The Numbers in Jeff Bezos’s Head – by Daniel McGinn

On a Friday afternoon in 2004, Amazon manager Vijay Ravindran received an unusual invitation—to a Saturday morning meeting with Jeff Bezos at the boathouse adjoining the CEO’s lakefront home. When the attendees arrived, Bezos told them he’d received an employee suggestion that Amazon supplement its existing shipping policy—free shipping on orders over $25—with a new offer. Customers would pay an annual fee for free shipping on most products, regardless of order size. “Jeff was extremely energetic—he felt this was an opportunity to build something that was going to be very important,” Ravindran recalls. Hence the urgent weekend meeting at the lake.

The proposal sparked hushed concerns and consternation. Amazon’s finance team worried that waiving shipping charges would gut margins. “There were people who thought it was an extremely bad idea—the spreadsheets uniformly painted pictures of losses,” Ravindran says. Bezos ignored the objections, convinced that the offer would spur more orders. That intuition proved correct just weeks later, when the program, Prime, launched. Customers who’d previously made a few purchases a year were suddenly ordering multiple times a month. “Instead of looking to protect the current business, Jeff saw the upside,” says Ravindran, now chief digital officer at Graham Holdings. “It was the most impressive display of business leadership I’ve seen in my career.” Today tens of millions of customers pay $99 a year for Prime, which generates more than $1 billion in membership fees and incalculable incremental sales.

He’s invented a new philosophy for running a business. Even as Amazon grows, he’s reinvesting to make it even bigger.

Disregard for orthodox approaches is not unusual for Bezos. Amazon’s culture famously forbids the use of PowerPoint, for instance. But the frequency with which he rejects spreadsheet-driven decision making has probably played a larger role in Amazon’s growth. With 132,000 employees and $75 billion in annual revenue, Amazon is a 20-year-old corporation that routinely posts losses. (Its operating loss may top $800 million in the third quarter.) Unlike Apple, which boasts precisely how many iPhones it’s selling, Amazon steadfastly refuses to give Wall Street basic data, such as how many Kindles it has sold—an opaqueness that even Bezos fans say hurts the stock price. Like every CEO, Bezos talks about managing for the long term—but he walks the talk, shrugging off investor concerns even as Amazon’s stock dropped from a high of $407 in January 2014 to $307 in August. Over the long haul, however, there’s no disputing his ability to generate shareholder returns: The company’s stock performance since its 1997 initial public offering has been so strong that its share price could have dropped to $250, and Bezos would still rank as HBR’s best-performing CEO.

He and his team have achieved that feat by sticking steadfastly—even boringly—to a few key principles (outlined in his 1997 shareholder letter, which he still sends to investors every year). Instead of focusing on competitors or technology shifts, they continually invest in getting a little bit better. In their core retail business, they grind out incremental improvements in delivery speed and product offerings while chipping away at prices. As Amazon continues to move into completely new industries—it’s now a serious player in cloud computing, online video, e-readers, and other devices—some see a company that’s pioneering a new model. “In some ways he’s invented a new philosophy for running a business,” says Brad Stone, author of The Everything Store, a best-selling Bezos biography. “Even as Amazon grows, he’s focused on reinvesting to make it even bigger—and because that means it shows no profits, he avoids paying dividends or corporate taxes.”

While Amazon is younger than Walmart or Apple, its creation story is becoming equally familiar. After graduating from Princeton with a computer science degree in 1986, Bezos spent eight years on Wall Street. In 1994 he and his wife, MacKenzie—a Princeton grad and his former coworker—left New York for Seattle, setting up shop in their garage. Jeff and a few employees began building a website that would sell books. Amazon went live in July 1995 and, in its first month, sold books to customers in 50 states and in 45 countries. It quickly expanded into CDs and other goods.

His willingness to go through the valley of death and come out the other side makes Wall Street give him the benefit of the doubt.

While consumers gravitated to Amazon, some investors remained skeptical. Henry Blodget, then a Merrill Lynch analyst, recalls an investor conference in the late 1990s at which Bezos patiently explained why Amazon allowed customers to return huge flat-screen TVs for a full refund with no questions asked—a costly policy meant to drive customer satisfaction. “Almost no one understood the potential for the company, its business model, and its stock,” says Blodget, who rose to fame for his seemingly outlandish 1998 prediction that Amazon shares, which were trading around $200, would hit $400—which they did, three weeks later. (Blodget now runs Business Insider, a website in which Bezos is an investor.)

