Just about every student of business has heard of Abraham Maslow and his theory on human motivation (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs).  But I wonder whether there is a similar parallel that can be correlated to business.   After all we have heard mention how businesses are living and breathing institutions, that these have human characteristics that are reflected by the leadership and the employees that make them up.

Maslow’s Hierarchy is made up of 5 levels each of which can only be attained through sufficient stability in the earlier level.

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Allow me to draw the correlation with the hope that you can evaluate where your company stands, where it should be and what work needs to be undertaken in order to achieve further achievement.

Biological/Psychological Needs:   Businesses need core elements to achieve a level of fundamental operation.  Capitalization, human resources, product/service offering, and leadership.  Without them the company may exist but the question will remain for how long (and at what level of existence).

Security Needs:  This is often reflected in policies, practices, methods that fall under the umbrella of tactical elements but help to support a strategy as to where we wish to get.  It gives us certainty, provides efficiency through standardization, yet provides a climate for entrepreneurship and innovation.   Even for companies are the sole source in a sector, they need to have measures by which they can compare their efforts against the impact they are having on their client population or society.   All too often companies focus heavily on the financial aspects but overlook that it is of little value unless they are embraced as a part of global society.

Social Needs:  The advent of social networks has transformed many companies from a faceless institution to one in which it has personality, feelings, heart and even a bit of real time creativity.  At the same time while the desire may be there a tugging reluctance to let free exists.  Companies are afraid of what people say, how they react and the sometimes brutal way in which it is done.  In many respects they are doing themselves a greater disservice, hindering the growth of the company, by staying out of the social game.  Sure you can sponsor events, and underwrite benevolent efforts but in someways the ring of insincerity resonates.   It truly is a damned if you do and your damned if you don’t issue.  Companies who have stepped up the social game, allow the critics and cynics in the door have been able to show their true colors through their responses.  It’s okay to say I don’t know, I wasn’t aware or this is a wrong characterization as long as you show respect (against sometime challenging moments) , deliver the fact, restrain the emotions and make commitments that will be acted upon.

Ego Needs:  Yes we all have egos and so do companies.  You can see this in awards and acclaims they are bestowed with.  The trophies, plaques and number of awards across a variety of disciplines are a testimony to the accomplishments of the organization.  Just remember that if you get here without biological/psychological (foundation), security and social needs covered, or at least somewhat stable, it then becomes a question of value to the ego elements.  Make sure the ego elements are earned and supportable and not just another token achieved through a smartly crafted marketed award campaign.

Self-Actualization Needs:  Finally we reach self-actualization but what does it mean.  Achieving what you have set out to do and are proud of the journey is probably the best definition I have heard.   As I think about companies that “might” fit into this category I really struggled to come up with specific examples.  There are some really great companies who have done all of the pre-cursors for self-actualization but have fallen short because their operate in an imbalanced way.   Maybe its too much focus on the numbers, or quickly distracted by market potential, elements of the business seem to be autonomous and lacks overall cohesion (except legal on paper) or simply the leadership seems to be adrift in constant flux.

In summary, there is a Maslow’s Hierarchy in business.  Its alive but unfortunately misunderstood and not sufficiently visited.  Maybe its a case of chaos, confusion or impartiality.  Or maybe its because the decision makers haven’t taken the chance to look back as to what the business is and can become.

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