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Thursday, October 18, 2012

6 A Maslow’s Theory of Needs

Now let’s examine how management philosophy can motivate employees. To do that we examine Maslow’s famous “Hierarchy” of needs. Maslow defines motivation as feeling desire, want, yearning or that something is lacking. (see p.22 of Toward a Psychology of Being by Abraham Maslow) Maslow defined five levels of needs in his hierarchy.
Physiological (air, water, etc.) >Safety>Belongingness>Self-Esteem>Self Actualization
Maslow argues that:
1.   To realize a need on the right all the needs to the left of it must be satisfied first.
2.   Workers that are moving to the right are happier and more productive compared to workers that are not moving, or moving to the left.
For each of the needs there can be organizational or management problems that the effective leader can often solve. A few examples illustrate this point.
Need                                         Problem                                  A Solution
Physiological needs                Job stress                          Stress management
Safety                                  Not knowing what’s              MBO, fix unsafe
                                        expected, fear, anxiety              conditions
Belongingness                     Anxiety, cynicism,                  Participative
                                             despair, stress                         management
Self-esteem                         Meaningless work                Change job assigned,
                                                                                           job enrichment
Self-actualization                 Boredom, lack of                      Empowerment,
                                            opportunity                          career development

Maslow’s second contention shows us that our objective as managers is to enable our workers to satisfy their need for self-actualization. If we achieve this they are happier and motivated to be the most productive that they can be. This would be relatively easy if all we had to do was to empower them or show them that their careers are important to the organization and being managed fairly. Maslow’s first contention shows why it isn’t that easy. Managers have to satisfy workers other four needs before they are enabled to realize self-actualization. Let’s briefly examine some things managers can do to satisfy the needs of their staff.
Physiological needs- Most basic physiological needs like air, water, food are satisfied outside of the manager’s influence but there are others that managers must address to achieve motivated workers. Today many workers are multitasked, worked long hours and constantly pushed to do more with less. These working conditions can lead to stress or just plain overwork. To minimize such effects it is necessary for the manager to put extra emphasis on demonstrating fairness to all staff members, communicating clearly why the job environment is the way it is and what management is doing to improve the environment. Ignoring workers concerns leads to stressed workers, disgruntled workers and the best employees seeking other job opportunities. All of these effects result in lower organizational effectiveness due to under productive workers.
Most workers are willing to work extra time or extra hard if they understand the management is being fair, that there is good reason for the need to work extra hard or long and that management is doing what is necessary to correct the problems leading to the need for such working conditions. Corrections may mean adding new equipment, improving work processes, adding temporary or permanent staff, subcontracting work or a similar means of reducing workload. Managers that accept that such working conditions are just part of today’s work environment and believe they don’t have to do anything about it will find that their best employees eventually leave so that they are left with a less productive staff. Effective leaders search for creative ways to improve working conditions and keep their staff fully informed.
Managers that don’t take care of obvious job problems create unsatisfied physiological needs in all workers, not just the workers with the problems. Sometimes a worker needs to be disciplined or even fired. Managers that do not take prompt and fair action when disciplinary action is called for lose the respect of all workers and cause lower productivity due to the unsatisfied need for an environment that treats workers fairly. Putting up with bad workers isn’t fair to the good workers.
An organization’s policies can cause unsatisfied physiological needs if the policies are aimed at the 5 percent of employees that abuse rules rather than at the 95 percent that follow rules. Effective policies are covered in more depth in a later lecture.
Safety- Safety is an often overlooked need. There are at least two dimensions to the need for safety. There is physical and psychological safety and both are important in organizations. There are legal, ethical and sound business reasons to ensure the physical safety of all workers. About the worst thing that can happen to a manager is having to tell the family of a worker that the worker was injured, disabled or killed at work. If your reaction to the previous statement is “that’s not me job, other people take care of those things” then you need to think more deeply about it. Even if your organization has a health, safety or health and safety department it is still the manager’s responsibility to make sure that his or her workers are informed, are encouraged to report any safety or health concerns and follow the safety guidelines of the organization. Health and safety personnel cannot eliminate hazards and reduce injuries without the active cooperation of managers and workers. If your reaction is that physical safety issues relate to factories or mines but not to an office environment you need to rethink again. Office environments are the source of many repetitive stress injuries, back problems, exposure to electrical hazards and fingers caught in copier machines. It’s your responsibility to make sure your workers are not at risk of such injuries. Again, this is done by ensuring that the environment is safe, that workers are informed, are properly trained and feel comfortable reporting any safety or health concerns.
Psychological safety is more complex. It is easier to understand if you think of it as fear. Workers that have fear are not at their most productive because they spend time and energy thinking about the sources of their fear rather than their work. Fear is so important there is an entire lecture on fear later. Here I address fear resulting from insecurity about job loss, promotion, annual reviews, acquisitions and mergers, layoffs, new assignments, new managers etc. Almost anything that causes or might cause instability can result in insecurity. Lack of knowledge about an organization’s goals and plans also leads to insecurity. The effective leader satisfies this need with open, frequent and factual communication with the workers. If the leader practices good communications and has an “open door” policy so that workers can come to the leader with their concerns than the leader minimizes workers’ insecurities. It is often impossible to eliminate insecurities but effective communications and an open door policy can reduce insecurity so that it has minimum effect on job performance.
Belongingness- Humans are social. They need to be part of a group. Therefore workers need to feel that they are a valued member of their organization. This means that they have some input into the organization’s activities and are treated fairly by the organization. The cliché “no input, no buy in” is critical to effective leadership. Leaders should make the decisions but effective leaders seek the opinions of their workers and consider the workers’ opinions before making decisions. If workers are convinced their views were heard and considered then most buy in to decisions even if the decisions aren't what they wanted.
