Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Paging Dr. Maslow...

...Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, that is! Have you ever heard of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs? If you haven't read the Wikipedia link I've provided. You'll find it enlightening.

I had my first exposure to it in my early college years in 1990, but also later when I was working through my MBA degree, not to mention in my talks with senior managers throughout the years.

Maslow's hierarchy depicts how humans are motivated. The basic premise is represented in a pyramid of needs. If and only when a lower level need is met can a higher-level need and its fulfilment become a source of motivation. Here's what the pyramid looks like:

You'll notice that Physiological and Safety needs are the lowest level in this pyramid. So, these needs and wants must be met before Love and Belonging needs can be. As a simple example, if you have the business end of the gun to your head with the trigger about to be pulled, the only thoughts in your head will be that of survival rather than whether your mom still loves you, even though you didn't return her call this morning! (Note to self: don't forget to call mom tomorrow.)

Maslow's hierarchy is quite an important and powerful tool to understand, especially when we, as managers, directors and leaders try to find ways to motivate our teams, peers and customers in business. It's an especially important concept to comprehend in a recession.

Why, you ask? Think of it this way. In order for our companies to lead our sales and delivery staff to achieve and surpass our goals, we must encourage and motivate our coworkers to creatively look for new business or novel business ideas. This requires that the person being asked to be creative be unencumbered from concerns over whether they'll be able to put food on the table (Physiological need), or have a secure job tomorrow (Safety need), whether their families will still love and respect them (Love / Belonging needs) and they're respected by their peers, giving them the confidence to carry out their work (Esteem need). All of these have to be in place before you can motivate a person to take risks, solve problems creatively or just be plain creative (Self-Actualization need).

So, ask yourself how are your actions affecting your company? What culture are you promoting? Are you "shortening the leash" and becoming a task master in order to show you too can be tough on "non-performing" employees, i.e., scrutinizing every decision of your managers and individual contributors? Are you downsizing every two months, or "motivating" your teams through threats?

Do you think these actions will promote your remaining team members to suddenly become creative and bring in new business or use their creativity to more efficiently deliver products and services? Think again! Your actions may have reduced your workforce to a group of highly risk averse individuals who are only worried for their physiological and safety needs and not at all interested at helping you and the company grow.

Realize I'm not saying you should never reduce your workforce. Nor am I advocating a total anarchy in business, eliminating all control. No. What I'm suggesting is something more subtle: First, I assume you've investigated all ways in which you could save the company's proverbial behind AND insure continued future growth before realizing you have to downsize.

Next, even if you've made this decision unilaterally, then I suggest gathering your team in a room and telling them what you've had to do. Give them the reasons for your decision and how you arrived at it. You don't have to ask your work family whether it's the right decision, but you should explain why everyone should buy-in to your decision. That's your job as a leader and a visionary. This'll insure your squelch many of the questions that would inevitably come up about whether you considered every option before deciding whom to cut. I would avoid specific examples of why someone is no longer with the company. However, make sure everyone knows how you took care of those you let go and how you're helping them find a new work-home elsewhere.

That's fine and dandy, but what about raising morale for those remaining? Believe it or not, that's easy. Tell your team you're putting a moratorium on layoffs, at least for a period so that you can put your new plan to action.

You know your greatest asset in the company is not you, it's your people. It's through their efforts that you've come to prosper. It's through their creativity that you've delivered so many successful solutions over the years. So, come up with an incentive plan, monetary or otherwise to allow them the same freedom to create and take risks. I suggest you invest some money here. After all, in order for you to lift people out of the lower levels on Maslow's hierarchy, you have to provide them with a feeling of security and fulfill their physiological needs. Nevertheless, be sure you associate some sort of ceremony for each achievement. This'll insure people get the recognition and acceptance they crave too (Love/Belonging and Esteem needs).

You'll want to announce that you've set aside a bucket of money for each achievement level for your new company sales and productivity goals. Once you've defined these, give control to your mid to lower level managers and get out of their way! Give them plenty of room to make decisions on who gets which incentives. Insure the managers that so long as they're delivering on their goals and their employee and customer satisfaction numbers numbers are high, they will have no meddling from senior management.

This all may sound "fast and loose," and it is to some extent, but you get the idea. You see how this approach is substantially different from the negative reinforcement that the "Theory X" management style promotes. Don't let anyone tell you you shouldn't make waves and take risks. Leadership is all about knowing what risks to take and when. Notice there's no "whether your should take risk" statement in that sentence. Learn from Sir Ernest Shackleton in taking risks and leading your company and team to greatness.