Research Paper on Evaluating Performance through Motivation and Conflict Management Analysis

1 Introduction One of the main objectives of the science of organizational behavior is to identify potential factors, which can influence one’s performance and/or underline both positive and negative processes at work. Two leading categories in this context are motivational factors and conflict management strategies, both of them have gained tremendous interest throughout the years and will be examined here from two perspectives: First, the predominant theories from the two fields will be examined and evaluated. Second, this paper will bring evidences from Fortune Magazine’s (2009) top four best companies to work for, which demonstrate how the theories mentioned earlier are implemented in contemporary corporate America. Finally, this paper will provide critical analysis to the major disciplines in conflict management, with an attempt to recommend on those practices that can be the most effective today.

2 Theories of Motivation and their Implementation Today

In its simplest sense, the concept of motivation (a derivation of the movere – a Latin word which means “to move”) describes a set of psychological forces, which determine to extent to which an individual will make personal efforts towards reaching organizational goals. Arguing that the extent of motivation is conditioned by the effort’s ability to satisfy some individual need, Robbins & Judge suggest three questions that can indicate the elements to be measured when evaluating one’s motivation at work: (2008)

  1. Intensity: how hard a person tries?
  2. Direction: to what degree the efforts correlate with organizational goals?
  3. Persistence: – how long a person can maintain effort. 2.1 Classical Theories of Motivation

The early theories, which focused on needs and content, are no longer considered as central in the study of motivation. However, they are still being referred to as the basis of contemporary theories and practices. The most important theories in this field are: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Alderfer’s ERG Theory, Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory and McClelland’s Learned Needs Theory.

Maslow describes a hierarchy of five needs, in which each level of the hierarchy is aspired upon the satisfaction of the former level. These five levels are self-actualization, esteem, social, safety and physiological needs.

Alderfer’s ERG Theory is a derivation of Maslow, which uses three groups of needs: Existence (equal to Maslow’s physiological and safety), Relatedness (social and status) and Growth (esteem and self-actualization). The ERG Theory also assumes that the needs can be fulfilled at any order. Today’s scholars and managers can use Maslow’s and Alderfer’s theory as a reference to the needs of the individual in the workplace, but the two theories do not cope with empirical findings.

McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y assumes that managers motivate their employees according to one of two contradicting approaches, namely Theory X (negative – assumes that individuals do not like to work, lack drive and avoid responsibilities) and the positive Theory Y, which assumes the exact opposite. Another separation of motivating factors into two groups is Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory, which denies the notion satisfaction and dissatisfaction are opposites concepts (although they need to be examined separately) and focuses on two categories of environmental factors: hygiene factors (extrinsic and can remove dissatisfaction – work conditions, salary and company policies) and motivators (intrinsic and bring about satisfaction – achievement, responsibility and growth). Robbins & Judge (2008) criticize the empirical basis of the two theories, pointing out that while McGregor has no supporting evidences, Herzberg’s scientific process was not comprehensive enough to show a link between his assumptions and changes of job performance.

The last major need theory is that of McClelland, which describes three needs as predictors of behavior: the need for achievement (nAch), for power (nPow) and for affiliation (nAff). Like Alderfer, McClelland assumes that individuals will try to gain in each of the three scales at the same time. The major drawback of the theory is by the lack of hard measurements to find the desire for each of the needs among workers.

2.2 Contemporary Cognitive and Processes Approaches

Unlike the classical theories, which focused on needs, contemporary theorists study the relations among organizational and personal factors and their result in the cognitive and behavioral levels. The predominant theories are:

  1. Expectancy Theory: links performance to the perceived outcomes in terms of probability to fulfill the task and the attractiveness of the rewards.
  2. Cognitive Evaluation Theory: argues the intrinsic factors are much more motivating and may be reduced because of extrinsic rewards (e.g. higher pay) to intrinsically motivating behavior.
  3. Locke’s Goal-Setting Theory: provides the theoretical basis for the practice of Management by Objectives (MBO) and explain motivation in the context of goals and feedback.
  4. Self-Efficacy Theory: continuing Locke’s theory by linking objectives to the individual’s believes that she can achieve them. The theory also suggests that negative feedback make people to work harder.
  5. Adams’ Equity Theory: also based on mental accounting and suggest that decision-making is based on a desire to balance between inputs and outcomes of actions. When unfairness arises, people may feel angry (for underestimation of efforts) or guilt (for overestimation).

Another major implication of today’s thought on motivation is the consideration of cultural differences. That it, needs, perceptions and feeling are cultural-bound and should be treated separately, as there is no a uniform set of motivators for all employees. Finally, contemporary theories are generally more accepted because they are better supported by practice and expand into fields such as decision-making, justice and rationality.

2.3 Implementation of the Theories in the Best Companies to Work For

In its annual comparison, Fortune Magazine select the best workplaces in corporate America based on parameters such as benefits, compensation, working environment and workplace diversity. Below are some motivators that represent the practices of the top four employers in 2009, according to their ranks:

  1. NetApp: the best workplace of the year makes extensive use of the Self-Efficacy Theory, asking the departments to write “future histories” – a vision about how their units will look like in two years, instead of conventional business plans.
  2. Edward Jones: the brokerage made a clear statement regarding its financial exposures, providing a sense of job security that matches Maslow’s Need for Safety.
  3. Boston Consulting: excels in providing superior health insurance (e.g. 100% coverage for fertility treatments) to all its employees, hence avoids discrimination and increases organizational justice according to the Equity Theory.
  4. Google: best known for its excellent working conditions, the company provides a great array of incentives that keep people happy while in the workplace and let them choose when and where they prefer to do their jobs. Hence, the company gives its employees the freedom to use their own cognitive judgment.
    3 Conflict Management Strategies in the Workplace

A conflict is a known phenomenon in organizational behavior, which arises “when one party perceives that another party has negatively affected, or is about to negatively affect, something that the first party cares about” (Robbins & Judge, 2008). Conflict have both good and bad implications for an organization; however, in order to minimize the negative results of conflicts, managers can use conflict management techniques such as: (ibid.)

  • Problem solving: resolving the problem through its content
  • Superordinate goals and authoritative command: breaking the conflict through creating a necessity to cooperate
  • Avoidance: ignoring the problem, hoping that it will pass with time
  • Smoothing and compromise: negotiating the problem through finding a common grounds
  • Altering the human and structural variables that underpin the conflict: through e.g. restructuring and bringing in outsiders.

In today’s competitive environment, it seems that successful organizations (in particular those at the top of the Fortune Magazine’s list) manage to solve or even prevent destructive conflicts by retaining a high level of organizational tension and challenging (but rewarding) objectives. Hence, superordinate goals and authoritative command are common in such organizations, as a result of the external environment, the internal decisions or a combination of both.


  • Fortune Magazine. (2009). 100 Best Companies to Work For. Retrieved July 4, 2009 from
  • Robbins, S. P. & Judge, T. A. (2008). Organizational Behavior. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.