Employee Motivation and Knowledge Management

In reading the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review, I came a cross an article by Nitin Nohria, Boris Groysberg, and Linda-Eling Lee: Employee Motivation: A Powerful New Model.

The authors put forth four drives that underlie motivation:

1. The drive to acquire. We are all driven to acquire scarce goods that bolster our sense of well-being. We experience delight when this drive is fulfilled, discontentment when it is thwarted. This phenomenon applies not only to physical goods like food, clothing, housing, and money, but also to experiences like travel and entertainment—not to mention events that improve social status, such as being promoted and getting a corner office or a place on the corporate board.

2. The drive to bond. Many animals bond with their parents, kinship group, or tribe, but only humans extend that connection to larger collectives such as organizations, associations, and nations. The drive to bond, when met, is associated with strong positive emotions like love and caring and, when not, with negative ones like loneliness and anomie. At work, the drive to bond accounts for the enormous boost in motivation when employees feel proud of belonging to the organization and for their loss of morale when the institution betrays them. It also explains why employees find it hard to break out of divisional or functional silos: People become attached to their closest cohorts. But it’s true that the ability to form attachments to larger collectives sometimes leads employees to care more about the organization than about their local group within it.

3. The drive to comprehend. We want very much to make sense of the world around us, to produce theories and accounts—scientific, religious, and cultural—that make events comprehensible and suggest reasonable actions and responses. We are frustrated when things seem senseless, and we are invigorated, typically, by the challenge of working out answers. In the workplace, the drive to comprehend accounts for the desire to make a meaningful contribution. Employees are motivated by jobs that challenge them and enable them to grow and learn, and they are demoralized by those that seem to be monotonous or to lead to a dead end. Talented employees who feel trapped often leave their companies to find new challenges elsewhere.

4. The drive to defend. We all naturally defend ourselves, our property and accomplishments, our family and friends, and our ideas and beliefs against external threats. This drive is rooted in the basic fight-or-flight response common to most animals. In humans, it manifests itself not just as aggressive or defensive behavior, but also as a quest to create institutions that promote justice, that have clear goals and intentions, and that allow people to express their ideas and opinions. Fulfilling the drive to defend leads to feelings of security and confidence; not fulfilling it produces strong negative emotions like fear and resentment. The drive to defend tells us a lot about people’s resistance to change; it’s one reason employees can be devastated by the prospect of a merger or acquisition—an especially significant change—even if the deal represents the only hope for an organization’s survival.

The authors then tie these drives into levers that the organization can use to lever.

In reading the article I see many areas where knowledge management can help with employee motivation.

Culture is an area where knowledge management can make a big difference. Sharing, collaboration, social bonds and teamwork are all pillars of a knowledge management program.

I also think the use of enterprise 2.0 tools are very useful when it comes to transparency.  If the firm is creating a new firm-wide policy, it is easy to post a draft policy and allow comments to the draft.  The policy-maker is accessing the collective knowledge of the firm to improve the policy.  They are also finding the resistance points that will need to be overcome to implement and enforce the policy. They are also getting the employees engaged by recognizing that their opinions matter.

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