Sunday 24 June 2012

Maslow may just have had a point ...

I'm sure we are all familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

If i'm being honest i saw this as a theoretical model that had little to do with me for many years.

However, as i continue to work with clients on transformational change programmes this becomes increasingly relevant.

Recent market downturns have also reinforced this. 

I can map the types of work i do against the market cycle, the change curve and Maslow ...

In 1991 in a book titled, "The Nature of Risk" by technical analyst Justin Mamis the following diagram appeared ...

For many of us this diagram looks pretty similar to Kubler-Ross Change Curve from the 60's.

However i believe the wording on this curve best reflects the feelings of the senior leaders / CXO's that i tend to deal with. For many, the last 2-3 years has been a journey from panic when the markets dropped through discouragement, walls of worry ... to an even more unsettling point now - denial. Why is this unsettling? The key issues at the moment surround the levels of confidence required to push on and drive growth into their businesses. What do i mean by this?

At some point the business has to stop focussing in on cost reduction and efficiency management and switch to driving product development, sales attraction and growth of profitability and market share.

This is all great text book MBA stuff ... however, as ever, for those of us interested in the 'people' the picture isn't so simple.

Let's take an 'average' employee on their journey through this economic cycle ...

1. In the good years i'm near the top of Maslow's pyramid. Looking for respect, personal growth, a pay rise and the opportunity to further secure my status.
2. As the market gets worse and my company starts to lay off i start to move downwards in the pyramid. My focus is on securing my role and showing i 'belong' as a critical member of the team. In fact for many, hiding in the team is a survival mechanism in itself!
3. As the market continues to worsen the focus turns even further to safety and security. How can i keep a job, pay the bills and maintain a position of social respect.
4. The market returns to growth and i can start to push back up the pyramid. 

So heres the catch ... retention and employee engagement is now an enormous challenge at point 4. From the employees perspective ...

... you've treated me like a commodity, laid off my friends, pushed back on offering me financial or security based rewards ... now you want me to be part of the team that will turn this rounds and grow this company into success? Oh and by the way the competitor has just offered me a job too ...

As i said above the model actually looks like the Kubler-Ross change curve.

It's my belief that the senior management are going through Mamis' curve whilst the employees are going through the Kubler-Ross curve.

It's our job as change managers to bring these together. 

We have a number of tools in our armoury to achieve this through influencing, culture alignment but most importantly the battle for employee engagement is only just beginning!