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Appropriate Motivational Theory For An IT Specialist Information Technology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Information Technology
Wordcount: 3533 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This report defines motivation and briefly analyses the content and process theories of motivation. It analyses and discusses the motivational theory relevant to information technology specialists. A fictitious case study is developed and the appropriate motivational theory is applied to address the problem in the case study.

Literature Review

Motivation is defined as “the cognitive, decision making process through which goal-directed behaviour is initiated, energised, and directed and maintained.” [1] Luthans (1998) described motivation as “the process of stimulating people to action and to achieve a desired task.” [2] 

Motivation is, therefore, the way that managers influence the employees’ behaviour so that they produce results in order to meet organisational goals.

Motivation can be seen from two distinct but related perspectives:

Goals – motivation is viewed in terms of desired goals of individuals and this is addressed by the content theories of motivation. Content theories focus on what motivates individuals and assumes that individuals have a set of needs or goals which can be satisfied through work. Thus, they are also referred to as ‘need theories.’ [3] 

Decisions – motivation is viewed in terms of how an individual’s decisions affect their choice of goals. This is known as Process Theories of motivation which view the individual as an active decision-maker and the emphasis is on the actual process (method) of motivation. [4] 

The following are content theories of motivation:

A. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – Maslow’s theory suggests that individuals have five types of needs, namely (in ascending order): [5] 

Physiological needs – needs that are essential for living e.g. food, water.

Safety needs – people want protection against unemployment, seek comfort, shelter as well as being safeguarded against unfair treatment.

Affiliation needs – people seek attachment and a sense of belongingness and affection at work.

Esteem needs – need for recognition, reputation, achievement and strength.

Self-actualisation needs – Maslow defines this as “to realise your full potential and to become all that you can become.”

D. McClelland’s theory of needs – McClelland measured people in three dimensions: [6] 

Need for Power (nPower) – individuals with a high need for power arouse strong emotions in them. They want to create an impact on others and make a difference in life.

Need for Achievement (nAch) – individuals prefer tasks that are neither too simple nor extremely difficult but that challenge them to do their best.

Need for Affiliation (nAff) – individuals that seek recognition and respect of others and wish to establish personal relationships with others.

Herzberg’s 2 factor theory – Herzberg identified two sets of factors: [7] 

Hygiene factors provide job satisfaction (being content with your job) but not motivation to employees such as pay, supervision, security and working conditions. These are known as extrinsic factors as they are separate from the job itself.

Motivator factor provides high levels of satisfaction, motivation and performance. It includes responsibility, achievement, growth and recognition. These are known as intrinsic factors as they stem from the job itself.

The following are Process theories of motivation:

J. Adams’ equity theory – This theory assumes that employees are motivated to act in situations which they perceive to be inequitable or unfair. [8] Thus, they are in a constant process of comparing themselves to other employees in terms of pay, terms and conditions etc. [9] 

E. Locke’s Goal-setting theory – Specific and challenging goals are more motivating than vague or easy goals. When employees receive feedback both during and after achieving goals, they are motivated to achieve even more. [10] Motivation is high as employees participate in the goal-setting process and are committed to organisational goals. [11] 

V. Vroom’s expectancy theory – This theory examines motivation from the perspective of why people choose to follow a particular course of action. Vroom argues that behaviour is directed by the expectations that we have about our behaviour leading to the achievement of desired outcomes. [12] 

There is a positive relationship between motivation and performance. Performance is the extent to which an employee contributes to achieving the objectives of the organisation. Performance is dependent on both ability of the employees and motivation hence, it is vital to have motivated employees for the achievement of organisational goals.