Today Amazon is so successful that people often assume it has enjoyed a linear rise—like a dominant sports team cruising, as expected, to the championship. But for several years, Wall Street questioned Amazon’s viability. “At analyst conferences during the early 2000s, I saw fund managers openly laughing at him,” recalls Marc Andreessen, the entrepreneur-turned-venture-capitalist. “They’d say, ‘That guy is nuts, and that company is going to go bankrupt.’ That’s one of the things I really admire about him, and it’s what I talk to our founders about. It’s very easy to say you want to be Jeff Bezos today. It’s a lot harder to be Jeff Bezos during that ‘valley of death’ period. It was his willingness to go through that valley and to come out the other side that makes Wall Street give him the benefit of the doubt. A lot of people would have given up, but he didn’t. That’s what I admire most about his story.”

The other big misconception: that Bezos doesn’t care about profitability. By all accounts Amazon’s mature businesses (such as online retail) are profitable; it’s his deep investments in new businesses that create accounting losses, which he regards as a false measure of performance. “He’s really focused on cash flow and what kind of return on invested capital is being created,” says Warren Jenson, Amazon’s chief financial officer from 1999 to 2002. Bill Miller, a fund manager at Legg Mason who has held shares in Amazon since it went public, says Bezos shows deep understanding of the point Clay Christensen made in his recent HBR article “The Capitalist’s Dilemma,” which argued that most managers focus on the wrong financial metrics. “Jeff really takes theory seriously—he started out wanting to be a theoretical physicist,” Miller says. “In terms of financial theory, he’s trying to get away from the behavioral problems that afflict other companies” that try to maximize the wrong numbers. Other Bezos watchers go even further: At a time when many large companies (most notably Apple) are hoarding idle cash, shouldn’t we be lauding Amazon’s ability to continually find entirely new industries to reinvest and innovate in, rather than criticizing the losses driven by those outlays?

Bezos is unperturbed by criticisms of his financial management. He says he’s always been transparent about Amazon’s focus on long-term cash flow (instead of net profit). “As far as investors go, our job is to be superclear about our approach, and then investors get to self-select,” he says. He insists Amazon discloses far more data about its business than is legally required and is silent only about numbers that could help competitors.

Some criticism goes beyond his financial theories, however. Like Walmart, Amazon has been condemned for upending the economics of industries in ways that destroy competitors and vaporize jobs. Since 2007, when its Kindle ignited the e-book business, Amazon has been at war with publishers for using its leverage to price e-books at discount levels. Over the past two years the company has drawn fire for its treatment of distribution-center workers and the hyperaggressive steps taken to weaken rival e-commerce players such as Zappos and Diapers.com. (It eventually acquired both.) Bezos’s personal management style, which by some reports can be abusive and demeaning, has also been reproached. But Stone believes Bezos has mellowed with age. “In fairness, a lot of the examples in the book of him behaving that way are older ones, and I think he’s gotten better over time,” Stone says.

Even critics admit that Bezos has an unusually ambitious imagination—one likely to have an impact far beyond online retailing. He founded Blue Origin, a company experimenting with space travel, and last year purchased the Washington Post, where he spends one day a month in hopes of finding a viable financial model for journalism. And at Amazon, his strategy of making bold moves into adjacent industries could become a model for other managers. Scott Cook, the Intuit founder and former Amazon director, compares Amazon to companies such as P&G (which invented brand management) and Toyota (which invented lean manufacturing). “I think Amazon is one of those—what they’re doing is inventing better ways for companies to operate,” Cook says.

That spirit could continue for some time. Bezos is 50—about the same age Bill Gates was when he retired from Microsoft to pursue philanthropy at the Gates Foundation, whose offices are visible from the roof deck at Amazon’s headquarters. But Bezos seems unlikely to make that kind of transition. “I’ve never gotten any vibe off of him that he wants to do anything else,” says Andreessen. “He’s monomaniacally focused on Amazon. My sense is he’s going to be running it another 30 years—and shareholders will be lucky if he does.”

Jeff Bezos in His Own Words

In early August Amazon’s founder and CEO spoke with HBR’s Adi Ignatius and Daniel McGinn at the company’s Seattle headquarters. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation:

HBR: How do you balance the long term versus the short term when thinking about innovation?

