A new study by Peter Herriot, director of research at Sundridge Park management centre, and his assistant, Carole Pemberton, confounds the received wisdom about executive motivation. The report says that when it comes to job satisfaction, salary and seniority pale in comparison with being treated fairly.
Professor Herriot claims the research has produced two overall messages. First, the type of organisation affects how careers are managed; secondly, the way in which careers are managed affects satisfaction and therefore the numbers who leave an organisation.
Among other findings is that, while more than three-of those surveyed felt themselves to be on target or ahead of their companies' 'career timetable', a significant minority felt left behind.
Moreover, managers in larger organisations had generally reached lower levels and earned lower salaries than their counterparts in small companies.
Less surprisingly, older managers - although higher up the ladder and better paid than younger colleagues - felt further behind in the career timetable. Managers who changed jobs more frequently within their organisations reached higher levels and earned more.
None of this is particularly cheering for those involved in human resources - as personnel is now known - who have put a lot of effort into setting up systems for assessing and motivating managers.
According to Prof Herriot and Ms Pemberton, such organisational structures have an important effect on a company's career management, particularly in larger ones, where greater emphasis is placed on training and development. But there is a perception that the practices of bigger concerns are less fair, valuing specialist experience less, taking less responsibility for careers and providing career opportunities for fewer people than do their smaller counterparts.
'Fair dealing by the organisation is easily the most powerful predictor of career satisfaction. It is a much more powerful predictor than the managerial or salary level attained. Fair dealing is even a better predictor than career satisfaction of intention to leave the organisation,' Prof Herriot says.
This finding in based on responses to two questions contained in a questionnaire completed by 200 managers recently attending courses at the centre in Bromley, south London.
The questions were: How fairly do you think promotion decisions are made in your organisation? How often have agreements about your own career been honoured by your organisation?
The managers' average age was nearly 36, their average salary pounds 32,400 and they were predominantly from the energy and process sector (35 per cent), manufacturing (26.5 per cent) and finance (12 per cent).
Although older managers were less likely to have degrees, 128 of those questioned were graduates. There were 35 women in the sample.
Prof Herriot and his team were primarily concerned to test a theoretical model of managerial careers, assessing the significance of an organisation's career management structure. Analysis indicated general support for the model.
It was suggested that an organisation's structure was a powerful predictor of its career management practices, which in turn were more powerful influences on career satisfaction than career progress, with perceived fairness particularly important.
Using such an organisational model is likely to be more effective than an approach based on what Prof Herriot calls 'the prescriptions of human resource management ideology', such as profit-related pay and the perks that in the Eighties came to be a part of the modern manager's salary package.