People are purposeful at work and for over three-quarters of a century, management scholars stretching from Murray (1938) to Maslow (1947) to McClelland (1959) to McGregor (1969) to Steers and Braunstein (1976) to Dawis and Lofquist (1984; 1995) to DeShon and Gillespie (2005) to Barrick and colleagues (2013), have established and documented the same four fundamental personal agendas people strive to accomplish or fulfill at work. Given only four, striving for each personal agenda captures a broad, high-level internal representation of what is desirable to a person. Thus each directs the individuals pursuit of meaningful, engaging work. The four motivational strivings linked to these agendas that are common to virtually all empirical and theoretical motivational research include:
Achievement Striving: The desire to accomplish tasks efficiently and effectively (Barrick et al., 2002).
Autonomy Striving: The desire to have control over what, how, and when duties are performed (Morgeson & Humphrey, 2006).
Communion Striving: The desire to be accepted and get along with others in relationships (Hogan, 1996).
Status Striving: The desire to gain influence, recognition, and prestige at work (Barrick et al., 2003; Deci & Ryan 2000; Hogan, 1983).
The desire to attain these four agendas, depicted as strivings, is what drives engagement and behavior at work. The reason an organization can realize competitive advantage from recognizing these fundamental purposeful strivings is because significant variation exists between individuals regarding how essential each of these personal agendas are to the person. For some people, getting things done and gaining clarity of one’s accomplishments (high on achievement striving) explain why these employees value receiving extensive feedback and come to perceive pay-for-performance as a means to clarify their individual achievements. In contrast, other individuals will hold establishing meaningful, rewarding relationships (high on communion striving) as their primary objective and will be highly engaged when they have the opportunity to work in teams and to send and receive social support at work in order to strengthen bonds with their co-workers or customers. The fundamental point is people differ and those differences explain why individuals differ in their behavior at work.
In exactly the same way, organizations differ along these same four fundamental purposeful agendas, because the unique nature of each organization’s culture emerges from the fundamental finding that an organization’s workforce is composed of people who are attracted to, selected by, and retained in organizations that are composed of a core group of impactful organizational members, starting with the founder, who are collectively driven by the same basic purposeful striving(s) – which corresponds to one of the four personal agendas that motivates each individual. Thus, the fundamental motivational force is that its collective agenda matches or “perfectly fits” the personal agenda driving the employee joining the organization.
Pursuit of the perfect fit builds on the finding that people are attracted to environments with similar “personalities” to their own, and the person wants to fit to the organization. The result when this occurs and an individual “matches” the organization, is that this “fit” enables that person to obtain outcomes they desire from their work, because it is more readily available since it is also valued by the organization. Consequently, by satisfying the individual’s own desires, they discover that the organization also highly desires that the individual attain that outcome. Nothing is more motivating and leads you to want to remain in an organization more than discovering that what you value, the organization also values. At base, the power of organizational culture stems from its capacity to enable the individual who fits to the organization to fulfill the personal agenda that is ascendant to that individual. It is particularly rewarding to that person because they then discover how fulfilling their own agenda (getting things done or being a great teammate) is also seen by the organization to be critically important, since it corresponds to those aspects that matter most to your organization, based on its own culture.