Bezos: I bet 70% of the invention we do focuses on slightly improving a process. That incremental invention is a huge part of what makes Amazon tick. There’s a second kind of invention, which is more clean-sheet and larger scale—things like the Kindle or Amazon Web Services. We have a culture that supports the risk taking and time frames required for that.

Your stock has taken some hits this year. Does that affect the way you manage?

Amazon’s stock has always been somewhat volatile. Even though we have significant revenues, we invest in so many new initiatives that in some ways we’re still a start-up. Volatility is part and parcel of being a start-up.

You say you focus on customers, not competitors. But how do you react to Google’s teaming up with Barnes & Noble to offer same-day delivery?

You can’t insulate yourself from competition by being customer-obsessed. But if that obsession leads to invention on behalf of customers, it helps you stay ahead.

You’re now making your own big investments in same-day delivery. How do you know customers want it?

In our retail business, there are three big ideas: Low prices, vast selection, and fast, reliable delivery. We continually work on all three. We don’t know what technologies might be invented or who our competitors will be, so it’s hard to build strategies around those uncertainties. But I do know that 10 years from now, nobody is going to say, “I love Amazon, but I wish the prices were a little higher.” It’s the same thing with fast delivery.

Has the backlash over your dispute with Hachette about e-book pricing surprised you?

The publishing industry changes very slowly. The paperback, which was developed before World War II, was the last radical invention before the e-book. All the arguments that the literary establishment made against paperbacks—they’re devaluing books, publishers are not going to be able to invest in literature—are being made about e-books, too. Today we know the arguments about paperbacks were wrong, and they’re equally wrong about e-books. It will take a while for the incumbents to come to terms with e-books, but we’re determined to get e-books to be less expensive.

What other CEOs do you admire?

I’m a huge fan of Jamie Dimon, Jeff Immelt, and Bob Iger. They all have deep keels. They have conviction around certain business ideas. Warren Buffett is another one. They can’t be blown around, and I think that’s pretty rare.

 

One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees? – by Frederick Herzberg

Ask workers what makes them unhappy at work, and you’ll hear about an annoying boss, a low salary, an uncomfortable work space, or stupid rules. Managed badly, environmental factors make people miserable, and they can certainly be demotivating. But even if managed brilliantly, they don’t motivate anybody to work much harder or smarter. People are motivated, instead, by interesting work, challenge, and increasing responsibility. These intrinsic factors answer people’s deep-seated need for growth and achievement.

Herzberg’s work influenced a generation of scholars and managers—but his conclusions don’t seem to have fully penetrated the American workplace, if the extraordinary attention still paid to compensation and incentive packages is any indication.

How many articles, books, speeches, and workshops have pleaded plaintively, “How do I get an employee to do what I want?”

The psychology of motivation is tremendously complex, and what has been unraveled with any degree of assurance is small indeed. But the dismal ratio of knowledge to speculation has not dampened the enthusiasm for new forms of snake oil that are constantly coming on the market, many of them with academic testimonials. Doubtless this article will have no depressing impact on the market for snake oil, but since the ideas expressed in it have been tested in many corporations and other organizations, it will help—I hope—to redress the imbalance in the aforementioned ratio.

“Motivating” with KITA

In lectures to industry on the problem, I have found that the audiences are usually anxious for quick and practical answers, so I will begin with a straightforward, practical formula for moving people.

What is the simplest, surest, and most direct way of getting someone to do something? Ask? But if the person responds that he or she does not want to do it, then that calls for psychological consultation to determine the reason for such obstinacy. Tell the person? The response shows that he or she does not understand you, and now an expert in communication methods has to be brought in to show you how to get through. Give the person a monetary incentive? I do not need to remind the reader of the complexity and difficulty involved in setting up and administering an incentive system. Show the person? This means a costly training program. We need a simple way.

Every audience contains the “direct action” manager who shouts, “Kick the person!” And this type of manager is right. The surest and least circumlocuted way of getting someone to do something is to administer a kick in the pants—to give what might be called the KITA.

There are various forms of KITA, and here are some of them:

Negative Physical KITA.

This is a literal application of the term and was frequently used in the past. It has, however, three major drawbacks: 1) It is inelegant; 2) it contradicts the precious image of benevolence that most organizations cherish; and 3) since it is a physical attack, it directly stimulates the autonomic nervous system, and this often results in negative feedback—the employee may just kick you in return. These factors give rise to certain taboos against negative physical KITA.

