Emeritus Prof. Dr. Deric N. Bircham
MBA, Ph.D, D.Sc, LL.D, GD.Sc, GD. JP, FRSA


Organisational and Management theories have tended to go towards simplified and generalized conceptions of human motivation. Research has consistently found some support for the simple generalised conception, but only some. Consequently, the major impact of research over a long period has been to vastly complicate our models of human nature and how to manage people.

Not only do people have many needs and potentials, but the patterning of those changes in roles, with situations, and with changes in interpersonal relationships where assumptions can be stated which simply do not do justice to this complexity.

Let us begin with the issue of complex assumptions.

 Complex Assumptions

  1. a)    Human needs fall into many categories and vary according to stage of development and total life situations. These needs and motives will assume varying degrees of importance to each person, creating some sort of hierarchy, but this hierarchy is in itself variable from person to person, from situation to situation, and from one time to another.
  2. b)    Because needs and motives interact and combine into complex motive patterns, values, and goals, one must decide at what level a person wants to understand human motivation.

For example, money can satisfy many different needs, even the need for self-actualisation for some people, on the other hand, social motives or self-

-actualisation needs can be met in a wide variety of ways, and in different ways, and also at different stages of development.

  1. c)    Employees are capable of learning new motives through organisational experiences. This implies that the overall pattern of motives and goals at a given career or life stage as reflected in the person’s psychological contract with the Organisation is the result of a complex sequence of interactions between initial needs and organisational experiences.
  2. d)    A person may display different needs in different Organisations or in different subparts of the same Organisation, to the person who is alienated in the formal Organisation may find fulfilment of his or her social and self-actualisation needs in the union or in an informal work group. If the job itself consists of a variety of
  3. e)    skills, numerous motives may be operative at different times and for different tasks.
  4. e)    People can become productively involved with Organisations on the basis of many different kinds of motives. Ultimate satisfaction for the individual and ultimate effectiveness for the Organisation depends only in part on the nature of such motivation.

The nature of the task to be performed, the worker’s abilities and experience, and the atmosphere created by one’s co-workers all interact to produce a certain pattern of work and feelings.

For example, a highly skilled but poorly motivated worker may be as effective and satisfied as a very unskilled but highly motivated worker.

  1. f)     Employees can respond to many different kinds of managerial strategies, depending on their own motives and abilities and the nature of the task. In other words, there is no one correct managerial strategy that will work for all people at all times.


Implications for Management and Contingency Theories


If assumptions such as those just listed come closest to reality, what are the implications for Managerial strategy?

Perhaps the most important implication is that Managers should be good diagnosticians and should value a spirit of inquiry.

If the abilities and motives of the people under them are so variable, Managers should have the sensitivity and diagnostic ability to be able to sense and appreciate differences, rather than regarding the existence of individual differences as a painful truth to be wished away.


Managers should learn to value differences and to value the diagnostic process, which reveals differences. To take advantage of diagnostic insights,

Managers should be flexible enough and have the interpersonal skills necessary to vary their own behaviour. If the needs and motives of subordinates are different, they should be treated differently.

It is important to recognise that these points do not contradict any managerial strategies. I am not saying that adhering to rational-economic, social, or self-actualisation assumptions about sub-ordinates is totally wrong. What I am saying is that any of these assumptions may be wrong in some situations and with some people.


Where we have erred is in over-simplifying and over-generalising; if managers adopt a more scientific attitude toward human behaviour, they will test their assumptions and seek a better diagnosis, and if they do that they will act more appropriately to what-ever the demands of the situation turns out to be. They may decide to be highly directive at one time and with one employee.

They may use pure engineering criteria in the design of some jobs, but let workers structure another set of jobs themselves. In other words, they will be flexible, and will be prepared to accept a variety of interpersonal relationships, patterns of authority, and psychological contracts.

Variable or flexible behaviour based on situational realities has come to be called a “contingency theory” signalling the fact that what is a correct way to organise, manage, or lead in any given situation is contingent upon a large number of  factors.

Contingency theories have become very popular in this field in recent years because of the recognition of the inherent complexity of human nature, tasks, situations, and the leadership of the Management process itself.

Evidence for Complex Assumptions

In a sense, research supports the assumptions stated, but it will be helpful to cite a few additional studies, which highlight human complexity and human differences.

Different responses to a variety of motives has pointed out that even economic rewards can and do have vastly different meanings to different people. For some people, money represents basic security and love; for others, it represents power; for still others, it is a measure of their achievement in society; and for still others; it represents merely the means to the end of comfortable and sumptuous living.

This is difficult to judge, even in the case of a given reward, what all of its symbolic meanings are to the person and how it connects to other motives.

Pay incentives must ultimately be individualised in the sense of being fitted to the particular needs of the Organisation and the people within that Organisation. No generalisations about the “right” way to use money as an incentive have yet been found.

Additional evidence comes from studies of changes in motivation as a result of organisation experience. It has been difficult to determine whether alienated workers lacked motives towards achievement and self-actualisation when they first joined an organisation, or whether they became that way as a result of chronically frustrating work experiences. This point is critical, because if motives are not capable of being elicited or stimulated, more emphasis should be placed on selecting those workers who initially display the patterns of motivation required by the organisation; if, on the other hand by changing organisational arrangements and managerial strategies, it is possible to arouse the kinds of motives desired, more emphasis should be given to helping organisations change.

Conclusion: Motivation and the Psychological Contract in Perspective

The emphasis has so far been on motivation, particularly the motivation of the employee; but motivation is, of course, not the only determinant of effective performance. The ability of the person, the nature of the work setting, the tools and materials available to do the work, the nature of the job itself, and the ability of Management to coordinate employee, group, and departmental efforts – all enter into organisational effectiveness.

