How Can I Motivate my Technical Communicators?

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April 1999

How Can I Motivate my Technical Communicators?


Because it seems more relevant in today’s tight job market than when it was written more than 30 years ago, we are abstracting Frederick Herzberg’s article “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” from the Harvard Business Review, January-February 1968.

Managers have always tried to motivate employees in the same way they motivate animals—they reward and punish them. Herzberg calls this “motivating with KITA” in which KITA is an acronym for what we might more politely expand to “kick in the pants.” While this phrase smacks of negative reinforcement, KITA can also be seen a reward. You can motivate a dog by pushing it in the behind as well as by putting a biscuit in front of its nose. However, while you are motivated to move the dog forward, the dog is not. He is motivated either to avoid your foot or to get the biscuit.

Managers commonly use the more positive KITA to motivate employees. Spiraling wages, fringe benefits, sensitivity training, employee counseling, and telecommuting policies are among the many ways managers have begun to reward employees and provide incentive. However, according to Herzberg, strategies such as these have, at most, short-term benefits and don’t really motivate employees to do their jobs any more than the kick motivates the dog.

In order to motivate people to do their jobs we must increase job satisfaction. Herzberg points out that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not opposites. The opposite of job satisfaction is no job satisfaction. The opposite of job dissatisfaction is no job dissatisfaction. The lack of job dissatisfaction is not sufficient to create job satisfaction. In fact, the factors involved in both are very different. In a study of 1,685 people at a large range of job levels, Herzberg found that factors related to job dissatisfaction tended to be external to the job itself. Those factors included company policy and administration, supervision, relationships with supervisors, work conditions, salary, relationships with peers, personal problems, relationships with subordinates, status, and security. Job satisfaction factors tended to be job related and included achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, advancement, and growth.

So what should managers do? They must redesign the job to increase job satisfaction—they must enrich the job. Herzberg calls this task job loading. He defines horizontal and vertical job loading. Horizontal job loading entails adding more tasks or more varied tasks to increase job satisfaction. Vertical job loading increases the challenge of the job rather than enlarging the job. As examples, Herzberg suggests assigning individuals specific or specialized tasks, enabling them to become experts and increasing the accountability of individuals for their own work.

Finally, Herzberg suggests a ten step process for creating job enrichment.

1. Select jobs for enrichment in which motivation will actually make a difference in performance.
2. Approach these jobs with the conviction that they can be changed.
3. Brainstorm a list of job-loading changes that may enrich the job.
4. Screen the list to eliminate suggestions that are external to the job itself.
5. Screen the list to remove generalities such as “give more responisibility,” “growth,” and “challenge.” These terms have no substance.
6. Screen the list to eliminate all changes that represent horizontal loading.
7. Avoid direct participation by the employees whose jobs you are changing. This is not part of their job and the result rather than the participation will increase their job satisfaction.
8. If you have a large enough organization, set up a control and experimental group to be able to directly compare the effects of the job changes.
9. Be prepared for an initial drop in performance since the new job may lead to a temporary reduction in efficiency.
10. Expect some anxiety and hostility from your first-line supervisors since they may feel that some of their responsibility is being handed over to their subordinates.