In uncovering infinite sources of psychological vulnerabilities and the appropriate methods to play tunes on them, psychologists have come to the rescue of those who are no longer permitted to use negative physical KITA. “He took my rug away”; “I wonder what she meant by that”; “The boss is always going around me”—these symptomatic expressions of ego sores that have been rubbed raw are the result of application of:

Negative Psychological KITA.

This has several advantages over negative physical KITA. First, the cruelty is not visible; the bleeding is internal and comes much later. Second, since it affects the higher cortical centers of the brain with its inhibitory powers, it reduces the possibility of physical backlash. Third, since the number of psychological pains that a person can feel is almost infinite, the direction and site possibilities of the KITA are increased many times. Fourth, the person administering the kick can manage to be above it all and let the system accomplish the dirty work. Fifth, those who practice it receive some ego satisfaction (one-upmanship), whereas they would find drawing blood abhorrent. Finally, if the employee does complain, he or she can always be accused of being paranoid; there is no tangible evidence of an actual attack.

Now, what does negative KITA accomplish? If I kick you in the rear (physically or psychologically), who is motivated? I am motivated; you move! Negative KITA does not lead to motivation, but to movement. So:

Positive KITA.

Let us consider motivation. If I say to you, “Do this for me or the company, and in return I will give you a reward, an incentive, more status, a promotion, all the quid pro quos that exist in the industrial organization,” am I motivating you? The overwhelming opinion I receive from management people is, “Yes, this is motivation.”

I have a year-old schnauzer. When it was a small puppy and I wanted it to move, I kicked it in the rear and it moved. Now that I have finished its obedience training, I hold up a dog biscuit when I want the schnauzer to move. In this instance, who is motivated—I or the dog? The dog wants the biscuit, but it is I who want it to move. Again, I am the one who is motivated, and the dog is the one who moves. In this instance all I did was apply KITA frontally; I exerted a pull instead of a push. When industry wishes to use such positive KITAs, it has available an incredible number and variety of dog biscuits (jelly beans for humans) to wave in front of employees to get them to jump.

Myths About Motivation

Why is KITA not motivation? If I kick my dog (from the front or the back), he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can charge a person’s battery, and then recharge it, and recharge it again. But it is only when one has a generator of one’s own that we can talk about motivation. One then needs no outside stimulation. One wants to do it.

With this in mind, we can review some positive KITA personnel practices that were developed as attempts to instill “motivation”:

1. Reducing Time Spent at Work.

This represents a marvelous way of motivating people to work—getting them off the job! We have reduced (formally and informally) the time spent on the job over the last 50 or 60 years until we are finally on the way to the “6½-day weekend.” An interesting variant of this approach is the development of off-hour recreation programs. The philosophy here seems to be that those who play together, work together. The fact is that motivated people seek more hours of work, not fewer.

2. Spiraling Wages.

Have these motivated people? Yes, to seek the next wage increase. Some medievalists still can be heard to say that a good depression will get employees moving. They feel that if rising wages don’t or won’t do the job, reducing them will.

3. Fringe Benefits.

Industry has outdone the most welfare-minded of welfare states in dispensing cradle-to-the-grave succor. One company I know of had an informal “fringe benefit of the month club” going for a while. The cost of fringe benefits in this country has reached approximately 25% of the wage dollar, and we still cry for motivation.

People spend less time working for more money and more security than ever before, and the trend cannot be reversed. These benefits are no longer rewards; they are rights. A 6-day week is inhuman, a 10-hour day is exploitation, extended medical coverage is a basic decency, and stock options are the salvation of American initiative. Unless the ante is continuously raised, the psychological reaction of employees is that the company is turning back the clock.

When industry began to realize that both the economic nerve and the lazy nerve of their employees had insatiable appetites, it started to listen to the behavioral scientists who, more out of a humanist tradition than from scientific study, criticized management for not knowing how to deal with people. The next KITA easily followed.

4. Human Relations Training.

More than 30 years of teaching and, in many instances, of practicing psychological approaches to handling people have resulted in costly human relations programs and, in the end, the same question: How do you motivate workers? Here, too, escalations have taken place. Thirty years ago it was necessary to request, “Please don’t spit on the floor.” Today the same admonition requires three “pleases” before the employee feels that a superior has demonstrated the psychologically proper attitude.

