Posted on

Abraham Maslow: Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow never set out to be a management thinker: his attention was on people in the round. It was only his desire to test out his ideas – and those of colleague Douglas McGregor – that led him to be one of the best known names among managers. His model of motivation is almost certainly the most widely known in English speaking organisations. Does it deserve to be?

Abraham Maslow

 

Short Biography

Abraham Maslow was born in 1908 to Jewish emigré parents, who had come to New York to escape Tsarist pogroms in Russia. There, Maslow grew up amidst antisemitism.

He took his undergraduate degree at City University of New York and then gained his MA and PhD in psychology at the University of Wisconsin in 1934. His thesis considered dominance and sexuality in Monkeys, which later led noted sexologist Alfred Kinsey to seek out his assistance in the 1940s. Maslow, however, rejected Kinsey, challenging the rigour of his research and later publishing evidence of bias in Kinsey’s sample selection (of young women for his study).

Maslow spend the late 1930s and the 1940s teaching and researching at Brooklyn College, where he published his most notable work on The Hierarchy of Needs in 1943 (A Theory of Human Motivation, Psychological Review, 50, pp370-396). This was later fully documented in his most important book, Motivation and Personality.

In 1951, he moved to Brandeis University, where he stayed until 1969, a year before his death in 1970

A Humanist First

The core of Maslow’s work as a psychologist was his move away from studying the psychology of people with problems, towards people who are successful. He used the term ‘positive psychology’ and was almost certainly the first to do so. It is now widely used, since its establishment as a (now very vibrant) field of research by Martin Seligman.

However, the movement he was instrumental in had the name of humanistic psychology and it is one that last week’s Management Thinker, Mary Parker Follett would have embraced.

The Hierarchy of Needs

His major contribution was a model that was designed to explain human behaviour and has subsequently come to be used as a theory of workplace motivation. He built a needs theory of human behaviour by first grouping human needs into classes, and then arranging these classes into a hierarchy. He argued that the prospect of satisfying an unmet need leads to motivation to act or choose.

Often shown as a pyramid, with basal (or ‘deficiency’) needs at the bottom and higher (or ‘growth’) needs at the top, the sequence means that our first instinct is to focus on the lowest level of unmet need.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

 

Physiological Needs
include warmth, food, sex, sleep and shelter – anything necessary to survival.

Safety and Security Needs
can now be thought of as job, wage or other economic security.

Love and Belonging Needs
are for social acceptance and the development of trusting relationships.

Esteem Needs
are firstly for power, status and prestige and then, for a self-belief that our place is merited.

Self Actualisation
was what Maslow was interested in: maximising our potential, living life to the full and contributing to our society.

In more modern needs theories of motivation, like Self Determination Theory of Ryan and Deci (popularised by Daniel Pink), belonging, esteem and self actualisation are still seen as powerful workplace motivators in the forms of relatedness (love and belonging), competence (esteem), and autonomy (actualisation).

Critiques

There are two critiques that are commonly levelled at the Hierarchy of Needs – one valid, one not.

It is often argued that the hierarchy presents a rigid sequence and that we continually want more, so do not fully escape the lowest levels, whilst some artist, say, will self-actualise away in lonely poverty in a cold garrett ignoring the basement motivators. In fact, Maslow himself said that the hierarchy is neither universal, nor a rigid sequence. The price his legacy pays for fame, is that most people learn the model from a few paragraphs in a text book or fifteen minutes in a management training session – and not from Maslow’s own writing. (Up goes my hand too!)

The more valid critique is the shallow research base for the model, and the reliance Maslow placed on anecdote, interview and subjective interpretation. However, we must understand his motivation: which was to create a springboard for studying what really interested him – Self Actualisation.

In fact, he did spend time in industry, studying motivation, but it was Douglas McGregor’s Theory Y that he was testing – and he found it wanting. Much as he supported it, he found it too simplistic in the real world, where people need a dose of Theory X predictability to feel fully secure.

Above and Below the Pyramid

Interesting to me is Maslow’s argument that we cannot satisfy our needs unless we have sufficient freedoms. As a humanist, he argued strongly for basic human freedoms such as expression and speech, the ability to defend ourselves, and for a society that prioritises justice.

