Personal productivity, time management, and people skills took a leap forward when management heeded the behavioral scientists’ findings, especially the motivational theories put forward by Abraham Maslow (Hierarchy of needs), Douglas McGregor (Theory X & Theory Y) and Frederick Herzberg (Motivation-Hygiene Theory).

Back in the sixties I was teaching organizational development at Humber College in Toronto. The behavioral scientist, Frederick Hertzberg, talked to us at a dinner meeting about a motivation theory he had published several years earlier. He said that the things that motivate people to work productively above and beyond the usual level are not the opposite of those things that simply make them dissatisfied or de-motivate them.

For instance, money, good working conditions, fringe benefits, etc. if absent, will de-motivate workers. Absenteeism may be high. They might not go the extra mile to work overtime to complete a project. They may complain a lot and so on. But if you do give them benefits such as a raise, better fringe benefits, more sick leave, and so on, there will be no long-term motivational effect. People expect these things. They take them for granted. They won’t motivate them to work any better or faster, they will just prevent them from working against the organization. They may be contented, but not motivated. Just as garbage removal is necessary to keep you from becoming sick, but it won’t make you healthy, so company policy, a fair salary, a good working environment, and so on, won’t motivate people to perform at their full potential. Herzberg called these things “maintenance” or “hygiene factors.” What motivates people to excel in their jobs are such things as recognition, challenge, sense of achievement, opportunity for promotion, and opportunity for growth, according to Herzberg. He called these “Motivators.”

This made a lot of sense, and most of us bought into it, as well as other motivation theories, which have elements in common with Herzberg’s theory. But something was missing. And I didn’t know what, until I recently noticed the plethora of books recently being written on the importance of personality in leadership. Look at Herzberg’s lists of “Hygiene Factors” and true “Motivators.” Notice where supervision is placed.

HYGIENE FACTORS: Salary, Fringe benefits, Company policy, Type of supervision, Working relationships, Status, Security

MOTIVATORS: Achievement, Recognition, The work itself, Responsibility, Opportunity for advancement, Personal growth

When Herzberg decided that the “type of supervision” wasn’t a motivator, he wasn’t taking into consideration the supervisors’ character traits such as kindness, trust, empathy, integrity, patience, thankfulness, and so on. Back then personality was thought to be innate and could not be changed.

You can supply all the “hygiene factors” and promise the “motivators” that Hertzberg recommended, and still not have fully engaged employees. The hygiene factors are extrinsic in nature. They are external motivators, as he mentioned, and are like the carrot and stick approach, which will only work in the short term. Herzberg’s motivational factors such as providing a sense of achievement, recognition for jobs well done, interesting work, greater responsibility, opportunity for advancement, and an opportunity for personal growth theoretically supply the intrinsic motivation needed for employees to become fully engaged. But for them to work, there must be confidence on the part of the workers that these things will actually materialize.

When the time comes, will they really be given promotions? Will they receive training and real opportunities for growth? Will they get more than just a pat on the back as recognition for a job well done? Will they be shown sincere gratitude for the work they do? Can their supervisors be trusted to do what they say they will do? All those motivators are initially just promises.

Most of these motivators are in the future, while the employees are still in the here and now. Can management be trusted? Have they given evidence of sincere personal interest in employees as human beings, not just as workers? Are they truly thankful that the employees are committed to do their best? Have the supervisors illustrated that they are honest, sincere, credible, trustworthy?  Are these traits evident? It is the visible character of the supervisors, managers, and leaders that determine whether the employees truly believe that those motivators will materialize.

In short, the character or personality of the management team is one ingredient that is essential for fully engaged, fully motivated, fully committed employees. But can character traits be developed? Are they not determined by your genes? Innate, and fixed? Innate, yes, and affected by past environmental factors and experiences. But fixed, no. If they were fixed, there would be no reason for this article. In my next column I will provide a brief description of a few of the more important character traits and how they can be developed.