The failure of human relations training to produce motivation led to the conclusion that supervisors or managers themselves were not psychologically true to themselves in their practice of interpersonal decency. So an advanced form of human relations KITA, sensitivity training, was unfolded.

5. Sensitivity Training.

Do you really, really understand yourself? Do you really, really, really trust other people? Do you really, really, really, really cooperate? The failure of sensitivity training is now being explained, by those who have become opportunistic exploiters of the technique, as a failure to really (five times) conduct proper sensitivity training courses.

With the realization that there are only temporary gains from comfort and economic and interpersonal KITA, personnel managers concluded that the fault lay not in what they were doing, but in the employee’s failure to appreciate what they were doing. This opened up the field of communications, a new area of “scientifically” sanctioned KITA.

6. Communications.

The professor of communications was invited to join the faculty of management training programs and help in making employees understand what management was doing for them. House organs, briefing sessions, supervisory instruction on the importance of communication, and all sorts of propaganda have proliferated until today there is even an International Council of Industrial Editors. But no motivation resulted, and the obvious thought occurred that perhaps management was not hearing what the employees were saying. That led to the next KITA.

7. Two-Way Communication.

Management ordered morale surveys, suggestion plans, and group participation programs. Then both management and employees were communicating and listening to each other more than ever, but without much improvement in motivation.

The behavioral scientists began to take another look at their conceptions and their data, and they took human relations one step further. A glimmer of truth was beginning to show through in the writings of the so-called higher-order-need psychologists. People, so they said, want to actualize themselves. Unfortunately, the “actualizing” psychologists got mixed up with the human relations psychologists, and a new KITA emerged.

8. Job Participation.

Though it may not have been the theoretical intention, job participation often became a “give them the big picture” approach. For example, if a man is tightening 10,000 nuts a day on an assembly line with a torque wrench, tell him he is building a Chevrolet. Another approach had the goal of giving employees a “feeling” that they are determining, in some measure, what they do on the job. The goal was to provide a sense of achievement rather than a substantive achievement in the task. Real achievement, of course, requires a task that makes it possible.

But still there was no motivation. This led to the inevitable conclusion that the employees must be sick, and therefore to the next KITA.

9. Employee Counseling.

The initial use of this form of KITA in a systematic fashion can be credited to the Hawthorne experiment of the Western Electric Company during the early 1930s. At that time, it was found that the employees harbored irrational feelings that were interfering with the rational operation of the factory. Counseling in this instance was a means of letting the employees unburden themselves by talking to someone about their problems. Although the counseling techniques were primitive, the program was large indeed.

The counseling approach suffered as a result of experiences during World War II, when the programs themselves were found to be interfering with the operation of the organizations; the counselors had forgotten their role of benevolent listeners and were attempting to do something about the problems that they heard about. Psychological counseling, however, has managed to survive the negative impact of World War II experiences and today is beginning to flourish with renewed sophistication. But, alas, many of these programs, like all the others, do not seem to have lessened the pressure of demands to find out how to motivate workers.

Since KITA results only in short-term movement, it is safe to predict that the cost of these programs will increase steadily and new varieties will be developed as old positive KITAs reach their satiation points.

Hygiene vs. Motivators

Let me rephrase the perennial question this way: How do you install a generator in an employee? A brief review of my motivation-hygiene theory of job attitudes is required before theoretical and practical suggestions can be offered. The theory was first drawn from an examination of events in the lives of engineers and accountants. At least 16 other investigations, using a wide variety of populations (including some in the Communist countries), have since been completed, making the original research one of the most replicated studies in the field of job attitudes.

The findings of these studies, along with corroboration from many other investigations using different procedures, suggest that the factors involved in producing job satisfaction (and motivation) are separate and distinct from the factors that lead to job dissatisfaction. (See Exhibit 1, which is further explained below.) Since separate factors need to be considered, depending on whether job satisfaction or job dissatisfaction is being examined, it follows that these two feelings are not opposites of each other. The opposite of job satisfaction is not job dissatisfaction but, rather, no job satisfaction; and similarly, the opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction, but no job dissatisfaction.

Stating the concept presents a problem in semantics, for we normally think of satisfaction and dissatisfaction as opposites; i.e., what is not satisfying must be dissatisfying, and vice versa. But when it comes to understanding the behavior of people in their jobs, more than a play on words is involved.