Above the pyramid, he argued we would find needs higher than self-actualisation in the way he described it. These may be some form of aesthetic, spiritual or transcendent needs. This is an idea that Clare Graves developed into Spiral Dynamics, although the merits of that model need careful assessment.

More on Motivation

The Motivation Pocketbook


 

Pronunciation

Maslow, Mahslow, Mazlov… ?

For may years, knowing he came from Russia, I pronounced his name Mazlov. My research for this article shows that I was wrong. The name is common among Polish and Western Ukrainian Jewish families, where the -ow ending is pronounced with the soft w sound. A research student of his from the early 1940s records on a Wikipedia discussion page that Maslow pronounced his own name as Mah-zlow.

 

Share this:
Posted on

David McClelland: Competency and Achievement

David McClelland is best known to managers for his theory of Motivational Needs,which we covered back in 2012. He was a giant of the twentieth century psychology community, whose ideas remain relevant, practical, and valuable to manangers today.

David McClelland

Short Biography

David McClelland was born in New York state, in 1917 and grew up in Illinois. He gained his Bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1938, from Wesleyan University, a Master’s from the University of Missouri, and a PhD from Yale in 1941. He went on to teach at Connecticut College and then, as professor, at Wesleyan University. In 1956, he joined the Harvard University faculty as a professor, and he stayed there until his retirement to Professor Emeritus, in 1986. However, it’s hard for an active mind to stay retired, so in 1987, he started teaching at Boston University, continuing to do so up until his death in 1998.

Along the way, McClelland published many important books, few of which remain in print. Of those that do, the most notable are:

He also co-founded with David Berlew (and Chaired) a business consulting firm, McBer and Company, that trained and advised managers in recruiting and developing staff. McBer is now a part of the Hay Group.

Contributions

McClelland made two primary contributions that managers should know about. The first and best known is his psychological theory of three key motivators that drive our performance in the workplace. He applied this to corporations, small businesses, the medical profession, higher education and to large scale economic development.

Motivational Needs

The three needs (discussed more fully in the earlier Pocketblog, ‘David McClelland’s Three Motivational Needs‘) are:

  1. The Need for Affiliation (nAff)
    Our drive to form attachments, to be accepted by others, and to interact with them.
  2. The Need for Power (nPow)
    Our drive to control the way people behave, to influence their thinking, and to win status.
  3. The Need for Achievement (nAch)
    Our drive to accomplish demanding tasks, reach high standards, and overcome obstacles.

He also developed the work of Henry Murray to create a “Thematic Apperception Test‘ That allows trained users to evaluate the balance of these needs in an individual, based on their story-telling response to imagery.

McClelland studied how different balances of these three motivators impact people’s performances in different job roles. For example, he concluded that the most senior managers and leaders do not fare well if they have a dominant need for achievement. Rather, they tend to have this (and a need for affiliation) at moderate levels, with a high need for power.

Entrepreneurs and middle managers, however, thrive best with a high need for achievement. So much so, indeed, that McClelland believed that a nation’s economic development was dependent on the level of need of achievement among its citizens. This is what leads, he says, to setting big (but realistic) goals, taking calculated risks, and feeling a sense of personal responsibility for our work.

Competencies at Work

In the 1960s, McClelland took what was then a radical perspective on successful recruitment. He argued that we should hire for demonstrated competencies in the area of work we need people to perform and not, as was common in the US at the time, for IQ levels and the results of batteries of personality tests. This does not seem so revolutionary now, but it is well to be aware of when this idea started to emerge. His company, McBer, was at the forefront of developing lists of competencies.

More recently, his ideas have been applied to the workplace by popular psychologist, Daniel Goleman – particularly in his 2002 book, The New Leaders: Transforming the Art of Leadership, but also in his earlier, 1998 book, Working with Emotional Intelligence.

Learn More

There is an excellent interview with McClelland, from the end of his life, at: orientamento.it/indice/interview-with-mcclelland/

For more on motivation:

For more on McClelland’s theory in particular:

Share this:
Posted on

Motivational Needs

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


If you need to motivate your team, then you absolutely need to understand the concept of ‘needs’.

Most psychological models of motivation, starting with the best known of all – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – are based on a simple premise:

Human beings have needs. Therefore the promise to
satisfy them is necessarily motivating.

