If you made it here and haven’t read Part One, you may want to go back and read that to get caught up. The goal of understanding Maslow's Hierarchy is to offer you a practical vocabulary and roadmap for creating organizational health and a culture of excellence. Organizational health allows leaders to create world-class employee experiences, customer experiences, and maintain operational excellence. To recap quickly, Maslow’s Hierarchy is a powerful tool to help put words to life’s situations and feelings...and the emotional needs in all of us that drive our behaviors and decisions.
Those needs are: Survival - food, water, air, and shelter...and anything else that is an immediate, physical need for survival. Security - Predictability, sustainability, and a safety net (physical and financial). Relational - Feeling connected to other people, friends, and family. Growth - Feeling like you’re developing skills, talents, influence, and career. Thrive - Feeling like you’re maximizing your potential. Give Back - Helping other people maximize their potential. That’s how Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs diagnoses us as people. The day I realized that this hierarchy has an incredible organizational context, I was able to see how to lead my teams, and the individuals on the teams, much better. This gave me a roadmap by which to help others progress. Instead of picturing the hierarchal levels with a person’s specific circumstances in mind, let’s look at them through organizational lenses. Think about your work life.
SURVIVAL Every person is hired into an organization to do something of value; usually, a job task. When the quantity of those tasks exceeds our limited time and resources to fulfill them, we feel overwhelmed. Ever been in a meeting, but all you can think about are the three things due before the end of the day? Were you able to focus in the meeting? Did you feel like you were in survival mode? I’m afraid my experience is that most organizations have far too many people operating at this level. That’s the lowest, least impactful level of employee engagement. SECURITY One level up from Survival is definitely not out of organizational trouble. At the Security level, employees may not feel like they are drowning today, but they certainly feel like they are one decision or project deadline away from crashing. They feel like their pace isn’t sustainable. This could mean you have a few hours a week to think at higher levels, but one phone call or email can rob you of that. And there’s nothing you can do about it. You don’t feel in control of your organizational schedule or well-being. RELATIONAL This level is the need to have solid working relationships around you, but the internal politics and silos have eliminated the safety you desperately want. You don’t feel like you can express yourself without repercussions, and you certainly can’t give your best thoughts in meetings. You find yourself holding back, which is robbing the organization of your best work, and robbing you of feeling connected to others. GROWTH The lack of sustainability and the internal politics mean that growing and developing your skills is very difficult. There’s no time or space to learn skills because of the constant flow of calls, emails, and work tasks. That’s impacting your physical time, but the real impact is the emotional toll of feeling like you’re being passively attacked by peers who are politically motivated to keep you under their thumb. You begin to feel like your only ability to grow is by leaving the organization for a new opportunity. THRIVE Without strong relationships and career development path, you never feel like you have a chance to succeed. You can’t dream big dreams and the idea of maximizing your potential is but a distant oasis. At the organizational level, leaders who are stuck aren’t able to prioritize the results needed to make the company successful, and you might even feel like you’re on the proverbial hamster wheel. You’re running fast and hard, but going nowhere. And neither is the organization. GIVE BACK With scarcity as the prevailing culture, the thought of having margin to help others seems laughable. The abundance needed to reach this level was never possible because of the majority of organizational leaders still trying to escape levels one and two. This ultimately leaves your organization with little chance to succeed.
NOW WHAT? If you find yourself reading this and feeling immediately seen, there is certainly hope. Knowing where you are on the hierarchy, where your team is, and even where the whole organization is, will help you figure out what to do next. Like in your own life, if you are feeling sick, the first step in getting well is to attain an accurate diagnosis. THE BIG PICTURE Seeing yourself, your team, and your organization through these hierarchal levels is enlightening. Now, let’s fly up a little higher to gain a better view of the big picture.
If leaders are stuck at levels one and two (survival and security), then they are stuck in the urgent needs of the organization. If leaders are allowed to operate at the deeper levels, then they are spending more time working on the important needs of the organization. The goal here is to help every employee, at every influence level of the organization, progress beyond their current needs level. This will certainly positively impact employee experience, as well as create the culture and ecosystem to increase customer experience and operational excellence. INDIVIDUALS If you are in an entry level role with limited organizational influence, the best thing you can do is understand how to operate at higher levels as soon as possible. Admittedly, one of your most important values to the team might be your ability to work very hard to solve the urgent needs of the organization. You can leverage the hierarchy (humbly) to help your organizational leader see the value of empowering you to use a little time each week to work on more strategic, important initiatives. That will benefit all involved. TEAMS If you lead a team, you have a responsibility to create more productivity for your team and its members. If your team is stuck in Survival or Security, begin to think about the ways to create predictability, margin, and space for your teams to breathe. That might be as practical as a new project management system or adding a team member to offload work. It may be more philosophical, like engaging senior leaders about strategic direction and avoiding Initiative Fatigue. ORGANIZATIONS If you lead an organization, you have a moral responsibility to all stakeholders to produce the best results possible. Organizations stuck at the Urgent levels will never realize potential. This means that your culture is suffering, along with your reputation. As an organizational leader, you can stop the madness by asking the hard questions, and giving permission to those on the front lines to speak freely. Lead by first creating safety to speak honestly, and then bravely work to solve challenges. CONCLUSION When I realized that work doesn’t have to be miserable, and I could actually enjoy my coworkers and the work we do together, I felt responsible to make it true. You don’t need to leave your current team or organization to make an impact. You can do that from your current seat right now. Ask the questions. Engage your peers and leaders. And if you’re an organizational leader, you have the power to make the organization better, and more importantly, improve the lives of the people within it. Chris Green is a founding partner in Arch + Tower, which helps companies find unique success by creating world-class customer experiences through meaningful employee experiences. For more assistance in creating employee or customer experiences that leverage this and other insights, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.