Just in case you stepped out of the meeting room that day for an oatmeal cookie and bottled water:
Psychologist Abraham Maslow synthesized the research available up to the year 1954 about what motivates people. He came up with a shopping list of needs that we all try to satisfy. Have a look at the graphic below for a reminder or if you are experiencing it for the first time:
I've never seen much argument about the content of the list. But the hierarchical implication has been rendered invalid by later research. Yet managers are still told that this is a "ladder that people climb" and that employees must have one set of needs satisfied before they move onto the next.
That means there are still vast numbers of well-meaning managers thinking, "Oh, I really can't start working on high performance until we have all of our "group issues" sorted out.
The fact of the matter is that we're constantly chasing satisfaction in all of these areas simultaneously to some degree.
For example: You may be working on becoming an accepted member of a team. But that doesn't stop you from spending a little time adjusting your 401k mix and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.
The only need that I've seen block the rest of the hierarchy is a seriously unmet Physiological need. If you're worried about your next meal, losing your home to foreclosure, or paying out-of-pocket for a major surgical procedure, the pressure at that level doesn't allow much freedom to focus on anything else.
How can organizations use this for meaningful impact?
Managers are the Mediators of Meaning
1. Physiological and Stability/Safety needs are met through corporate policies: adequate pay, benefits, and safety procedures. These are satisfied when organizations who claim "People Are Our Most Important Asset" back up the statement by ensuring that these needs are met as a matter of policy and philosophy.
2. The higher level needs can only be satisfied by assignments,
development, and solid day-to-day management. This means that "Managers
are the Mediators of Meaning" for their people. Surveys and research data consistently show that the immediate supervisor has the most impact on one's performance, productivity,
and feelings about the workplace.
Every supervisor reading this can use the pyramid above as one more tool to start a discussion with employees about where they are and what they need to keep their batteries charged. But there has to be an ongoing conversation for something meaningful to happen.
If you take time to ask people what they're looking for, they will tell you. And that makes your job a whole lot easier.