Two different needs of human beings are involved here. One set of needs can be thought of as stemming from humankind’s animal nature—the built-in drive to avoid pain from the environment, plus all the learned drives that become conditioned to the basic biological needs. For example, hunger, a basic biological drive, makes it necessary to earn money, and then money becomes a specific drive. The other set of needs relates to that unique human characteristic, the ability to achieve and, through achievement, to experience psychological growth. The stimuli for the growth needs are tasks that induce growth; in the industrial setting, they are the job content. Contrariwise, the stimuli inducing pain-avoidance behavior are found in the job environment.

The growth or motivator factors that are intrinsic to the job are: achievement, recognition for achievement, the work itself, responsibility, and growth or advancement. The dissatisfaction-avoidance or hygiene (KITA) factors that are extrinsic to the job include: company policy and administration, supervision, interpersonal relationships, working conditions, salary, status, and security.

A composite of the factors that are involved in causing job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction, drawn from samples of 1,685 employees, is shown in Exhibit 1. The results indicate that motivators were the primary cause of satisfaction, and hygiene factors the primary cause of unhappiness on the job. The employees, studied in 12 different investigations, included lower level supervisors, professional women, agricultural administrators, men about to retire from management positions, hospital maintenance personnel, manufacturing supervisors, nurses, food handlers, military officers, engineers, scientists, housekeepers, teachers, technicians, female assemblers, accountants, Finnish foremen, and Hungarian engineers.

They were asked what job events had occurred in their work that had led to extreme satisfaction or extreme dissatisfaction on their part. Their responses are broken down in the exhibit into percentages of total “positive” job events and of total “negative” job events. (The figures total more than 100% on both the “hygiene” and “motivators” sides because often at least two factors can be attributed to a single event; advancement, for instance, often accompanies assumption of responsibility.)

To illustrate, a typical response involving achievement that had a negative effect for the employee was, “I was unhappy because I didn’t do the job successfully.” A typical response in the small number of positive job events in the company policy and administration grouping was, “I was happy because the company reorganized the section so that I didn’t report any longer to the guy I didn’t get along with.”

As the lower right-hand part of the exhibit shows, of all the factors contributing to job satisfaction, 81% were motivators. And of all the factors contributing to the employees’ dissatisfaction over their work, 69% involved hygiene elements.

Eternal Triangle.

There are three general philosophies of personnel management. The first is based on organizational theory, the second on industrial engineering, and the third on behavioral science.

Organizational theorists believe that human needs are either so irrational or so varied and adjustable to specific situations that the major function of personnel management is to be as pragmatic as the occasion demands. If jobs are organized in a proper manner, they reason, the result will be the most efficient job structure, and the most favorable job attitudes will follow as a matter of course.

Industrial engineers hold that humankind is mechanistically oriented and economically motivated and that human needs are best met by attuning the individual to the most efficient work process. The goal of personnel management therefore should be to concoct the most appropriate incentive system and to design the specific working conditions in a way that facilitates the most efficient use of the human machine. By structuring jobs in a manner that leads to the most efficient operation, engineers believe that they can obtain the optimal organization of work and the proper work attitudes.

Behavioral scientists focus on group sentiments, attitudes of individual employees, and the organization’s social and psychological climate. This persuasion emphasizes one or more of the various hygiene and motivator needs. Its approach to personnel management is generally to emphasize some form of human relations education, in the hope of instilling healthy employee attitudes and an organizational climate that is considered to be felicitous to human values. The belief is that proper attitudes will lead to efficient job and organizational structure.

There is always a lively debate concerning the overall effectiveness of the approaches of organizational theorists and industrial engineers. Manifestly, both have achieved much. But the nagging question for behavioral scientists has been: What is the cost in human problems that eventually cause more expense to the organization—for instance, turnover, absenteeism, errors, violation of safety rules, strikes, restriction of output, higher wages, and greater fringe benefits? On the other hand, behavioral scientists are hard put to document much manifest improvement in personnel management, using their approach.

