Managing employees in organizations requires managers to assess the strengths, competencies and limitations of their subordinates accurately. In order to meet the strategic objectives of the organizations and compete effectively, managers are constantly under pressure to enhance the performance levels of subordinates. Motivation is an important tool used by managers to inspire employees to raise their performance levels. Understanding organizational psychology can assist managers in their efforts to motivate subordinates. This paper discusses how managers can employ theories of personality and power relations to perform their managerial functions effectively. In particular, the usefulness of these personality and power-relations theories to increase employee motivation is discussed.
Role of Personality Theories
Most personality theories can be classified as psychoanalytical, trait and behaviourist theories. Each of these describes important aspects of personality that can inform organizational strategy to motivate employees and improve their performance. This section describes the components of some important personality theories and discusses how an understanding of these theories can help managers to provide professional development and improvement opportunities to their subordinates.
Freud’s theory of personality acknowledges the role of the id, ego and superego. The ego, operating under the reality principle (Saha, 2006, p. 226), can be developed in the organizational environment by teaching employees about thinking and manifesting behavior in a certain way to attain the rewards they seek. In this way, the pleasure principle is also satisfied because ultimately employees put in greater effort to get their desired rewards in the form of a promotion, better performance appraisal or increased perquisites. Managers can also use Jung’s theory of personality to offer appropriate training and educational programs to employees (Luthans, 2011, p. 134). By analyzing the dominant personality traits and learning styles of employees, managers can develop group activities for those with an extroverted learning style, while access to detailed information can be offered to those with a thinking or judging learning style.
Similarly, employees with an introverted learning style can be offered opportunities to learn through listening and reflection. Managers can also invoke the tension between inferiority and inferiority complex identified by Adler in his theory of personality. According to his theory, individuals are motivated by a perceived sense of inferiority acquired from the environment to attain a higher level of selfhood (Srivastava, 2005, p. 62). Managers can offer challenging work assignments and projects that will motivate employees to put in excellent performance and emerge as superior employees.
Horney’s (1937) theory of personality can also supplement the ideas of Adler. Managers can encourage employees to articulate the disparity between their ideal and real selves. They can then offer professional development opportunities and challenging work assignments to exploit the neurotic state of tension within employees. As a result, employees work harder to come closer to their ideal self. Erikson’s eight stage model of personality can assist managers and organizational psychologists to assess the barriers to the emotional and psychological development of employees so that relevant interventions can be offered. Employees with low self-esteem and performance issues may be experiencing mistrust, shame, doubt, inferiority and role confusion carried over from earlier stages of development (Mullins, 2005, p. 137). Management can develop programs and offer coaching to help employees resolve these issues and proceed towards generativity and ego integrity in their careers.
Among the trait theories of personality, the work of Allport offers useful ideas to be incorporated into organizational and employee development programs. Managers can use this model to identify the cardinal, central and secondary traits of their employees (Aquinas, 2006, p. 50). Once the traits have been identified, steps can be taken to reinforce and nurture those that contribute to effective performance while those that inhibit performance and positive emotions should be repressed. Cattell’s model of personality provides further wealth of information and support to organizational management through a 16-factor model of personality. This can be used by managers to analyse the personality development needs of employees as well as their unique strengths.
Some of the factors discussed in Cattell’s model include abstractedness, liveliness, openness to change, reasoning, social boldness and vigilance (King and Lawley, 2013, p. 250). Jobs and work can be assigned according to the dominant personality characteristics of employees, such as by appointing a discrete employee to manage regulatory and legal affairs whereas an employee with high emotional stability may be appointed as the public relations manager.
One of the most well-known theories of personality was developed by Abraham Maslow. His needs-based theory offers a unique perspective of personality as an evolutionary and progressive process. According to this model, individuals are motivated by different levels of needs ranging from the basic physiological needs to self-actualization needs (Sims, 2002, p. 59). Therefore, a new employee may be motivated to put in better performance by offering higher pay whereas a senior employee may be offered new or challenging work assignments to renew his or her skills and knowledge.
Managers can also employ Rogers’ person-centered and positivist personality theory by creating an environment where employees are provided timely and appropriate cues about their performance (Suhd, 1995). Such feedback can enable employees to form accurate and realistic self-concepts (Suhd, 1995). They can then direct their efforts towards increasing congruity between their real and ideal selves. In such an environment, employees can also be encouraged to apply the scientific method of analyzing and testing their behavioral assumptions proposed in Kelly’s personal construct psychology theory (Robertson, 2005, p. 204).
Furthermore, as suggested by Skinner and other behaviourist theorists of personality, managers can use positive and negative reinforcement tools to regulate employee behaviour and direct the learning and unlearning of new work habits (Jones and George, 2009, p. 535). They can also manage the relationship between the employee’s behaviour, environment and psychological processes to enable employees to learn from their environment. Bandura’s social cognitive theory, which explains how people learn by observing others in their environment (French, Bell, and Vohra, 2006), can be used by managers to offer constructive and accurate feedback that can help employees to improve their skills, attitudes and task performance.
