Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs taught us that we are motivated to fulfill our most basic needs before we move on to higher level needs. Maslow made the point that if someone is hungry they will naturally focus on meeting that need before they can focus on “higher” human needs like the need to belong or the need to learn and grow. Makes sense right?
This type of thinking can and has been applied to working with our staff. Can we motivate someone with compliments about their work when they are not making enough money to survive? Not likely. Can we motivate someone with the higher meaning of their work and how it benefits society when that person is not feeling they are good at their job? Not really.
The work hierarchy goes something like this:
Level 1: Survival – Enough money, job security and benefits.
Level 2: Personal success – Recognition that we are good at our job and are appreciated for it.
Level 3: Inspiration – Feeling there is meaning or purpose in what we do.
Each individual must climb through each level before they reach their full potential and they can’t skip steps. First an employee must feel that there is enough money and other benefits for them to be able to meet their own needs. Next, they must believe that they can do the job well and are respected by their peers and their leader(s) for their abilities. Only after surpassing this second level will the purpose, values and goals of the organization have any real meaning for this employee.
What should you do when you have staff working for you who are not making sufficient money to live comfortably and are troubled by this? (This is someone still at level 1) Do not try to motivate them with the higher purpose or coolness of the work. No matter how important your cause or exciting the business, this will not be very helpful.
What can be helpful is open discussion about the situation. Create a working partnership based on the staff member doing great work with you and you recommending them for more hours, pay increases and promotion at every opportunity. Let them know as well that a great reference will come from you should they find something more suitable outside the organization. This is a great way to show you understand their situation and care about their success.
What should you do when you have a staff person who is paid adequately, but is not performing their job at the required level? (Level 2) Do not try to motivate them to try harder with inspirational messages about the goals of your organization.
If we feel they have aptitude and can do this job, we work with them on their performance, giving them both specific instruction on what they should be doing differently, and direct but caring feedback when they make mistakes. We also praise their efforts as they improve. If, after sufficient time and effort, we don’t think that they have the aptitude for the work, we move them to another job in the organization if possible and if this is not possible we ease them out of the organization kindly. Leaving someone stuck at level 2 is cruel.
Only once someone is feeling they are paid adequately and performing their function well, are they ready to listen to our efforts to help them understand the importance of the work they do inside the organization and for the world as a whole.
Successful leaders understand the hierarchy and adapt their approach to each individual based on where they understand that person to be.