Thursday, January 26, 2006

Charging People's Batteries: revisiting maslow's Human motivation theory

Behavioral scientists and psychologists, such as Taylor, Maslow, Herzberg, McGregor, Skinner, Blake and Mouton, and Argyris, were concerned with human models and the most effective ways to motivate people. They all tried to discover what motivates people and how can organizations tap their resources to enhance their performance through highly motivated teams. If the ultimate organizational goal is higher productivity, superior quality, customer satisfaction and happiness, and increased net profit they have to invest in their people’s welfare and being.

Thirty years ago, one ‘please’ was enough when requesting employees not to break regulations. Today, the same admonition requires at least three pleases before the employee feels that his superior has demonstrated the proper attitude toward him/her. If this means anything, it means that organizational leaders have to double their efforts in the direction of motivating their teams to ensure their commitment and loyalty. I find that employees need to respect their supervisors and acknowledge their competence in order for them to completely comply with the directions they get from them. Employees’ ego demands that. It is frustrating for them to be subjected personally to a command from an individual who is deemed unworthy and incompetent. Organizational leader have two sources to reinforce their power and influence their working teams: the legitimacy of their positions, and their personal power which reflect their expertise paired with their charisma to gain their people’s acceptance of them. Abraham Maslow was very realistic in developing his Hierarchy of Needs Theory. It reflects – in my opinion – the broad scope of his understanding of the motives of peoples’ behavior. Therefore, I will try here to apply his concepts on what I believe a good application of his theory which is still being taught at multi-levels of education more than sixty years ago, since the theory was first introduced in 1943. I will try sequentially to address some other theories of motivation that are based on indepth understanding of human nature and psychology.

Maslow’s theory, which sometimes referred to as ‘Theory of Human Motivation,’ is built on 5 main human needs:

  1. Physiological (hunger, thirst, shelter, sex, etc.)

  2. Safety (security, protection from physical and emotional harm)

  3. Social (affection, belonging, acceptance, friendship)

  4. Esteem (also called ego). The internal ones are self respect, autonomy, achievement and the external ones are status, recognition, and attention.

  5. Self actualization (doing things)
My purpose here would be to talk about what employees will be looking for in their work-place in order to satisfy all or most of the above needs. Things that organizations can do but, unfortunately, sometimes are unwilling to due to self imposed bureaucratic constraints. I will also try to tie up these needs with the rapid change of the organizational environment and the challenges that are posed by the demands of the new century.
The need for a fair pay is a strong very demanding need. Though it satisfies multiple physiological, security and egoistic needs, but cannot alone be used as an all time motivator. The power and charm of monetary rewards, in the form for compensation, bonuses and incentives loses its glow with time as peoples’ aspirations escalate and monetary gains fail to fulfill their ambitions in life including the need for respect, recognition, and affiliation.
Job Security is another need that forms a strong urge in people to be always on the look for organizations with unthreatening work environment where the high labor-force turnover is the norm. The constant threat of the fast technological advancement pace constitutes another threat to people who are unable to cope with the demands of this change, or lack of appropriate organizational support from their organizations to acquire the required skills. Fierce competition and unstable economies resulting in mergers, acquisitions, and downsizing as new forms of businesses relying more on technology rather than people, add up to the consistent tension of the work-place.
Looking for congenial associates’ need emanates from the social need for gregariousness and acceptance. Here, management can assist the process through careful planning of orientation and socialization programs for new employees, rest breaks and recreational activities, as well as promoting the culture of team-work. Human resources policies and procedures should also be designed to promote a congenial, healthy, and quality work environment. Organizations of today still have a lot to do to improve the quality of work life (QWL) for their employees. It is an area that invites both innovation and creativity for continuous improvement.
Need for recognition and credit for work done stems from individual egoistic needs, and can supplied by management through verbal praise of excellent achievements, rewards for constructive suggestions, public recognition of excelling efforts on the job though in-house media such as company magazines, newsletters, and bulletin boards.
Having a meaningful job is a very strong need which poses a tough challenge to the management to oblige, especially in rather small and medium size organizations with limited expansion opportunities. An individual’s need for recognition, self fulfillment and realization, can be integrated in the organization’s plans of periodical job enrichment adding more accountabilities and making them more challenging. Meanwhile, organizational culture should emphasize the value of people and their contribution to the organization’s success. Need for a meaningful job is paired by another very important need, i.e. opportunity to grow especially for the employees whose social needs are stronger than their egoistic needs. Employees have a right to advance in their careers and feel the added value of their hard work and contribution toward business growth.
The relationship between organizations and their employees should depend on efficient and effective two-way communication where each side listens to the needs of the other party. Transparency in conducting this practice is crucial in building mutual trust and developing positive attitudes. Tools like employees opinion surveys, suggestions systems, if applied skillfully, can help the organizations get candid feedback of their employees and help accurately define their needs.