Role of Theories of Power Relations
Power is an important dynamic in organizational management. Managers depend on power as a source of influence in their relationships with subordinates. This section describes some of the important concepts of power as illustrated in organizational management. These concepts are then explored from the perspective of management as to how these may be incorporated into strategies for motivating employees to perform at exceptional levels in the organization.
Power is a source of influence in organizations (Cummings and Worley, 2009, p. 174). Organizations can be construed as a web of relationships where managers are responsible for motivating and guiding employees to channelize their energies in the pursuit of organizational goals. When power is exercised by managers, employees can respond to it in different ways depending on how the manifested power is perceived by them. For instance, subordinates may comply with the instructions of the manager if they perceive negative costs of non-compliance. The fear of punishment can motivate employees to obey the manager and pursue the recommended course of action without offering any resistance (Braveman, 2006, p. 144). This elicits only a minimum level of performance as employees are not convinced about the effectiveness of the measure.
When power is demonstrated through more inclusive means, subordinates can be led to identify and accept the proposed measure and put in increased emotional commitment to the performance of their duties. On the other hand, where the demonstration of power is perceived to be hostile or too weak, subordinates are likely to put up resistance to challenge or subvert the efforts of managers to control their actions. Thus, managers should always adopt a strategy that takes into consideration the prevailing environmental as well as the quality of the relationship shared with subordinates.
The manifestation and outcomes of power in organizational relationships depends on the sources of power. Traditionally, six sources of power in organizations have been identified. These consist of coercive power, reward power, legitimate power, expert power, referent power, and informational power (French et al. 2011, p. 486). Coercive power is likely to induce compliance while prolonged use of coercive power can cause employees to increase resistance and rebel against management. Reward, referent and informational sources are more conducive to effective performance and motivation because they involve a movement of desired assets (financial rewards, praise, acceptance, information and knowledge, etc.) from management to subordinates. Therefore, managers who build these sources of power are perceived as legitimate authorities by their subordinates and are accepted as leaders. These managers become invested with the legitimate and moral authority to direct the efforts of their subordinates and motivate them to improved performance.
The power relationships in organizational management can also be affected by the kind of influence tactics used by managers to motivate employees. Kotter (1985) explains that organizational excellence depends on the excellence of individual employees. Depending on the situation, managers may employ rational persuasion based on facts and objective data to motivate subordinates to pursue a certain course of action (Lussier and Achua, 2013, p. 150). On the other hand, in some instances, persuasive appeals may be more effective such as when convincing employees to put in more work during a financial crisis in the organization. Managers can build greater social capital and personal credibility by involving subordinates in the decision making process. Thus, by adopting consultative discussions and coalition building with subordinates, managers can expect reduced resistance and greater commitment to their decisions. Where appropriate, managers also make use of personal appeal, convenient exchanges and may even resort to pressure tactics to achieve compliance and acceptance from subordinates.
Power plays an important role in organizational politics. Politics in organization involves the creation and management of mutually beneficial relationships in the form of coalitions, teams, cliques and pressure groups (Sinha, 2008, p. 220). These groups use various sources of power (e.g. informational, personal, etc.) to influence organizational decisions. Politics and impression management can also occur within departments as managers and subordinates vie for influence.
Sharing knowledge and power increases the motivation level of employees according to Herzberg’s two-factor theory of motivation (Griffin and Moorhead, 2010). This theory explains that managers who offer access to information sources and employ other ways of empowering subordinates are more successful at increasing motivation and commitment among subordinates. Herzberg’s theory also offers scope to employ carious sources of power such as reward power (e.g. in the form of promotions and more challenging work) and informational power (e.g. in the form of greater involvement in decision making). Other theories such as Alderfer’s existence-relatedness-growth theory (Miner, 2007) and McClellan’s achievement-power-affiliation theory (Miner, 2007) can also sensitize managers about the different ways through which employees can be motivated.
Thus, according to McClellan’s theory, employees with a high need for power can be motivated by managers who bargain some share of their power with subordinates. Similarly, according to Alderfer’s theory, managers can motivate employees with growth needs by offering rewards and supervisory roles in upcoming projects. At the same time, managers should also be cautious about how power and rewards are distributed in the organization. Equity theory implies that motivation declines when employees perceive that rewards of improved performance are not being distributed fairly and equitably (Miner, 2007). Managers should also follow expectancy theory and make the relationship between effort, performance, and reward explicit through their words, policies, and actions. Managers can use the concepts and theories of power relations to improve the performance levels in their work group, department and organization.
The foregoing discussion shows that organizational management can greatly benefit from the personality and power relations theories developed by organizational psychology. Subordinates are in constant need of direction and encouragement from managers and respond favorably to managers who offer opportunities for subordinates to satisfy their diverse needs and to grow professionally. Managers well-versed in theories of personality and power relations can motivate their subordinates in increasingly productive ways.
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