There are lots of positive “team building” actions that contribute to satisfying the belongingness need. Group lunches, after work drinks, weekend golf outings and similar activities can be positive if they are inclusive of the entire group. If not then they lead to hurt feeling on the part of those left out. It takes few positive actions to satisfy the belongingness need but one negative takes many positives to correct. The effective leader thinks through team building actions carefully to ensure they are inclusive and positive.
Rewarding workers is a dangerous activity. Group awards are usually positive. Individual rewards, especially money based awards, risk alienating more people than they motivate. Workers evaluate rewards with a sensitive scale and if they perceive there is any unfairness they are offended and demotivated. In general personal recognition is more effective than money awards as long as it is inclusive of all who contributed to whatever is being rewarded.
Some managers believe they can improve productivity by encouraging competition between workers. The highest productivity results from cooperation and teamwork among workers. Competition often inhibits cooperation and can lead to workers undermining each other and thereby limiting the effectiveness of the organization.
Competition and monetary rewards are not always counterproductive. An example from my experience of effective competition and monetary reward involved training workers in health and safety requirements for their jobs. The manager of Health and Safety gave worker teams a list of health and safety questions relating to their job. Teams that were able to answer every question correctly were eligible for a drawing. The drawing was held at monthly all hands meetings and the winning team received about $5 per worker. Teams would go to great lengths to get answers to complex questions, including contacting state health officials. It wasn’t the $5 reward that motivated these workers. Rather it was the pride in their team being eligible for the public drawing. Note that in this example there was cooperation and teamwork within the teams and the teams believed the competition was fair.
Self-esteem- Workers with high self-esteem are more productive than workers with low self-esteem because they do not waste their energies worrying about their perceived inadequacies. Workers with high self-esteem tend to direct more of their energies toward their work thus they can be more creative and more productive than low self-esteem workers. Achieving high self-esteem in individuals is the result of recruiting people whose education, experience and interest match the job requirements, providing them any special training necessary to do the job properly, explaining clearly what is expected of the worker and interacting with them frequently so that both the worker and manager have a good understanding of how well the work is getting done.
If a worker is performing at or above expectations the manager should let the worker know with encouraging comments. If there are problems with the quality or quantity of work the manager should focus on the work process and discuss with the worker what can be done to make the job easier or to eliminate process problems. Eighty percent of the time the problems are with the work process rather than with the worker. This means that if the worker is criticized for poor performance four times out of five the manager is wrong and the worker’s self-esteem is lowered as well as possibly reducing the workers feelings of belongingness and safety.
If the manager and the worker interact frequently then the manager can eventually correctly determine those situations where the work processes are ok but the worker isn’t right for the job. In this event the manager should take responsibility for putting the worker in the wrong job and set out to find a better job fit for the worker. Effective leaders know that if a job isn’t being done right the fault is theirs. They have picked the wrong worker, not adequately trained the worker, not adequately explained the job or the job process is defective. Other workers know this and lose confidence in managers that blame workers for poor job performance.
Managers that wait for the annual review to discuss job performance with workers are ineffective managers. Effective managers interact informally with workers on a daily or at least weekly basis and make it a point to have more formal discussions on a monthly or at least quarterly basis. It is wise to have the more formal discussions over lunch or breakfast so that the confrontational aspect of the dreaded annual review is removed. If you are lucky enough to have control over the annual review process then eliminate it and replace it with less formal monthly or quarterly discussions. In my forty years of experience I have found no value in annual reviews. Both managers and employees hate them and there is no value in the documentation collected in the personnel files. Every time I have had to fire a worker I have found it necessary to build and document the case after the decision to fire has been made because there has never been anything useful in the worker’s personnel file.
Do not conclude from my experience with worker’s personnel files that the answer is to make sure files contain documentation of any disciplinary actions and other negative stuff that can be used against workers if necessary. Such actions destroy psychological safety and ensure demotivated workers. If it is within your authority make sure workers files contain only information required to comply with labor laws and make sure your workers know there will never be negative stuff in their files. Discipline up to and including firing can be handled effectively without such files.
You are likely familiar with the phase “management by walking around”. Effective managers use this technique to interact informally with workers. Five or ten minutes with a worker two or three times a week is usually enough to keep up with what the worker is doing and to identify any problems that require additional management attention. To be effective these brief interactions must focus on the worker’s tasks, i.e. what the worker is doing and how well the task’s processes are working (the quality and timeliness of the task output). It’s ok to briefly ask about social issues but don’t let this time be spent discussing the previous night’s sporting event or some other social activity.
The work of up to 20 subordinates can be monitored in this manner and still leave 20 hours per week to work on fixing problems and executing the other tasks that are the manager’s job. Most managers have only five to ten direct reports and can usually keep up with their direct reports’ work by spending only an hour or two each day. If the manager finds there isn’t enough time to spend five or ten minutes two or three times per week with each employee then enough of the managers other tasks should be delegated in order to free up adequate time for this critical activity.
I know that in today’s flat and lean organizations there are managers with far more than 20 direct reports who are also expected to be workers as well as managers. If you are one of those managers you are forced into a triage approach. Limit the time spent with each of the 80% of workers that are doing fine to weekly checks so that you still have time to check with each of the other 20% two or three times per week.
If you are in an environment where you are required to conduct formal annual reviews you must still interact informally enough with your workers that you and they know before the review what the results are. If the review has any surprises for an employee then you have not been doing your job and the employee’s self-esteem need is less fulfilled than it could be.

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