Maslow is overdone in training courses, management guides and, yes.. blogs. So we’ll skip that for a moment, but you can always take a look at The Motivation Pocketbook.

Modern thinking focuses strongly on four workplace needs:

1. The Need to Master our Work

We have a deep psychological drive to achieve proficiency and mastery and, when we do so and are able to work at that level, we find our work deeply satisfying. We fall into a ‘flow state’ where our work totally absorbs us.

2. The Need to Feel a Sense of Purpose

What question do small children ask, continually?

Why? Why? Why? Why?

As adults we equally need an answer to this and if we sense that our work has a real meaning and purpose that aligns with our values, then it is highly motivating.

3. Relationships

If you work full-time, then you probably spend more time with your work colleagues than you do with the person or people you thought you had chosen to spend your life with. People are social creatures and we have a powerful need for strong social relationships in which we feel there is a place for us – and ideally some sense of esteem from those around us. Respect is also a very important motivator.

4. Control

Once again, young children hold a mirror to us as adults. Much toddler mis-behaviour (and the same is true for a lot of teenage actions) is driven by a desire to control our lives, our environment and our choices. Rob people of control and stress is a rapid result. Give workers more control and that is intrinsically motivating.

Two other Needs Based Models on the Management Pocketblog are:

  1. David McClelland’s Three Motivational Needs
  2. Ryan and Deci’s Self Determination Theory

 

 

Further Reading 

The Motivation Pocketbook

The Management Models Pocketbook

Share this:
Posted on

David McClelland’s Three Motivational Needs

On a couple of occasions, the Management Pocketblog has referred to David McClelland’s theory of Motivational Needs.  The first time was in comparing it with Self Determination Theory, and the second was earlier this year, when we were thinking about job satisfaction.

In neither of these is the model fully explained – although you will find eight pages devoted to it in The Management Models Pocketbook and three in The Motivation Pocketbook – which is a veritable compendium of motivation theories.

Motivating me with McClelland’s Model

Let’s say you want to motivate me to take on a new role.  It can be any role, but let’s suppose you need someone from customer support to step into a sales role… which is not my preference and so I am not (yet) keen.

The first thing to note, is that I can never succeed without some decent training and support.  But I am not going to absorb that training and properly use the support unless you have motivated me to want to do the job.  So how can you present this as an opportunity for me to seize and savour?

McClelland suggested that we all have three needs, but that we each have them in different amounts.  If you can appeal to my strongest need, then I will take the opportunity to fulfil it.

David McClelland's Motivational Needs

The Need for Power

Suppose my strongest need is for power (evil Bond-villain laugh, while stroking a white cat).   You can present this new role as an opportunity for me to impress my peers, to stand out from them and to stand above them, by moving into a directly cash generating role.  It is a chance to show what I can do and get myself promoted.  If I do this role well, you might tell me, I will be looked up to and move into a sales management position from where I can control the sales process and lead a sales force.  The sales I make can create respect and generate bonuses that will enhance my prestige.

The Need for Achievement

If my strongest need is for achievement, I will see the trappings of power as appealing but superficial markers of success.  What really matters to me will be the sense that I have done something worthwhile and challenging.  You must assure me that the task I am taking on is difficult.  My need for achievement will not be satisfied by doing something easy.  But equally, i have to feel that I can achieve something, so you must also reassure me that the task is possible, if I work at it.  Set me targets and watch me meet them.  Reinforce my success by recognition and more stretching targets still.

The Need for Affiliation

If, however, my strongest need is for affiliation, nothing will matter much unless I feel a part of a group, a team, a social network,  So you must emphasise what a collaborative, social role sales is.  You must show me how I need to work as a team with colleagues from marketing, design, manufacturing… You would also do well to emphasise the social nature of selling; building relationships with customers and nurturing those relationships.  Show me how success means a strengthening of bonds and a joint celebration and yet how, in failure, we will all have a chance to learn together and collectively renew our commitment.

So here’s the Deal

McClelland gave us one of the best-researched models for workplace motivation – which is pretty reliable at predicting job satisfaction.  But any job can be framed and adjusted.  If you know the needs of your team – and you should be able to get to know them that well, as their manager – then you can use it to ensure all are motivated effectively.

Share this: