Running a business is all about people. Whether its staff, product suppliers or customers, your success will come down to meeting the needs of others so they will ultimately meet yours. The better you are at it, the less friction you will encounter during the process. Of course it will never be completely smooth – after all a customer would rather pay you nothing for what you sell – but you can minimize it once you understand what people want and how you can give it to them.
One of the earliest studies of human needs, and particularly how it relates to business and management, was conducted by Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, who in 1943 published a paper that has become standard fodder for every business degree since. In his paper Maslow prescribed human needs as a pyramid, with the more basic needs at the bottom and the more advanced at the top. Each level had to be satisfied first before the next level could be achieved – there is little chance of motivating a person with a promotion if their basic food needs aren’t being met.
The lower two levels of Maslow’s hierarchy involved survival needs (food, water, warmth and rest) then moving up to safety needs (security from danger). Above this level and you start to reach the areas where an owner can contribute to the lives of those they deal with, particularly staff.
Belongness and Love needs are the middle rung of the five levels expressed. Many business owners underestimate the importance of the workplace in providing staff with human contact and friendships and creating a positive environment of belonging. These can go a long way to fostering a good level of loyalty to the company. After all, most staff spend a good percentage of their waking time at work and often see more of their work colleagues than they do of their loved ones.
Companies such as Google and Facebook have recognized the impact of positive workplace fostering environments that make the work experience more pleasant. You might not have the budget for in house child care or an all expenses paid cafeteria, but there are smaller things you can do that can still make a huge difference through social events and targets and goals that foster teamwork.
The second from top level is Esteem Needs, such as prestige and the feeling of accomplishment. Along with the Belongness and Love level this constitutes the psychological needs that all of us have. The workplace really begins to contribute here as it’s arguably the single biggest environment where prestige and accomplishment can be met. Provide your staff with this and you will go a long way towards keeping them happy in their jobs.
The top level is Self-actualization – the ability to achieve one’s full potential. Providing a career path and a chance to grow in the job will be the final stage in your staff members’ needs. Whereas the Belongness need can be satisfied collectively across all staff, the two higher levels of esteem and self-actualization will require a more individual approach to reflect the person you are dealing with.
Again, the important thing to remember is that every level must be satisfied before the one above it can be targeted. An effective exercise is to sit down and determine where each staff member currently sits on their hierarchy of needs. Are they ready to have the next level satisfied? How can you, as a business owner, contribute to this happening? The more staff you have at the top end of the hierarchy the happier your staff and workplace will be.