4 Drive Model: New Theory on Employee Motivation | The Lantern Group

Four Drive Model: New Theory on Employee Motivation

The Four Drive Model of Employee Motivation was presented by Lawrence and Nohria in 2002. The model is a holistic way of looking at employee motivation beyond the typical “pay” model that is prevalent in the corporate world today. I will not go into detail regarding the model here, but just give  an overview and how this model presents a new way of thinking for organizational leaders (see here for how leader’s can impact performance using it).

The Four Drive theory 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 are 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.

For instance, 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 employees 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, its 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 the more motivated workforce?

Note: Alright, a theory that is almost seven years old really isn’t new, but theories moving from academics into the real world often require a much longer time to be accepted – so I’d give this a good grade! For more information, please go to www.lanterngroup.com or www.prlawrence.com


We have done much work on increasing our understanding of the 4-Drive Model of Employee Motivation over the past year.  We are in the final stages of development for a 4-Drive Assessment that will help people understand how the four drives influence their individual motivation.  Another area of research for us was to look at how managers can use the 4-Drive Model to create programs, put in place systems, and change their behavior to increase their employee’s motivation.  All of this work has helped solidify our understanding of the 4-Drive Model and reconfirmed our belief that this is a very powerful employee motivation model.  We now understand that using this as an underlying architecture for creating a motivational workplace can be very beneficial for organizations.

Our work in this area has also shown that there are some weaknesses to the model.  For instance, “Purpose” isn’t really addressed in the model.  Purpose has been shown to be a key motivator in individuals – highlighted in Pink’s recent work but dating back to research done by Deci, Eisenberger, Locke, Lathum and most importantly Leider.  In the 4-Drive Model we have been forced to put passion under the Define & Defend Drive – but that stretches the current definition for that drive.  We are currently working on a way to integrate Purpose into the 4-Drive Model.

All in all, we still believe that the 4-Drive Model is one of the strongest and most robust models to help understand employee motivation and engagement.  We are working on developing more actionable tools and programs so that managers can both understand the model and be able to use it to increase their employee’s motivation.  It is with great anticipation that we are looking forward to the next year and taking this to the next level.


Please see Rethinking the 4-Drive Model of Employee Motivation for further thoughts on this model and how our thinking has led to new ideas.  Here are some other links to blogs we’ve written about the 4-drives Impact on Leaders here, and other four-drive info here, here, here, here and here.



5 Ways to Motivate Your Team


  1. nadia

    plz explaint more about this theory…
    plz help me…
    i must present about this theory…
    help me..
    as soon as possible !!

    • knelson4

      The theory was developed by Lawrence and Nohria and outlined in a book called Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices. Nohria also has an article in Harvard Business Review on this (a very good article http://hbr.harvardbusiness.org/2008/07/employee-motivation/ar/1 ). The basic premise is that employees are driven by four underlying drives: the drive to acquire, the drive to bond, the drive to comprehend or be challenged, and the drive to defend. See also the PPTs we have on our website at http://www.lanterngroup.com under free stuff.

  2. Erika

    Hello Kurt,
    I think this model is a great tool for enhancing employee motivation. Do you think, since there are many types of organizations out there with a varying mixture of employees, that satisfying all drives, but one more than the others (as opposed to equally satisfying all drives) would further enhance employee motivation? Take, for example, an organization of scientists dealing primarily with research… should such an organization satisfy all drives, but give more importance to the drive to be challenged and comprehend?

    • Erika,

      Organizations should definitely try to understand their employee’s underlying drives better and to customize their approach to motivation based on that understanding. That being said there are two things that I really want to emphasize: 1) individual drives are varied across and within disciplines such that I would be very hesitant to lump all scientists conducting research into having a high Challenge & Comprehend drive over and above all others. Of course, there might be a tendency for this to be the case as people self-select careers based, in part, upon their inner drives. I would recommend however, that the manager or leader of this type of organization do some research (personal interviews or 4-drive survey) to better understand their particular employees drives. 2) Research by Lawrence and Nohria suggests that motivation is enhanced when there is an “opportunity to fulfill, to some reasonable degree, all four drives…a job that fulfills only one or two drives, no matter how lavishly, would not be a substitute for a job that provides a balanced opportunity to fulfill all four drives.” In my experience, I believe this to be true. Thus, I would not suggest that one focuses solely on satisfying one drive to the detriment of the others, regardless of the prevailing motivations of their employees. So if you are satisfying all the drives, then yes, go ahead and give some added importance to the one or two drives that are most appropriate to your workforce – just don’t focus only on those.

      Thanks for the great question!

      • Erika

        Thanks for your response, Kurt! What you said makes sense. I am actually looking into doing a Four Drive survey in my organization. I’ve tried looking for the survey/questionnaire used by Nohria and his team to conduct their research but have had no luck. Do you, by any chance, know where I can find this information?

        • Erika,

          We’ve looked into it finding this survey as well even inquiring with Nohria (we got no response). As far as we can tell it was a custom survey that they did on an organizational level and not an individual level.

          If you e-mail me I can send you an assessment that we at The Lantern Group have developed that looks at individual ratings on the 4-drives – it does not have normed data, but it can provide some valuable information that might help you out. Kurt@lanterngroup.com

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  4. Christina

    Hello Kurt, since I am currently writing my thesis about this fascinating theory and want to conduct a survey with employees and employers of European companies I would be really very grateful to receive the assessment that the Lanterngroup has developed! All the best, Christina

    • suzette

      hi iam also currently writing my thesis about this theory would like to ask help regarding the assessment or questionnaire thank u very much..

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