Handy's Motivation Theory

Motivating People to Work Hard

(Also known as Handy's Motivation Calculus)

Handy's Motivation Theory - Motivating People to Work Hard

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You've just assigned an important project to one of your star team members. However, she doesn't seem that excited about the opportunity, and you're not sure what the problem is: her skills and expertise seem perfect for the job, and she'll get a great reward if she can complete the project on time.

So, why is she so reluctant to get started?

If you're in a management role, you've likely experienced times when team members were less than enthusiastic about a project that you felt would be ideal for them. When this happens, you know that they'll struggle to give their best.

This is where a technique like Handy's Motivation Theory can help you motivate your people more effectively. In this article, we'll discuss this theory, and we'll explore how you can use it to motivate your people and allocate tasks and projects more effectively.

About the Theory

Charles Handy is one of the world's most influential management experts. He created his Motivation Theory (also known as his Motivation Calculus) in the 1970s and published it in his classic 1976 book, "Understanding Organizations."

The theory says that, whenever we decide to do something, then, either consciously or subconsciously, we take into consideration these three factors:

  • Our most significant needs.
  • Our expectation that a certain intensivity of action will achieve the desired results.
  • How the results of the action will contribute towards satisfying our needs.

All of these affect the amount of effort (expenditure) that we put into the task.

As you can see in figure 1, below, we consider each of the elements simultaneously when we make this "calculation."

Put simply, the theory helps explain why we put effort and energy into certain tasks, but not others.

Figure 1 – Handy's Motivation Theory

Handy's Motivation Theory Diagram

Let's examine each of the three elements of the theory in greater detail.

1. Needs

Needs are important, because people will usually work hard to meet a large unmet personal need. Handy highlighted three particular theories that are helpful when thinking about people's needs:

  1. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs – this says that we have five essential needs: physiological/bodily; safety; love/belonging; self-esteem; and, self-actualization (the sense of "doing the work we were born to do"). According to Maslow, we only realize our higher needs (such as self-actualization) once we have met our more basic needs (such as bodily needs).
  2. Herzberg's Motivators and Hygiene Factors – this theory helps us identify what we find satisfactory and unsatisfactory with our jobs. According to Herzberg, we find factors like excessive bureaucracy, over-tight supervision and poor salaries demotivating, and factors like recognition, achievement and advancement motivating. We "need" demotivators to be removed and motivators to be supplied.
  3. McClelland's Human Motivation Theory – this theory says that there are three primary needs: the needs for achievement, affiliation, and power. According to McClelland, all of us have one or another of these three needs as a "dominant" motivator. That is, when we analyze our needs, our desire to satisfy this dominant driver will be strong.


Clearly, we all have different needs, and these needs can, and likely will, change over time.

For instance, if we feel very secure in our job, our need for security might be satisfied; this means we might then perceive a need for a creative outlet, or for greater freedom. However, if our organization experiences budget cuts and layoffs are looming, our need for security may resurface.

2. Expectation

This is your expectation that a given level of "expenditure" will lead to a desired result.

This expenditure could be of energy, effort, or any other type of expenditure such as time, money, passion, and so on, that we put toward a task to get our desired result.

Clearly, if we think that a task will be easy and boring, we may not put much effort into it. This is particularly a problem if the task is actually much harder than we initially think!

3. Results

If the rewards for doing a task are attractive, we're likely to work harder. These rewards could include a promotion, a kind word from our boss, recognition for improving sales figures, kudos for acquiring a new client, approval from your team, or a bonus or a financial reward.

The theory says that the results we want are likely to be closely connected with our needs. For example, if our most important needs include achievement, we'll put extra effort into tasks that result in praise from our boss.

How to Use the Tool

You can use the theory behind this tool to motivate your people to work hard, by helping them see the connection between working diligently and getting their needs met.

You can also use the theory to allocate tasks intelligently, by giving people tasks and projects that they are likely to find rewarding.

We'll now look at how you can identify people's needs, and help them see the connection between their needs and the results of tasks and projects.

1. Understanding People's Needs

Your first step is to understand the needs and priorities of each individual in your team.

