The Herzberg motivation theory was based around interviews with 203 American accountants & engineers in Pittsburgh, chosen because of their professions' growing importance in the business world.
The subjects were asked to relate times when they felt exceptionally good or bad about their present job or any previous job, and to provide reasons, and a description of the sequence of events giving rise to that positive or negative feeling.
The proposed hypothesis in the Herzberg motivation theory appears verified. The factors that led to satisfaction [achievement, intrinsic interest in the work, responsibility, and advancement] are mostly unipolar; that is, they contribute very little to job dissatisfaction.
Conversely, the dis-satisfiers [company policy and administrative practices, supervision, interpersonal relationships, working conditions, and salary] contribute very little to job satisfaction.
Unlike Maslow, who offered little data to support his ideas, Herzberg and others have presented considerable empirical evidence to confirm the Herzberg motivation theory.
It focuses change leaders on the impacts of these 2 dimensions of human needs - motivators and dissatisfiers.
Leadership and communication
Again, as with ERG Theory, from a change management and change leadership perspective, understanding and recognising these needs can influence and shape a communication strategy and a leadership style.
There will be circumstances where, in the interests of business survival - such as in major restructuring and business turnarounds where redundancies and major change to working practises are announced - that neither sets of needs are going to met particularly well, or even at all.
It is my view that the framing or positioning of a situation by the change leader is extremely important – especially in knowing how to focus and present a communication about a difficult situation with lots of dissatisfiers in such a way that it does address motivation factors needs at the earliest opportunity.
I say this because in my view, people will be more likely to tolerate difficult circumstances if they are led well and in such a way that their aspirational and higher motivational needs are addressed.
I am not talking about “spin” deception or any other form of manipulation here, rather I am referring to a leadership style that is based on the qualities and characteristics of
transformational leadership and primal leadership, and that takes full and honest account of the impact of change on people and especially acknowledges and leads them through the transitions that they have to move through if the change is to be successful.
In my view, a key change leadership skill is knowing how to make the "judgement call" on how and when to communicate to people news that in terms of Herzberg motivation theory is going to dissatisfy them and demotivate them.
And - here's the key to this I feel - having the capacity to "reframe" the situation fairly quickly in such a way that people's motivation needs [or at least some of them] are addressed.
Putting it all together and managing the whole messy business
The literature of motivation research from Herzberg motivation theory onwards has highlighted the complexity and multi-faceted nature of human needs.
On the one hand we are rational beings focused on meeting what may be regarded as our survival needs – very loosely expressed in terms of pay and rations – and are prepared to enter into a Faustian pact with our employers on the basis of an initially perceived mutuality of interest.
But, on the other hand, the emotional dimension rapidly emerges as that initial perception of mutuality of interest rapidly dwindles as – especially in the current climate - we are expected to improve our performance, to produce more for no more [maybe less] money and often with fewer resources.