The reason for the focus on motivation and extensive exploration of it rests on the fact that in the motivational area there has been too many myths and misconceptions, It has been particularly difficult to resist the temptation to infer motives from observed organisational circumstances as a given explanation and has relied upon explained behavioural variations as a function of different motives.

The good worker could be assumed to have a high achievement need while the poor worker or alienated worker could be assumed to lack ambition.

In some cases, this assumption might have been correct, but in other situations it would have been more correct to see the good worker as having a boss who provided challenging work while the poor worker had a boss who provided fragmented and often meaningless assignments, or in some other way was insensitive to the worker’s needs, goals, interests, career anchors, job values, or degree of job involvement.

By way of conclusion, I would like to underline the importance of the psychological contract as a major variable of analysis. It is my central hypothesis that whether people work effectively, whether they generate

commitment, loyalty, and enthusiasm for the organisation and its goals, and whether they obtain satisfaction from their work depends to a large measure on two conditions:

1)    The degree to which their own expectations of what the organisation will provide to them and what they owe the organization in return, matches what the organisation’s expectations are of what it will give and get in return.

2)    The nature of what us actually to be exchanged (assuming      there is some agreement) – money in exchange for time at work; social need satisfaction and security in exchange for hard work and loyalty. Opportunities for self-actualisation and challenging work in exchange for high productivity, high quality work, and creative effort in the service of organisational goals; or various combinations of these and other things.

Ultimately the relationship between the individual and the organisation is interactive, unfolding through mutual influence and mutual bargaining to establish and re-establish a workable psychological contract.

We cannot understand the psychological dynamics if we look only to the individual’s motivations or only to organisational conditions and practices. The two interact in a complex fashion that demands a systems approach capable of handling interdependent phenomena.

Furthermore, our concepts must reflect the fact that the psychological contract is constantly re-negotiated throughout the organisational career. Both the individual’s and the organization’s needs change over time, requiring repeated episodes of organisational socialisation as organisational norms change.

Some of these norms can be thought of as pivotal, in the sense that adherence to them is a requirement of continued membership in the organisation. For examples Managers are socialised to believe in the validity of the free enterprise system; Professors must accept the canons of research and scholarship; Engineers must believe in product safety and so on.


Other organisational norms are peripheral in the sense that it is desirable but not essential for members to adhere to them. For example, it may be desirable from the point of view of the organisation that Managers be men, have certain political views, wear the right kind of clothes, buy only Company brands, and so on.

For Professors, it may be desirable that they like to teach, be willing to help in the administration of the University, spend most of their time on Campus rather than on consulting trips, and so on. Violation of these norms does not cause loss of membership, if the pivotal norms continue to be adhered to.

The adjustment of the individual to the Organisation can then be conceived in terms of acceptance or rejection of pivotal or peripheral norms. Acceptance of both pivotal or peripheral norms can be thought of as “conformity”, or the tendency to try to fit in completely and to take a custodial orientation toward how things have been done in the past, becoming the loyal but uncreative “Organisational person”.

Acceptance of peripheral norms combined with rejection of pivotal ones is “subversive rebellion” in that, by rejecting the Organisation’s basic premises but adhering to its peripheral norms, the person is concealing his or her rebellion. In contrast rejecting both sets of norms is open rebellion or revolutionary behaviour, usually leading to voluntary or involuntary loss of membership.

If an Organisation is concerned about its own capacity to grow and innovate in the face of a complex and changing environment.

The ideal individual response might be what I have termed “creative individualism”, which is based on accepting pivotal norms but rejecting peripheral ones.

The creative individual is strongly concerned both about basic organisational goals and about retaining his or her sense of identity, and is willing to exercise creatively to help the Organisation achieve its basic goals.

Creativity on behalf of the Organisation can be thought of in two ways.

1)    One can focus one’s energies on creating new products or services, the kind creatively traditionally identified in most organisations as research and development.

Creatively can be conceived of as “role innovation”, the development of new ways of doing a job or fulfilling a role to make the organisation more effective, efficient, or adaptable.

A Manager can invent a new product or can focus his or her creative energies on new ways of integrating the efforts of two departments, new ways of establishing effective financial controls, new ways of supervising people to maximize their productivity, and so on.

Example.       A Professor can derive a new scientific law or publish a new theory or can invent new ways of teaching more effectively, making better use of other’s skills, or involving them in social causes.

One might hypothesize that people’s needs to be conformist, rebellious, or innovative are tied in complex ways to their underlying motive system, and also that such needs change over the course of their career.

For example:

At the beginning of their career as apprentices, people are probably most likely conformist. Upon obtaining Organisational “tenure” and reasonable security, they embark on a period of maximum creativity, sometimes involving rebellion.

Later stages of the career probably produce more of a tendency to become either role innovative or conformist depending upon the degree to which the individual remains work involved.

How the Organisation manages people’s transitions from one organisational segment to another across functional, hierarchical, or inclusion boundaries probably strongly affects whether the person will become more custodial and conformist or more innovative.

For individuals, for Organisation Managers, and for members of social institutions who are concerned about social policy, the most important conclusion to be drawn from this entire discussion is that human motivation and career development are highly complex and not yet fully understood.
Therefore, a continued spirit of inquiry and a commitment to diagnosing situations before leaping into action appears to be the only safe course.

It is not clear whether the “best” kind of psychological contract is one that maximizes creative individualism, for it is easy to imagine conditions under which both the individual and the organisation would be happier with a conformist response.

However, one must diagnose the potential consequences of whatever course one embarks on, using whatever analytical tools are available, and one must be aware that personal assumptions and biases can operate as powerful filters to make the world look simpler that it actually is.

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