Work Situation

An Information Technology specialist analyses Information Technology (IT) requirements within an organisation. The IT specialist and the owner/manager of the organisation compromise over a possible solution that will enable the achievement of organisational goals. The IT specialist will then design, develop, test, implement and maintain the new system. [13] 

They are highly educated and highly skilled personnel. Their task is to define technical requirements and provide technical support in an organisation. The challenge they face is to design and develop a system that will enable the organisation to meet its goals. They hold high expectations from their work such as a chance of promotion, new and challenging tasks and occasional feedback from users of the system in order to make improvements. [14] IT specialists are self-driven, perform and function well both alone and within a team of other IT specialists. [15] 

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Analysis of appropriate motivational theory for an IT specialist

McClelland’s need for Achievement (nAch) is the most effective and appropriate motivational theory for an IT specialist. McClelland used the Thematic Aptitude Test (TAT) as a tool to measure the different needs of different people. The TAT is a test of imagination in which the individual is shown some ambiguous pictures and is told to develop a story. The assumption is that the individual will project their needs into the story. [16] 

McClelland asserted that all three needs (i.e. nPower, nAch and nAff) are present in every individual, although there is only one need that dominates the individual. The dominent need drives employee behaviour and hence, motivates them. [17] 

In the case of IT specialists, the dominent need is the need for achievement. IT specialists who have a high need for achievement seek to succeed and excel in the development and maintenance of systems and expect career advancement opportunities with time. [18] 

IT specialists are intrinsically motivated i.e. they are motivated by rewards which arise from the performance of the work itself, usually intangible. Intrinsic motivation includes a sense of achievement, career advancement etc. They are not motivated by extrinsic factors (which are separate from the job itself) such as pay and working conditions. [19] They perceive achievement of goals as a reward and value it more than financial reward. They will view their financial reward as a measure of progress such that an increase in salary will reflect achievement of the task. [20] 

IT specialists have the following characteristics in common with other people that have a strong need for Achievement:

Avoid both low-risk and high-risk situations – IT specialists dislike low-risk situations because what is easily attained by others is not genuine achievement for them e.g. designing and developing a system that is already developed by another IT specialist and is available on the market is not an indication of achievement for the IT specialist. However, IT specialists also avoid high-risk situations where achievement is dependent on chance/luck rather than effort. IT specialists prefer medium-risk situations that have a moderate probability of success, ideally a 50% chance. [21] 

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Need regular feedback – IT specialists require regular feedback from the users in the organisation about their systems. This enables them to review their progress and make improvements to the system i.e. it is a mechanism to maintain their achievements in terms of how well they have designed and developed the system and whether or not it is meeting the expectations of the users. Both positive and negative feedback is encouraged as this will motivate them in future to design better systems and deliver good maintenance services. The term ‘feedback’ is not only restricted to user’s comments regarding the system but feedback may be provided by managers in terms of the salary that IT specialists receive e.g. an increase in salary may imply that the IT specialist has designed an effective system for the organisation, hence feedback symbolises their progress and achievement. [22] 

Prefer to work alone or with other high achievers – IT specialists are self-sufficient and prefer designing systems alone or with other IT specialists. Seldom will it be found that an IT specialist works with the sales and marketing department or accounting department although they will require information from other departments regarding the function of the system and what these departments expect to receive from these systems. [23] 

Set goals that are challenging but realistic – IT specialists want to develop systems that are unique and challenging but easily attainable. If IT specialists set goals to develop a system that is too difficult to achieve, they will be demoralised as they would not have achieved their targets. They will feel incapable and lose confidence hence, setting realistic goals/targets is vital for them to have a sense of achievement. They should be given challenging projects with reachable and explicit goals. [24] 

Look for innovative ways of performing jobs – An IT specialist is unlikely to gain satisfaction by developing the same system all the time. Instead, they derive pleasure from developing new systems (innovation) or adding more functions/features to an existing system. Repetitive work is boring for them. [25] 

Seek promotion – Because of their success in lower-level jobs such as repairing and maintaining systems, they are often promoted to higher-level positions such as head of an IT department or a systems analyst (one who designs and develops systems). [26] 

Effort often leads to success – IT specialists who have a high nAch believe that the more input/effort they put into the development of the system, the more effective and successful the system will be. Thus, their developments are a reflection of their hard work and effort. [27] 

