In the lead-up to the publication of this landmark text, it was found that predictions about future behaviour could only be made if scores on need for achievement were combined with scores on a measure of ‘test anxiety’ or fear of failure. In the 1970s, this dynamic aspect of the theory was referred to as resultant achievement motivation (RAM). High RAM individuals strive for personal success, doing the best job possible and seeking out new challenges. Low RAM individuals are more orientated towards avoiding operational failure, doing whatever is necessary to get the job done then moving straight on to the next job, and generally consolidating their position rather than seeking out new challenges. This is the basis of the Entrepreneurial vs. Operational scale in the elemental questionnaire.

Vroom (1964), Porter & Lawler (1968): a model of work motivation

Vroom’s valence-expectancy theory explained effort as a function of the value of the reward to the individual and the perceived probability that exerting effort would actually lead to gaining the reward. This model was expanded by Porter & Lawler to show that whether the effort exerted results in actual performance in the job also depends on the individual’s ability and traits (competence and personality characteristics) and role perceptions (having a clear idea about what it is they are required to do).

It was an important step forward in understanding work motivation to recognize that satisfaction gained through the performance of the job is far more likely to have an ongoing effect than presuming that satisfied workers will be productive. A guiding principle in the use of elemental is that individuals must perceive their roles as acceptable (as well as accurately) in order for performance to result in job satisfaction, and hence continuing exertion of effort.