Return to motivation (idea)

Business motivation is an area that tends to go through "fashions". Businesses want to keep their employees and managers as highly motivated as possible so that they will produce good products at a good rate of output. Both of these objectives are aided by motivated, happy staff. But initial attempts at maximising output were not based on having a happy workforce.

In the late nineteenth century, business thinkers adopted what we now call the scientific approach to decision-making. The reasoning behind this was that people are rational and respond predictably to incentives. It follows that an investigation into how people respond to different conditions will tell us best how to organise people.

The main exponent of this approach was Frederick Taylor, in his work Principles of Scientific Management.

The main idea behind this book was that people are motivated by money, and so the best way to increase output is to link pay to output - so called piece rates. Unfortunately, this method failed because at the time workers organised production in most businesses - and they weren't too keen to complete a job quickly incase another didn't come along.

Taylor's response to this was that managers should take control of the process themselves and dictate everything, all in the ways that scientific investigation told them they should.

Later thinkers criticised Taylor for being far too mechanistic in his approach - as we know, human beings are often far from rational! The conclusion that followed is that rather than trying to maximise output by organising people in certain ways, we should do so by motivating them so they want to work, and are happy in doing so!

Content staff work harder, longer and have a lower staff turnover. The motivation approach to improving output became known as the human relations approach, and the principle exponents were Abraham Maslow and Frederick Herzberg.

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