Assume personal responsibility for problem-solving – If the users of the system identify a fault in the system, the IT specialist readily assumes the responsibility to improve the system, rather than expect the users themselves to fix the problem. The nature of their work itself is to provide technical support to the organisation hence, it is incumbent on them to maintain and improve their systems. [28] 

Discussion of Theory


Individuals with a high nAch are self-sufficient and independent which means that they do not require supervision hence, reduced supervision costs for the organisation. [29] 

Individuals with a sense of achievement view life as a personal challenge rather than a challenge with others. This leads to less conflicts in the organisation as they are not willing to compete with other members and members are not seen as ‘rivals’. [30] 

IT specialists appreciate challenges so when the organisation is experiencing difficult times, they will be motivated to work even harder as they have the strength to face challenges. Indeed, such employees are an asset to any organisation. [31] 

A sense of achievement promotes good job performance as the IT specialist has an interest in excellence and strive to perform their best. As a result, an optimal and effective system is designed for the organisation, thus giving the organisation a competitive edge. [32] 


IT specialists are self-sufficient and self-driven hence, they may view managerial activities such as coaching, communicating and meeting with subordinates as a waste of time. [33] 

IT specialists that become the manager of the IT department may find it difficult to delegate responsibility as they enjoy doing things by themselves. [34] 

They expect everyone to be dedicated to work as they are and expect subordinates to do the task exactly how they do it. They believe that everyone has the same nAch (which is often not the case). [35] 

IT specialists may experience mental stress and fatigue due to their passion to go beyond personal boundaries and extend individual abilities. [36] 

Managerial Implications

The practical management implications are: [37] 

IT specialists should be given challenging projects with reachable goals.

Management should provide them with unambiguous and frequent feedback so that specialists can monitor their performance.

Clearly define the job role and progressively enrich the job i.e. more responsibilities and more challenging goals.

Personal development training – the manager should focus on practical job-related assignments and qualities such as goal-setting, assertiveness, problem-solving and self-confidence.

Reward systems which are an indication of an IT specialist’s achievement and competence should be used e.g. incentive schemes which ties pay directly to performance and hence encourage improvements in performance.


McClelland’s theory of needs, like other motivational theories, has been criticised for being more of a social philosophy and as being too vague to explain and predict all human behaviour. [38] It is difficult to apply the theory in practice. Nevertheless, they pave a direction for managers to motivate their employees and adapt these theories in the organisation accordingly. They do provide a stable framework and a starting point for managers.

Case Study


An IT specialist in an organisation does not derive satisfaction and pleasure from his job. For many years, he has remained as a systems repairer even though he has high qualifications. His job is not appealing because it is not challenging. He receives a reasonable fixed salary, independent of his performance at work. He finds repairing computer systems repetitive and boring.


The manager should do the following in order to motivate the IT specialist:

The IT specialist has the necessary qualifications hence, he should be given challenging projects such as designing a new system rather than just repairing them.

The IT specialist should be promoted e.g. the manager of the IT department, so that he has a sense of achievement.

Money is not a motivator for the IT specialist because it does not reflect his performance. The manager should consider performance-related pay schemes and intrinsic rewards such as job enrichment and recognition of the IT specialist’s effort.

The manager should enrich the IT specialist’s job by delegating more responsibilities and allowing the IT specialist to make decisions (to a certain extent). The IT specialist will no more view his job as repetitive/boring.

The manager will be successful in motivating the IT specialist by considering the points above and by closely following the managerial implications (discussed earlier).


McClelland’s nAch theory best motivates IT specialists because their job/role requires a strong need for achievement and they have many characteristics in common with individuals that have a high nAch. The advantages and disadvantages of employing IT specialists with a high nAch are weighed evenly. The managerial implications are summarised as providing an environment that will give the IT specialist the ability to be creative and the opportunity to expand beyond their current position/role. The limitation of the theory is that it does not provide a practical system which would apply to IT specialists of all races.


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