You could use any of the three motivation theories we mentioned earlier – Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Herzberg's Motivators and Hygiene Factors, or McClelland's Human Motivation Theory – to help you do this. You may also find Amabile and Kramer's Progress Theory helpful here.


Make sure that you don't make any assumptions about people's needs and priorities – they can often differ radically from what you'd expect. The most effective way to understand people's needs is to ask them!

2. Linking People's Needs to Desirable Results

Once you've identified people's needs, you need to help them see the link between these needs and the rewards that come with the work that they do.

Sometimes, it will be clear how needs and results are connected. Other times, you'll have to dig deeper to find a link. In either case, communicate regularly with your people so that they're aware of why its worth working hard. (Effective feedback is especially important here, particularly when you feed back on how specific behaviors are moving people towards or away from the rewards they want.)

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Also remember to use Managing by Objectives. This helps you motivate people by aligning their needs and objectives with those of your organization.

3. Making Sure That Expectations Are Realistic

As we've already said, people's expectations about the job affect the amount of effort that they're likely to put in to it. If a task will need a lot of hard work to complete, make sure that the person completing it fully appreciates the amount of effort needed. (Of course, make sure that you build up their self-confidence, so that they know they can complete the task successfully!)


There won't always be a connection between the work that people do and their needs. Read our article on Motivating Your Team or use our team motivation Bite-Sized Training session for more on the different motivation strategies and techniques you can use.

Key Points

Business expert Charles Handy first developed his Motivation Theory in the 1970s. It helps to explain how we decide how much effort and energy we are going to devote to a task.

The three components we consider are:

  1. What our most significant needs are.
  2. Our expectation of how much work will be needed.
  3. How desirable the results are, and how they will contribute towards meeting our needs.

You can use Handy's Motivation Theory to motivate your people more effectively, by helping them see the connection between the results of their hard work, and the satisfaction of their needs.

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Comments (3)
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Great contribution and thoughts Zuni! Thanks for that.

    I particularly like your point When employees understand the "why," they are more committed to following through and accomplishing great results I think it gives people the understanding and connection to the bigger gain. And, understanding the reasons 'why' they are doing what they are doing makes them feel like they are very directly contributing to the success of the company ... which they are! However, often times, we can feel like little cogs in a wheel, not connected to anything and simply working away in our little corner!

    Wish more companies would make the connect between what the employees are doing and how it contributes to the bottom line!!

  • Over a month ago zuni wrote
    I have been a follower of Charles Handy for a number of years. He has the ability to knit together a number of concepts to create elegant solutions, not to mention that he is one of the most respected futurists in business. Handy's Motivational Theory is a perfect example of making the complex - simple.
    Like many organizations, my company is seeking ways to improve the productivity of its workforce. We regularly survey employees to determine how committed they are to the company. The recent research on employee engagement indicates that the more committed employees are to the company, the more they are willing "to do whatever it takes" and will accomplish more in their jobs, and the more likely they will stay with you. To improve the level of commitment in our workforce, we focused our attention on developing the skills of our supervisor and managers.

    In developing the skills and behaviours of of leaders of people, we start first with helping leaders to identify the needs of their employees. For example, does the employee seek recognition for their expertise or are they driven by achievement and want to be acknowledged for their successes. We then introduce an ability and motivation model to link needs with an assessment of an employee's ability and desire to accomplish a task or assignment. The model assists with assigning work, as well as coaching and developing the employee, depending on their ability. Effective goal setting, providing specific and frequent feedback and the assessment of results is the outcome: managing and recognizing the performance of employees.

    I cannot underestimate the importance of educating employees as to why the work the work being assigned is important, what is in it for them, and making the connection as to how the work contributes to business objectives. When employees understand the "why," they are more committed to following through and accomplishing great results. This is a gap we currently see in managers my company and one we are working to address. With so many competing priorities and pressures to do more with less, managers often assign work without explaining why it is important and how it will benefit the employee and the business.

  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    This is a great way to help you motivate your people ... by understanding and communicating employee's needs, expectations and results. By clarifying your employee's needs and giving them projects that are clearly communicated as to your expectations, you can guarantee successful results.

    This is a great reminder to really get to know your employees and clearly communicate with them.

    Has anyone had any experience using this type of model?