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Four Drive Model Theory

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The four drive model of employee motivation is a holistic way to look beyond typical financial workplace rewards. It is an innovative and unique approach for organizational leaders, and each drive is necessary to understand motivation in the workplace. Executives typically concentrate their energy on the need for their employees to achieve by offering incentives, benefits, and higher base pay. However, the three additional motivational drives in this theory combine with achievement to perform an integral role in employee motivation. Thus, this design presents a model for informed managers to boost worker engagement.

The four drive theory of motivation explained in the 2002 book Driven by Drs. Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria of the Harvard Business School describes human motivation in terms of a set of dynamic, interacting needs that are a fundamental part of humankind’s makeup. The needs arise from our evolutionary past and are built into humans as a part of the mental equipment that provided advantages to adaptation and survival in past epochs.

One of the main implications of four-drive theory is that:

  1. employers should offer employees enough opportunity to keep each drive in balance.
  2. employees should be given specific goals with plenty of feedback.
  3. employers should give all employees the same employee benefits.
  4. employers should select people with the best qualifications for the job.
  5. needs-based theories have no relevance for managing people in organizational settings.

Four-drive theory recommendation is that fulfillment of the four drives must be kept in balance; that is, organizations should avoid too much or too little opportunity to fulfill each drive.

Four-Drive Theory Drive to Acquire Drive to Bond Drive to Learn

  • Drive to take/keep objects and experiences
  • Basis of hierarchy and status
  • Drive to Bond
  • Drive to form relationships and social commitments
  • Basis of social identity
  • Drive to Learn
  • Drive to satisfy curiosity and resolve conflicting information
  • Drive to Defend
  • Need to protect ourselves
  • Reactive (not proactive) drive
  • Basis of fight or flight

Drive A: Achieve & Acquire

This drive is primarily satisfied through a company’s Reward System. This drive is met when companies have a total reward system that:

  • highly differentiates top performers from average performers and average performers from poor performers;
  • clearly ties reward to performance;
  • recognition is consistently given for outstanding performance;
  • pay is above the competitive benchmarks in the city/industry;
  • top employees are promoted from within.

Drive B: Bond & Belong

This drive is mostly met through an Organization’s Culture. This drive is fulfilled when an organization’s culture is one that:

  • embraces teamwork;
  • encourages the development of friendships and bonding;
  • one in which employees can depend on their peers to help them;
  • that values collaboration;
  • that celebrates and shares;
  • a culture that is focused on the “employee first”.

Drive C: Challenge & Comprehend

This drive is fulfilled primarily through Job and Organizational Structure.  Organizations need to ensure that the various job roles within the company provide employees with stimulation that challenges them or allows them to grow.  Job roles that satisfy this drive should:

  • be seen as important in the organization;
  • jobs should provide personal meaning and fulfillment;
  • roles should engender a feeling of contribution to the organization;
  • organizational structures that provide growth opportunities within the company;
  • learning offerings (training, seminars, etc) that provide employees with new skills and knowledge;
  • job sharing/rotational opportunities that can provide new challenges.

Drive D:  Define & Defend

This drive is met mostly through an employee feeling alignment and connection to the organization.  This can be done through a company’s Vision/Reputation and its Performance Management System. Organizations that have a strong vision or positive reputation in the marketplace can help create that alignment with employees.  The company should be perceived to be:

  • fair;
  • ethical;
  • providing a valued service or good;
  • cutting edge
  • good stewards.

How leaders can impact employee’s motivation using the 4-Drive Theory

In order to maximize motivation leaders need to provide opportunities for employees to satisfy these four drives.

Leaders can begin to use the 4 drive theory to influence and start to fulfill each of these drives by using some of the systems and processes they already have in place.  Changes and enhancements to those systems can help the organization become one in which employees can satisfy their drives and become highly motivated!

The main implication of the fourdrive theory of motivation is that: Employers should motivate employees to achieve challenging goals and give them egalitarian rewards.

Drive theory of motivation examples

4 Drives A Simple Story About Motivating Employees from Kurt Nelson, PhD

The Four Drive theory definition is based on research that shows four underlying drives – the drive to Acquire & Achieve, to Bond & Belong, to be Challenged & Comprehend and to Define & Defend. Each of these drives is important if we are to understand employee motivation. While companies typically focus on the drive to Acquire & Achieve (i.e., base pay, incentives, etc…), the other three drives play an integral part in fully motivating employees. Thus, the new theory provides a model for employers to look at when they are trying to find ways to increase employee engagement and motivation.

As for the drive theory examples usage, we can think about next situation. The companies often pay lip service to team building as they don’t see how it really impacts performance. The Four Drive model shows that team building relates directly to the drive to Bond & Belong – which in turn can influence an employee’s motivation. Thus conducting a team-building session should no longer be just about having fun for a few hours, it should help a company’s employees positively build and enhance the bonds they have with their co-workers. The drive to be Challenged & Comprehend highlights the fact that we perform better when we are not bored or “not challenged” and learning on the job.  Instead of trying to automate and simplify all work, leaders should look at how they can enhance or create challenges for employees and provide them opportunities to learn and grow.  With this in mind, organizations must look at how they are structuring their jobs, their projects, their incentives.  Organizations do not typically think of the drive to Define & Defend when they are thinking about motivation. The Four Drive model indicates that a company’s reputation, it’s moral bearing, the culture and what it does can all be significant factors in how motivated employees are. Think of the different motivation an employee would have working for a pharmaceutical company that is providing life-saving medicines for people or a one that is out to maximize shareholder returns. Which do you think would have a more motivated workforce?

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