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Students in the MBA program at St. Edward’s University take Assistant Professor of Management Mary Dunn’s Managing Dynamic Organizations class. In the course, students cover everything from creating a strong, positive organizational culture to fostering innovation and collaboration among employees. Here’s a look inside the classroom.

To help organizations thrive, managers must capitalize on their most critical resource: people. One powerful way to do this is to design jobs that keep employees motivated.

Four decades of research have shown that there are five key job characteristics that lead to employee satisfaction — and the good news is that these elements can be included in almost any job. “These things don’t necessarily take a lot of time or money, but they can make a big difference [in reducing turnover and improving performance],” says Dunn.

Dunn discusses the five components — and how to apply them — here:

Motivational characteristic #1: Autonomy. How much choice does an individual have in the way the work is done? Higher levels of autonomy are linked to higher satisfaction.

Apply it: Stop micromanaging. “If you’ve hired the right people, trust them. Let them do a project as they see fit, and hold them accountable to a certain level of quality,” says Dunn.


Motivational characteristic #2: Seeing a project from start to finish (also called “task identity”). Employees tend to be more interested in their work when they are involved in projects throughout the process, not just at one stage or another.

Apply it: Allow specialists to see the end results of their efforts. “When preparing a proposal for a client, allow those who analyzed the data to participate in the final presentation or give them a copy of the final proposal,” Dunn says.


Motivational characteristic #3: Feedback. People want feedback to understand how they’re doing. That can include hard data like sales numbers that come directly from the job itself to more personalized manager reviews.

Apply it: Set up regular meetings to review progress with your employees, and share constructive feedback in a timely way after your employees have completed major projects.


Motivational characteristic #4: Variety of skills. Those who get to perform a wide range of activities tend to find the work more meaningful and be more satisfied with their jobs.

Apply it: Nudge your employees to take on unexpected roles. Perhaps an accountant could lead a team meeting, or a talented entry-level employee could make a presentation to a client.


Motivational characteristic #5: Significance. People who feel their jobs make a difference and add real value to their colleagues, to their organization, or to the community are more satisfied than those who don’t see a larger purpose to their work.

Apply it: Remind employees of the bigger reasons they do their work. “Genentech [a biotechnology company] brings patients into the lab, but it doesn’t need to be that dramatic,” says Dunn. “Sharing feedback from customers can be powerful, too.”


The MBA program at St. Edward’s University builds highly sought-after skills in entrepreneurial thinking, social enterprise, innovation, global collaboration and business analytics — the areas that business leaders need in today’s business world.

Erin Peterson is a freelance writer.