The motivation-hygiene theory suggests that work be enriched to bring about effective utilization of personnel. Such a systematic attempt to motivate employees by manipulating the motivator factors is just beginning. The term job enrichment describes this embryonic movement. An older term, job enlargement, should be avoided because it is associated with past failures stemming from a misunderstanding of the problem. Job enrichment provides the opportunity for the employee’s psychological growth, while job enlargement merely makes a job structurally bigger. Since scientific job enrichment is very new, this article only suggests the principles and practical steps that have recently emerged from several successful experiments in industry.

Job Loading.

In attempting to enrich certain jobs, management often reduces the personal contribution of employees rather than giving them opportunities for growth in their accustomed jobs. Such endeavors, which I shall call horizontal job loading (as opposed to vertical loading, or providing motivator factors), have been the problem of earlier job enlargement programs. Job loading merely enlarges the meaninglessness of the job. Some examples of this approach, and their effect, are:

  • Challenging the employee by increasing the amount of production expected. If each tightens 10,000 bolts a day, see if each can tighten 20,000 bolts a day. The arithmetic involved shows that multiplying zero by zero still equals zero.
  • Adding another meaningless task to the existing one, usually some routine clerical activity. The arithmetic here is adding zero to zero.
  • Rotating the assignments of a number of jobs that need to be enriched. This means washing dishes for a while, then washing silverware. The arithmetic is substituting one zero for another zero.
  • Removing the most difficult parts of the assignment in order to free the worker to accomplish more of the less challenging assignments. This traditional industrial engineering approach amounts to subtraction in the hope of accomplishing addition.

These are common forms of horizontal loading that frequently come up in preliminary brainstorming sessions of job enrichment. The principles of vertical loading have not all been worked out as yet, and they remain rather general, but I have furnished seven useful starting points for consideration in Exhibit 2.

A Successful Application.

An example from a highly successful job enrichment experiment can illustrate the distinction between horizontal and vertical loading of a job. The subjects of this study were the stockholder correspondents employed by a very large corporation. Seemingly, the task required of these carefully selected and highly trained correspondents was quite complex and challenging. But almost all indexes of performance and job attitudes were low, and exit interviewing confirmed that the challenge of the job existed merely as words.

A job enrichment project was initiated in the form of an experiment with one group, designated as an achieving unit, having its job enriched by the principles described in Exhibit 2. A control group continued to do its job in the traditional way. (There were also two “uncommitted” groups of correspondents formed to measure the so-called Hawthorne effect—that is, to gauge whether productivity and attitudes toward the job changed artificially merely because employees sensed that the company was paying more attention to them in doing something different or novel. The results for these groups were substantially the same as for the control group, and for the sake of simplicity I do not deal with them in this summary.) No changes in hygiene were introduced for either group other than those that would have been made anyway, such as normal pay increases.

The changes for the achieving unit were introduced in the first two months, averaging one per week of the seven motivators listed in Exhibit 2. At the end of six months the members of the achieving unit were found to be outperforming their counterparts in the control group and, in addition, indicated a marked increase in their liking for their jobs. Other results showed that the achieving group had lower absenteeism and, subsequently, a much higher rate of promotion.

Exhibit 3 illustrates the changes in performance, measured in February and March, before the study period began, and at the end of each month of the study period. The shareholder service index represents quality of letters, including accuracy of information, and speed of response to stockholders’ letters of inquiry. The index of a current month was averaged into the average of the two prior months, which means that improvement was harder to obtain if the indexes of the previous months were low. The “achievers” were performing less well before the six-month period started, and their performance service index continued to decline after the introduction of the motivators, evidently because of uncertainty after their newly granted responsibilities. In the third month, however, performance improved, and soon the members of this group had reached a high level of accomplishment.

Exhibit 4 shows the two groups’ attitudes toward their job, measured at the end of March, just before the first motivator was introduced, and again at the end of September. The correspondents were asked 16 questions, all involving motivation. A typical one was, “As you see it, how many opportunities do you feel that you have in your job for making worthwhile contributions?” The answers were scaled from 1 to 5, with 80 as the maximum possible score. The achievers became much more positive about their job, while the attitude of the control unit remained about the same (the drop is not statistically significant).

How was the job of these correspondents restructured? Exhibit 5 lists the suggestions made that were deemed to be horizontal loading, and the actual vertical loading changes that were incorporated in the job of the achieving unit. The capital letters under “Principle” after “Vertical Loading” refer to the corresponding letters in Exhibit 2. The reader will note that the rejected forms of horizontal loading correspond closely to the list of common manifestations I mentioned earlier.

