In 1968, Frederick Herzberg published the article "One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?" in the Harvard Business Review (HBR). Over time, it has become a HBR classic, having sold 1.2 million reprints by 1987 and was the most requested article from the publication.
During the annual meeting of Scrum Trainers at Scrum.org last June, I had the chance to hear Mike Vincent give a 15 minute introductory talk about this article. Time not being on my side at that moment, I had to put this article in my backlog until I could have some time to read it. Now, months later, with some free time, I had the opportunity to dwelve into the article. It was such an enlighting text that I decided to write a blog post about it because I feel Agile coaches, Scrum Masters and managers could benefit from this article.
The article is about 15 pages long, including a retrospective commentary as I read the 1987 publication which included comments from Herzberg at the end. The article is divided in three sections:
- Myths about motivations
- Hygiene versus motivators
- Job enrichment
Here's a summary of each sections in the hopes that it will incite you to read the article.
Myths about motivations
The article starts with some humour about how to motivate employees with the good old kick in the ass, which the author refers to KITA. He goes on by identifying different types of KITA:
- Negative physical KITA: This is literally kicking someone in the ass to get him to do something. Obviously, it won't produce any positive long term effects on the employee.
- Negative psychological KITA: Same as above but with no visible traces.
Herzberg then uses the example of his dog to explain positive KITA. He says that when he wants his dog to do something, he shows him a biscuit and gives it to the dog once it has accomplished his task. The same goes for employees. The rational is that the company will give money to the employee in exchange for some tasks. While this is perceived as motivation, Herzberg states that it is positive KITA. The manager is motivated by showing the cookie. The employee just produce movement.
He then comes back to what is motivation and how KITA isn't producing motivation. For Herzberg, and I agree with him, KITA produces movement, not motivation. He then list 9 myths about motivation, or what he calls other forms of positive KITA. For each myth, he takes one or two paragraph to explain what it is, why it is not motivation and why it failed. Here's how I summed up each myth:
- Reducing time spent at work: Motivated people want to work more, not less.
- Spiraling wages: The only motivation in this is to wait for the next pay raise.
- Fringe benefits: More cookies to the dog will just get more movements, not more motivation.
- Human relations training: Managers did not know how to communicate.
- Sensitivity training: Employees did not appreciate how managers were trying really hard to communicate.
- Communications: Employees and managers did not understand each other.
- Two-way communications: Employees and managers still did not understand each other.
- Job participation: Employees did not know why they were involved in the company.
- Employee counseling: Employee's emotions were getting in the way of their rational acts of work.
Having established that these myths got us nowhere, Herzberg sets the table for part two where he presents his theory about motivation.
Hygiene and motivators
Herzberg starts by restating the title of the article: How do you install a generator in an employee? He then goes on saying that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not opposite but orthogonal (separate and distinct). For Herzberg, the factors involved behind employee dissatisfaction are not the same ones behind employee satisfaction. Each theme must be treated seperately. As quoted from the Herzberg article: "The opposite of job satisfaction is not job dissatisfaction but, rather, no job satisfaction; and similarly, the opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction, but no job dissatisfaction."
Herzberg states that hygiene factors will eliminate job dissatisfaction while motivators will improve job satisfaction. He also adds that hygiene factors are external while motivators are internal.
Hygiene factors are:
- Company policies
- Relationship with supervisor
- Work conditions
- Relationships with peers
I find these factors palpable. I can read the policies. I can talk to my supervisor. Salaries are tangibles. Work conditions and status (business cards, corner office) are concrete things.
While motivators are internal to each person:
- Work itself
I can't touch any of these factors. They are harder to measure objectively. Each person might have different perspective on each motivator.
The hygiene factors will only prevent job dissatisfaction. But they won't bring any job satisfaction. Policies, status, salaries and other hygiene factors have to be taken care of to eliminate job dissatisfaction. But they won't produce job satisfaction. This is where the manager should work with growth, responsibility and other factors listed above.
In this final section, Herzberg gives a 10 steps recipe to enrich the jobs of employes. I had a hard time agreeing with some steps. For example, step #7 states that employees should not be involved in enriching their jobs because it will only provide a sense of participation, which is a myth of motivation that Herzberg stated earlier. To help the readers have a better idea of what job enrichment consist of, Herzberg gives a list of examples and how they follow the principles of job enrichment.
Parallels with Agile
On page 10 of the article, Herzberg presents a list of principles on which to enrich the job of workers. While reading them, I could easily make links to what Agile and Scrum promotes. Here is the list of principles listed by Herzberg:
- Removing some controls while retaining accountability.
- Increasing the accountability of individuals for own work.
- Giving a person a complete natural unit of work.
- Granting additional authority to employees.
- Making periodic reports directly available to the workers themselves rather than the supervisors.
- Introducing new and more difficult tasks not previously handled.
- Assigning individuals specific or specialized tasks, enabling them to become experts.
I can draw so many parallels with Scrum in this list. For me, a user story is a great example of giving a person a complete natural unit of work. The theme of self-organisation in Scrum is, for me, found easily in most of the principles above. I can see the transparency pillar of Scrum in the principle of making periodic reports available to workers and a great way to do this for me is with visual management. The Agile principle that asks to "give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done" is, in my opinion, all about the hygiene factors.
Herzberg adds a 2 page retrospective commentary at the end of the article. In it, I find this paragraph interesting:
"By backing into the system, you can identify who serves whom - not who reports to whom - which is critical in trying to enrich jobs. You identify the external client, then the core jobs, or internal client jobs, serving that client. You first enrich the core jobs [with the job enrichments mentionned in the article] and then enrich the core jobs that serve these internal clients"
I feel that we have been doing the same thing with Scrum. We start by identifying the Product Owner (PO), the person who is the client, and then assemble a development team that will serve this client. As we can have a core team (or core jobs to use the words of Herzberg), we can also enrich them with Subject Matter Expert (SME). For example, you might need a technical writer or a UX designer for a few sprints to help the core jobs of developers, testers and analysts on the development team.
Herzberg gives the example of a case study he did at the U.S. Air Force where he states:
"The avionics mechanic's external client is the test pilot, and although he reports to his supervisor, his supervisor serves him. The sheet metal mechanic and the line mechanic serve the avionics mechanic. And so on back into the system"
My first impression about this article is its accessibility. It is an easy read written in terms and with a style that everybody can understand. For Agile coaches out there who would like to discuss this topic with Scrum Masters or managers, it is easy to get together around a lunchbox and talk about it.
I also find the information to be hands-on. Once I was done reading this article, I had a new tool in my toolbox. I knew to look for hygiene and motivators factors around my teams. For example, one of my items on my action list could be to do a survey of which hygiene factors are not addressed in my teams. In other words, the call-to-action after reading this article is pretty easy to imagine in my opinion.
Finally, I find the conclusions of Herzberg have a striking ressemblance to what the Agile community has been promoting for the last 12 years. Whatever your looking glass (Scrum, XP, Kanban, Lean), this article fits well with what we are advocating in our industry. As Agile is sometimes said to be how we used to do software 50 years ago, I hope this old article will also become, once again, very popular with the new generation of IT professionals.