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Dan Erwin

Steve: Terrific insight. Maslow needs to die, but it won't go away, like a lot of other beliefs.
I love your "managers are the mediators of meaning." I'll plagiarize...I assume you realize that's a compliment and that you'll be okay with my theft.


Steve Roesler


Glad the line struck a note. Here are my rules of plagiarism:

1. If "they" hate it, it's yours.

2. If "they" like it, attribution.

Keep thinking and writing. . .

Rosa Say

Count me among those who have used Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in the coaching I do with managers Steve. I find it very helpful in numerous ways, which to me supports this great phrase you have come up with here, that "Managers are the Mediators of Meaning." For example, talking about Maslow's model opens up the search for root cause a bit more when a manager is very frustrated with an employee who will not open up to them because a better relationship must be established: It becomes a tool in learning empathy. As you say, "there has to be an ongoing conversation for something meaningful to happen" but at least they can get out of ruts in their thinking.

I don't think the model needs to go away; it just needs to be used better when we do draw from its content, and I agree that the hierarchy part of it is often irrelevant. I find it very helpful in conversations with managers about strength management, and about value alignment.

Dean Zatkowsky

The hierarchy can be a useful point of departure for helping new managers understand the importance of learning who their coworkers are. Like the pentatonic scale for a guitarist or the big ten lighting techniques for a photographer, there are some things we learn to expand our understanding, then must forget in order to act creatively. In the workplace, I don't try to identify a coworker's motivation on a scale - I try to see what challenge ignites the fire in their eyes.

Dean Zatkowsky

I should add that I did include a description of Maslow's Hierarchy in my latest book, because his work played an important role in shaping the modern belief that a manager should care at all about the needs and desires of coworkers. Maslow, Theories X, Y, and Z and other basic management training lessons may seem dated, but help one appreciate leadership and management as evolving disciplines. Too many new managers get no context at all for the new work they will undertake.


I don't argue with Maslow's pyramid, only the idea that one layer builds on the previous. It's clear that each layer is being touched all the time. For example, "safety" is being worked as soon as someone has a roof (of whatever construction) over his/her head. I would like to see studies over the last three years of productivity vs employee foreclosure/bankruptcy. This recession strikes right at the heart of Maslow. Any insight?

Karen Wilhlem

Maslow's hierarchy was developed non-scientifically by interviewing and observing people who Maslow believed were "self-actualized." Its apparent truth somehow captured business theorists--you never see it mentioned in psychology as a model of motivation. Maslow himself recognized that he was only throwing out conjecture and wanted social scientists to study, experiment and validate or invalidate the theory. How the belief in his theory has been handed down from one management writer or teacher to another is a study in folklore over knowledge.

Jackie Cameron

"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."

It never fails to amaze me how many managers try to "fix" their employees without doing this first.

And often I am working with those very employees as a coach -on how to have the "difficult" conversation with their boss because they can't go on the way they are or even as they work out where to take their skills so that they will be valued.

thank you!

Paul Hebert

I with you Steve - I posted a while back on the issues around Maslow and how they are "poorly applied" in the motivation world. Most incentive companies will drag out Maslow as proof that incentives motivate. Unfortunately, incentives work - but not because of Maslow.

For those that care, here's the link to my post "If Your Incentive Company Brings Up Maslow - Fire Them! (hope you don't see it as too self-serving but it does expand on some point brought up here... http://tinyurl.com/apodrp

Geek Coach

This is a great post. I used Maslow's hierarchy to talk about career risks. Check out the post here:


I'm a psychologist by training and I would never claim that Maslow's hierarchy is a perfect model. However, it does give a good framework to think about motivation and drivers of behavior.

I related fear from the recession to a tendency to play it safe and protect basic needs. A better strategy is to do excellent work and try to get noticed during a down time - it provides better job security.

Regards, Geek Coach

Mike Cook

If we worry less about the truth of any model and more about the utility we may come out farther ahead. Whether Maslow's model is scientifically accurate or not the breakthrough he provided was to get us thinking about performance in an entirely new way, much the same as we have come to see strengths differently through the work of Buckingham and Clifton. The challenge we face as professionals is to give people who are always desperately seeking answers (including ourselves) any model in such a way that what is learned is an appreciation of the questions they raise and the perspective they provide rather than the certainty that eases our anxieties.

I will continue to use Maslow's work for its utility in distinguishing the fluctuating nature of internal motivations, a real challenge for any environment that insists on providing static versions of carrots and sticks.

Thanks for the column Steve, it is good to dig out old chestnuts and remind ourselves of both their origins and usefulness.

Steve Roesler

Rosa, Dean, Shosha, Karen, Jackie, Paul, Geek Coach, Mike:

Apologies for the single response; have been traveling and getting a bit behind in the conversation, and this is a good one (clearly, I didn't have to be involved for it to be a good one!).

It seems as if everyone has a similar take on the utility of Maslow, not unlike other models: The theory provides a starting point and a dcontext for exploring wants and needs with individuals and groups. I believe it's important to be clear with people that this is a theory and not a scientific truth; it's also important to note that it isn't a ladder that can only be climbed one rung at a time.

Of ultimate importance is the discussion. It's difficult for many managers and employees to figure out a starting point. Working from a "for example" model is a big help.

Thanks to all!

rs downloads

The hierarchy can be a useful point of departure for helping new managers understand the importance of learning who their coworkers are. Like the pentatonic scale for a guitarist or the big ten lighting techniques for a photographer, there are some things we learn to expand our understanding, then must forget in order to act creatively.

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