Steps for Job Enrichment

Now that the motivator idea has been described in practice, here are the steps that managers should take in instituting the principle with their employees:

1. Select those jobs in which a) the investment in industrial engineering does not make changes too costly, b) attitudes are poor, c) hygiene is becoming very costly, and d) motivation will make a difference in performance.

2. Approach these jobs with the conviction that they can be changed. Years of tradition have led managers to believe that job content is sacrosanct and the only scope of action that they have is in ways of stimulating people.

3. Brainstorm a list of changes that may enrich the jobs, without concern for their practicality.

4. Screen the list to eliminate suggestions that involve hygiene, rather than actual motivation.

5. Screen the list for generalities, such as “give them more responsibility,” that are rarely followed in practice. This might seem obvious, but the motivator words have never left industry; the substance has just been rationalized and organized out. Words like “responsibility,” “growth,” “achievement,” and “challenge,” for example, have been elevated to the lyrics of the patriotic anthem for all organizations. It is the old problem typified by the pledge of allegiance to the flag being more important than contributions to the country—of following the form, rather than the substance.

6. Screen the list to eliminate any horizontal loading suggestions.

7. Avoid direct participation by the employees whose jobs are to be enriched. Ideas they have expressed previously certainly constitute a valuable source for recommended changes, but their direct involvement contaminates the process with human relations hygiene and, more specifically, gives them only a sense of making a contribution. The job is to be changed, and it is the content that will produce the motivation, not attitudes about being involved or the challenge inherent in setting up a job. That process will be over shortly, and it is what the employees will be doing from then on that will determine their motivation. A sense of participation will result only in short-term movement.

8. In the initial attempts at job enrichment, set up a controlled experiment. At least two equivalent groups should be chosen, one an experimental unit in which the motivators are systematically introduced over a period of time, and the other one a control group in which no changes are made. For both groups, hygiene should be allowed to follow its natural course for the duration of the experiment. Pre- and post-installation tests of performance and job attitudes are necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of the job enrichment program. The attitude test must be limited to motivator items in order to divorce employees’ views of the jobs they are given from all the surrounding hygiene feelings that they might have.

9. Be prepared for a drop in performance in the experimental group the first few weeks. The changeover to a new job may lead to a temporary reduction in efficiency.

10. Expect your first-line supervisors to experience some anxiety and hostility over the changes you are making. The anxiety comes from their fear that the changes will result in poorer performance for their unit. Hostility will arise when the employees start assuming what the supervisors regard as their own responsibility for performance. The supervisor without checking duties to perform may then be left with little to do.

After successful experiment, however, the supervisors usually discover the supervisory and managerial functions they have neglected, or which were never theirs because all their time was given over to checking the work of their subordinates. For example, in the R&D division of one large chemical company I know of, the supervisors of the laboratory assistants were theoretically responsible for their training and evaluation. These functions, however, had come to be performed in a routine, unsubstantial fashion. After the job enrichment program, during which the supervisors were not merely passive observers of the assistants’ performance, the supervisors actually were devoting their time to reviewing performance and administering thorough training.

What has been called an employee-centered style of supervision will come about not through education of supervisors, but by changing the jobs that they do.

• • •Job enrichment will not be a one-time proposition, but a continuous management function. The initial changes should last for a very long period of time. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • The changes should bring the job up to the level of challenge commensurate with the skill that was hired.
  • Those who have still more ability eventually will be able to demonstrate it better and win promotion to higher level jobs.
  • The very nature of motivators, as opposed to hygiene factors, is that they have a much longer-term effect on employees’ attitudes. It is possible that the job will have to be enriched again, but this will not occur as frequently as the need for hygiene.

Not all jobs can be enriched, nor do all jobs need to be enriched. If only a small percentage of the time and money that is now devoted to hygiene, however, were given to job enrichment efforts, the return in human satisfaction and economic gain would be one of the largest dividends that industry and society have ever reaped through their efforts at better personnel management.

The argument for job enrichment can be summed up quite simply: If you have employees on a job, use them. If you can’t use them on the job, get rid of them, either via automation or by selecting someone with lesser ability. If you can’t use them and you can’t get rid of them, you will have a motivation problem.

Frederick Herzberg, Distinguished Professor of Management at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, was head of the department of psychology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland when he wrote this article. His writings include the book Work and the Nature of Man (World, 1966).