Motivating people across cultures: A 2-pronged approach

Main Discussion Post


I do not believe that the approach for motivating an employee is universal.  As Adler (2008) mentions there are different cultural values that may dictate motivation.  Most “universal” motivation campaigns have been developed in the United States (2008).  Earley and Erez (1997) mention that each individual has a self-concept that is regulated by enhancement, efficacy, and consistency, which regulate the influence of culture on behavior.  These motives reflect how a person views him or herself in society (1997).  Because we have different personality types and cultural values, whether individualistic or collectivist cultures, there can be no universal truth for motivation.  We can have broad, over-arching principles like the two-factor motivation theory proposed by Herzberg (Adler, 2008).  This principle states that extrinsic and internal factors both equally can be used to motivate employees.  An external factor, like money, might not hold the same motivational value to some as it does to others, whereas performing at high levels and having pride about the company might not be equal as well.  Based on the fact that we are all different and have different cultural backgrounds and values, I do not think it will ever be possible to have a single, narrow approach for motivation.  There are too many factors and variables to consider.




Adler, N. and Gunderson, A. (2008). International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior (5th Ed.). Cincinnati, OH, US: Southwestern.


Early, P., and Erez, M. (eds) (1997). New Perspectives on International Industrial /Organizational Psychology. San Francisco, CA, US: Pfeiffer.

Goal Setting

I do a couple activities in my class on goal setting.  Having them write down their goals (4.0 GPA, graduating in 18 months, etc.), list the skills they have that will help them achieve that goal, what factors do they control and what factors are out of their control, what are the short-term goals that will lead to the long-term goal, what is the time frame, and what are some possible setbacks and how will they overcome them if/when they come up.

Goals need to be broken up into long and short-term.  Set your ultimate long-term goal (anything that is a year out or more) then essentially the short-term goals are the baby steps that get you there.  For my students, if the long-term goal is graduating in 18 months, the short-term goals may be to earn 3.5+ each quarter, be a mentor, have perfect attendance, etc..  The STGs help keep you focused on the bigger picture so you don’t get frustrated the the LTG is so far off you lose interest.

The really important parts that most people don’t do in goal setting is setting timeframes for achievement and being specific about what they want.  If you aren’t specific about your goal you really just have nothing.  For instance, if you just say you want to lose weight you haven’t done yourself any favors.  That doesn’t give you any motivation to lose weight or any direction from which to sit down and make a plan.  If you lose 1 lb, technically you’ve lost weight and you’re done.  If you say you want to lose 15 lbs. then you have direction, you are accountable to yourself, and you can make a plan for what and how to do it, and also think about the things that may get in your way.  And you can set up STGs to get you there to keep your interest, like maybe 1-2 lbs a week.  The time frame is also important so that you are accountable to some deadline.  If you want to lose 15 lbs, well you have all the time in the world to do it.  If you want to lose 15 lbs in 3 months, then you now have a complete goal and some pressure to make it happen.

Accountability is very important too.  I’m not the greatest at this, but I’m getting better.  However, make yourself accountable to someone else if you can.  Tell your friend that if you don’t achieve your STGs every week or 2 that you’ll clean their apartment or something like that.  Make them your personal trainer that’ll kick you in the butt to get you going if that’s what you need.

A really good tip I got from my dissertation chair is to set up a reward schedule (actually writing it down) for when you achieve all of your goals.  This helps to keep you motivated (although not rewarding yourself for not achieving the goals is the hard part).  So, for instance, you lose your 1-2 lbs/week, you treat yourself to a couple itunes downloads or something.  When you hit the halfway point, maybe a massage, and the ultimate goal is some new clothes.  Deciding the rewards before hand is important though.

This gets you to really think about what’s important to you as well as how you really need to go about getting to the finish line.  Just remember: be specific, set a timeline, be accountable, and set a plan for how you’ll get unstuck when you hit the wall.  I think most people have never really been shown how to set goals or even been correctly shown how to do it.  A quotation I show to my students during this lecture is “goals are dreams with deadlines.” i think that’s about right.