How Does Our Motivation Related to Rules/Norms Impact Our Behavior?

The Inventory for Work Attitude and Motivation (iWAM) contains four scales that measure our motivation related to rules or norms.

Indifference and Compliance

The "Indifference" scale in the iWAM measures the extent to which rules are important to us. A low score (low indifference) indicates that rules are important. The U.S. Standard Group range is near the bottom of the scale and well over 90% of iWAM respondents score within the standard group. That means rules are important to most individuals who complete the iWAM test.

Another scale, "Compliance", measures the extent to which the individual is motivated to follow the rules or enforce the policies in the work context. Individuals who score in the mid- to high range are likely to be motivated to align their behavior with the expectations (rules) of the context. Individuals who score at the low end of the standard group may be motivated to "bend" rules or find ways around rules with which they don't agree. Finally, individuals who score below the standard group may be motivated to "march to their own drummer" rather than to follow the rules in the context.

Assertiveness and Tolerance

This scale measures the extent to which the individual is motivated to have others follow their rules. A high score on "Assertiveness" indicates a desire to have others follow my rules. This could be the t-shirt for someone high on Assertiveness.

A low or very low score on this scale indicates little or no motivation to have others follow the individual's rules. Hold this thought while we summarize Tolerance.

The Tolerance scale provides an indication of the extent to which the individual is motivated to work with others who have different rules than they have. We found, for example, low scores among leaders in contexts where there is a high demand for following rules (e.g., nuclear settings, high-risk environments) which means there also tend to be high scores on the Compliance scale. High scores indicate a motivation to work with a wide range of people, many of whom might have very different rules than the individual has.

So what?

First, we emphasize that there is no one right way to lead, manage, or behave. Effective behavior is dependent upon the organization, the situation, the role you play, and who you are.

We can, however, make some hypotheses or draw some tentative conclusions about possibilities based on several thousand iWAM interpretations and our research.

Here are some possibilities:

  • High Assertiveness and low Tolerance may result in a more controlling leadership style or behavior than the opposite pattern. Leaders or managers with these patterns may appear more rigid (less agile) and harder to influence than opposite counterparts.
  • Consultants in the organizational development or human resource business tend to be low in Assertiveness and high in Tolerance. That is, they have less desire or motivation to have others follow their rules and are motivated to work with a broad range of people who have different rules than they do.

That leads us to conclude that the former (high Assertiveness/low Tolerance) may not be as effective as they could be in managing the human environment. At the same time, individuals with the "consultant" patterns (low Assertiveness/high Tolerance) may not be motivated to manage others or may struggle managing individuals who need a lot of direction or who "wander off the ranch".

What to Do?

Since there's no one right way, we use the data and our experience to project (a) the likely behavior and (b) the fit of this behavior for the requirements of the role in the context.

For example, there are settings in which we might want a leader with high Assertiveness/low Tolerance (nuclear power plant) and others in which we want a leader with low Assertiveness/high Tolerance (leading a "skunk works" or R&D team).

At the same time, there may be settings in which we want a consultant who is higher on Assertiveness and lower on Tolerance (Quality intervention or setting up a nuclear waste processing procedure) versus one with the opposite (low Assertiveness/high Tolerance) where the client is highly diverse and ultimately needs to find its own way.

As always, the iWAM provides an amazing amount of information that can be quite useful in determining both what is required in a context and the extent to which an individual is likely to meet those motivational and attitudinal requirements.