Peter Drucker called Abraham Maslow “The father of humanist psychology.” Maslow said that all humans have basic needs which they must satisfy. Once satisfied, other motivators are released. Those motivators are what he called “higher needs” – hence his term “Hierarchy of Needs” – and individuals are motivated to satisfy them.
He and Peter Drucker, eventually, agreed that once a lower need is satisfied it no longer stimulates, but it can and does act to generate dissatisfaction. By that, they mean that when a need is satisfied, attempts by the employer to satiate that need do not generate greater desire for the increased satisfaction. If, however, the company removes or diminishes that satisfied need, it will generate dissatisfaction and possibly resentment.
A satisfied need almost becomes an assumed right. As long as that satisfied need can be taken for granted, individuals reach up to satisfy a higher need. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a simple one:
- At its base are physical needs such as warmth, physical security, safety, food, etc.
- Above them are group needs such as a sense of belonging to the group, and being valued by piers and managers.
- Above those are more individual needs: a feeling of self esteem, self confidence and wanting to “do your own thing as well as possible” – which Maslow called self-actualization.
Experience shows three things:
No Leapfrogs:The hierarchy cannot be leapfrogged. Until a lower need is satisfied, individuals have little desire to satisfy a higher need. An individual who is insecure (because they lack the knowledge and skills to do their job) will not feel motivated to perform well and gain self-esteem. They focus on simply trying to learn and practice enough to feel secure.
Psychology and emotion: The lower needs in the hierarchy are not purely physical. A person who knows they are warm, fed and sheltered at work, may still feel insecure or unsafe.
Disincentives: The hierarchy of needs can become a “lowerarchy” of dissatisfaction or failure. This example explains it. A high-performing team of successful individuals who do their jobs well may be considered to self-actualize. They perform as well as possible because they choose to. They value their own internal rewards of successful achievement, and do not need a manager to praise them (they may want praise, and may take it as an assumed right, but the need, itself, has been satisfied).
Then their job description changes – they are no longer, say, only in a customer support role; now they must sell to those customers, and are given sales targets to achieve – with appropriate bonuses.
The individuals now feel exposed, so instead of wanting to self-actualize or to feel high self-esteem for performing well in their new roles, they drop down to the level below “self-esteem” which is “sense of belonging.” Now, the individuals simply “stick together” as a non-performing sales group and re-establish themselves as a good-enough customer-support group because that helps them to feel secure.
The new sales incentives did not result in higher performance, but in a drop-off in intention. The individuals in the group now feel “safe” again. They have dropped down the hierarchy from self-actualization to “sense of belonging” and emotional “safety”.
Departmental, product and marketing managers work to enable and encourage individuals and teams to move up the Maslow’s hierarchy. They should continually assess where each individual and team is on the hierarchy. They can apply Peter Drucker’s Primary Tasks of Effective Managers to keep their teams looking up the hierarchy to reach the next level – especially when structural and job responsibilities change – rather than allowing them to drop down, and to reduce performance levels as they do drop down. Managers must develop their own thought leadership model if corporate change is going to be totally successful.
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