Discussion Post

Describe two of the three early theories of motivation and evaluate its applicability today. Why did you select these theories over the others?

The text discusses three early theories of motivation:

  1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory:  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs “hypothesizes that within every human being there is a hierarchy of five needs.” (Robbins & Judge, 2018, p. 101)
  2. Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene (Two-Factor) Theory:  Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene (two-factor) theory hypothesizes that there is a correlation between influencers (hygiene factors) and sentiment. (Robbins & Judge, 2018, p. 102)
  3. McClelland’s Theory of Needs:  McClelland hypothesized that there where three needs which acted as motivating factors.  (Robbins & Judge, 2018, p. 102) These needs are:
    1. Ned for achievement (nAch)
    2. Need for power (nPow)
    3. Need for affiliation (naAdd)

All three of these theories spoke to me in different ways, but I think that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory and McClelland’s theory of needs are easier to understand as motivators, at least as initial motivators, and this is why I selected them. With this said once I explore Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and McClelland’s theory of needs I would like to touch on Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene (two-factor) theory because while it’s not as straightforward, it is by far the most interesting to me, more on this later.

First up, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow stated that every human being has five needs (Robbins & Judge, 2018, p. 101):

  1. Physiological needs (aka basic survival needs); like air, water, shelter, etc…
  2. Safety needs; physical emotional, economic security, etc…
  3. Social needs; belongingness, interaction, friendship, acceptance, etc…
  4. Esteem needs; internal needs like self-confidence, achievement, autonomy, etc… and external needs like status, recognition, attention, etc…
  5. Self-actualization needs; self-fulfillment, be all you can be, etc…

According to Maslow, the needs a serial (from 1 to 5 above) from both motivation and progression perspective. Once the basic physiological needs are met safety needs become the motivator, one safety needs are met social needs become the motivator, etc…
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is easy to understand, the idea that a human being can’t focus on security if they need to eat, or a human being is not worried about belonging if their focus is economic security, etc… With this said, I can see the criticism regarding accelerating through the hierarchy before a need is fully satisfied, for example needing social interaction before fully satisfying the safety needs.

McLelland’s theory of needs focused on three areas of need:

  1. Need for achievement (nAch); the drive to excel, to achieve in relation to a set of standard, to strive to succeed.
  2. Need for power (nPow); the need to impact or influence others.
  3. Need for affiliation (nAff); the need or desire to develop friendly and warm relationships with others. This need is similar to Maslow’s social need.

Both Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and McLelland’s theory of needs are easy to understand and easy to apply in today’s world. Most people are either motivated by necessity (e.g. physiological needs) or by accomplishment (e.g. – achievement, power, affiliation).  I also think it’s fair to state that even necessity can be subjective, as the text alludes to when stating the challenges with validation of the theory when applying to diverse cultures. (Robbins & Judge, 2018, p. 101)

Now, why is Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene (two-factor) theory so interesting to me? I found it interesting because motivators are great, but motivators don’t indicate the probability of success or failure. I think that when the two-factor theory is applied along with the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory or McClelland’s theory of needs, it would seem that there is an indicator of both the motivation and the probability of success. Hygiene factors are indicators of job satisfaction or as the text states “productivity” (Robbins & Judge, 2018, p. 101), and job satisfaction (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) is a key factor; when tasks become more complicated, when cognitive skills are required (RSA ANIMATE: Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, 2010), I believe the two-factor theory may be the best indicator of the probability of success. With said we can also find data that support hygiene factors are clear motivators (Gawel, 1997, p. 2)


Gawel, J. E. (1997). Herzberg’s theory of motivation and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 5(11), 3.

How the Theory of Maslow Can Be Applied to Organizational Development. (n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://yourbusiness.azcentral.com/theory-maslow-can-applied-organizational-development-20811.html

Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. (2018). Essentials of organizational behavior. New York, NY: Pearson.

RSA ANIMATE: Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. (2010, April 01). Retrieved January 28, 2018, from https://youtu.be/u6XAPnuFjJc


Response Post

Andrew, excellent post.  I agree that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a personalized basic map of motivators. I also agree that the ability for someone (as a manager) to impact the basic and personalized needs in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is questionable. Satisfying someone’s thirst is probably more or a Samaritan role than a management role, but I digress. I think the challenge I have with Maslow’s theory applied in the context of organizational behavior is that is the physiological needs and the progressive aspect (the hierarchy) sort of blows it up for me, and I agree it seems a bit distant and maybe even a bit dated.

I too found that the two-factor theory was more about the impact I can have, the circumstance I can create to either motivate or demotivate others.

Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” It’s my job as a leader to pick the best talent and to create an environment where that talent can flourish. If I can do this successfully, I believe that we can transcend the paint-by-number hierarchy of needs, satisfying them in parallel, without concern for progression.

With this said I have read that the two-factor theory ignores blue-collar workers (MSG Management Study Guide, n.d.), and I would agree that the more fundamental the needs, the less applicable the two-factor theory. I am not sure this is about blue-collar or white-collar workers, but situational based on starting position circumstance. I think the difference is well outlined by this statement “In Maslow’s theory, any unsatisfied need of an individual serves as the motivator. Unlike in the case of Herzberg, only higher level needs are counted as the motivator.” (Surbhi, 2017)

Lastly, as leaders we can’t ignore the data, millennials have surpassed both Baby Boomers and Gen Xers to become the largest segment of the workforce (Fry, 2015) and hygiene matters more than anything to this generation. (Millennial Survey 2017 | Deloitte US, 2017)


Fry, R. (2015, May 11). Millennials surpass Gen Xers as the largest generation in U.S. labor force. Retrieved March 31, 2018, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/11/millennials-surpass-gen-xers-as-the-largest-generation-in-u-s-labor-force/

Surbhi, S. (2017, August 03). Difference Between Maslow and Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation (with Comparison Chart). Retrieved March 31, 2018, from https://keydifferences.com/difference-between-maslow-and-herzberg-theories-of-motivation.html

Millennial Survey 2017 | Deloitte US. (2017, July 10). Retrieved March 31, 2018, from https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/millennial-survey.html

MSG Management Study Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved March 31, 2018, from https://managementstudyguide.com/herzbergs-theory-motivation.htm