Raising Performance through Motivation Part Three: Personality Theory

After taking us through the content and process theories of motivation, Chartered Psychologist Dr Lynne Whatmore briefly outlines the personality theory of motivation, explaining why its link with financial rewards is so often a favoured option.

In the first of my three articles, I looked at Content theories of motivation and suggested that, even though they still seem to merit a place in every leadership training course, there are other more modern theories that deserve just as much attention.

Last month - in my second article - I turned my attention to the process theories and tried to show that, even though they may be more complex than their well-known predecessors, some feel they have much more potential for analysing current motivation problems.

Now, finally, I'd like to explore the personality theories of motivation and show why, for example, it's often the favoured motivation device in sales management.

Personality theories of motivation

Probably the most useful of the personality theories are those that focus on needs, in particular need for Power (nPower), need for Achievement (nAch) and need for Affiliation (nAff).

Considerable research has been carried out on these three characteristics and various elements have been linked to achievement in particular roles. For sales people, nAch seems to be of particular value.

Individuals with a high level of achievement motivation (nAch) enjoy challenge, find accomplishing a task satisfying in itself, want to perform to the best of their ability and enjoy competing with, and preferably beating, others.

They also like to know how they are doing, which brings us back to the use of money as an incentive, because financial rewards can be viewed as a form of feedback on progress towards goals.

Motivating the high nAch individual should not, then, present much difficulty. Identifying people's level of achievement is harder. There are psychometric questionnaires that purport to do this... but that's another story.

A Range of Tactics

So, motivating individuals effectively requires a range of tactics. There are a lot of elements to consider and, unfortunately, no 'painting by numbers' approach.

Managers need to understand various approaches in order to choose the most appropriate in any given situation. Motivating people is a skill that goes far beyond commission schemes, salary levels and added benefits.

If only it were that simple.