Klein’s Integrated Control Theory Model of Work Motivation

Howard Klein, of the Fisher College of Business at the Ohio State University, has constructed a framework, which is based on control theory that houses the salient features of a number of motivation theories (Klein, 1989, 1991, 1996). The control theory model integrates the works of a number of researchers who have developed control theory approaches in human behavior (Campion & Lord, 1982; Carver, 1979; Carver, Blaney, & Scheier, 1979; Carver & Scheier, 1981, 1982; Hollenbeck, 1989; Hollenbeck & Brief, 1988; Hollenbeck & Williams, 1987; Lord & Hanges, 1987; Taylor, Fisher, & Ilgen, 1984). The special features of Klein’s model are as follows:

  • Parsimony: The proposed model contains definitive elements of a limited number of motivation theories. As new theories are proposed, and older ones are supplanted, they can be incorporated into the model with relative ease. This is because the model is a framework, and even as other theories are included, “it can remain a simple heuristic” (Klein, 1989, pp. 150-151). This feature is noteworthy because it is invoking the goal axiom’s principle of requisite parsimony (Miller, 1956).
  • Goal-setting: The framework includes the ability to establish specific goals and objectives. The feature is invoking the goal axiom’s principle of purposive behavior where the behavior is directed toward the attainment of a specific goal (Rosenblueth et al., 1943).
  • Feedback: The framework contains feedback loops where sensors and comparators are used to provide signals based on an established standard or benchmark. This feature is invoking the viability axiom’s principle of feedback. “Feedback control shows how a systems can work toward goals and adapt to a changing environment, thereby removing the mystery from teleology” (Simon, 1996, p. 172).
  • Motivation Theories: The framework includes expectancy and attribution theories and can be extended to include social learning theory.

Klein’s model is based upon the simple feedback model from cybernetics, which includes the following: (1) a reference standard or benchmark; (2) a comparator that differentiates between the signal and the standard or benchmark; (3) feedback which is the actual performance signal detected by the sensors and its transmission signal; and (4) an effector that implements corrective action based on the values generated in the comparator. The unique element in Klein’s model is the inclusion of formal processes between the comparator and the effector that are based on four motivation theories included in the model. Figure 8.4 is a generic control theory model of work motivation based upon Klein’s model that may be used as a process model for motivation in understanding the underlying why question when determining either (1) a premise, reason, or purpose for why something is the way it is, or (2) what the causal relationship is between the event and the actions that caused the event to occur.

Generic Control Theory of Motivation (based on Figure 2 in Klein, 1989, p. 153)

Fig. 8.4 Generic Control Theory of Motivation (based on Figure 2 in Klein, 1989, p. 153)

Stakeholder objective relationships

Fig. 8.5 Stakeholder objective relationships

The generalized control theory model of motivation depicted in Fig. 8.4 can be used to understand the unique relationship between stakeholders and their objectives in a problem. Each stakeholder has its own motivations for involvement in a mess. This motivation is formalized through its objectives. These objectives often involve relationships that extend to other stakeholders. If executed correctly, these motivational relationships are two-way in order to create a feedback loop. Figure 8.5 shows a set of relationships between four stakeholder objectives (O1, O2, O3, and O4).

Each of the two-way lines in Fig. 8.5 is unique and based on the control theory model in Fig. 8.4. As a result, there are both motivational goal signals (M;j) driving achievement of stakeholder objectives and feedback response signals (F;j) occurring between stakeholder objectives. Figure 8.6 shows how each stakeholder objective relationship contains a mini-model of motivation and feedback that influences each relationship.

Models of motivation based on stakeholder objective relationships need not be quantified or formalized, but the fact that each objective pair has unique motivating factors (and affiliated feedback) is the important point for practitioners invoking a systemic thinking perspective. When creating feedback mechanisms, care should be taken to avoid vicious circles and promote virtuous circles, as described by the principle of circular causality (Korzybski, 1994). As such, it may be necessary to use a hierarchy of regulation as described by the principle of requisite hierarchy (Aulin-Ahmavaara, 1979), in order to achieve ample regulatory control and motivational feedback.

Stakeholder objective relationship with motivation (M) and feedback (F) signals

Fig. 8.6 Stakeholder objective relationship with motivation (M) and feedback (F) signals

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