Leadership

Motivate a slumping team with an approach that's worked for 65 years

If you're looking to motivate your team there are some approaches that can be easily implemented and bring quick results. In this blog, leadership coach John M McKee discusses an idea that has been used very successfully worldwide for decades.

 "I give up! There's a job crisis out there and every day more people are getting let go. But my team doesn't seem to show any more care about their performance now then they did 2 years ago! Maybe I should get rid of the whole group and hire some people who'd appreciate having a job."

This message arrived in my email from a potential client a few weeks back. He was frustrated and wanted to know if I could help him by providing some "management tools" that would make his team more productive.

Without talking to him, it was impossible to know if his team could be energized, but after 30+ years in business and coaching, I did know that his problem isn't particularly unique. My first question was more about the reasons behind their lack of performance: Was this a team entirely comprised of bad eggs, or was their performance due to his style? The issue he voiced isn't new, of course. Managers and bosses have probably made similar comments since the beginning of the modern Industrial Age.

So - perhaps he didn't need a business/leadership coach after all.

Possibly his issue could be resolved simply by reading an academic paper penned back in 1943.

Written by an American psychologist named Abraham Maslow, the work has been a core foundation for many therapists and psychologists for years. Likewise, in my opinion, it should be just as well used by anyone who aspires to be a serious leader or coach.

Titled A Theory of Human Motivation, the paper was one of the first to tie together motivation with productivity in a well-documented and researched manner. It went on to detail what Maslow called a person's hierarchy of needs. In short: one doesn't start looking for a job that is empowering for one’s higher calling before he's figured out how to make enough to feed himself. Subsequently, once a person has covered all the basic physical needs, he will start to look for things which are more meaningful such as love, esteem, and ultimately self-actualization.

Now you may be saying, John, that sounds okay in theory, but how does Maslow's 65-year-old paper apply to the frustrated client, to organizational leadership, and most-importantly, to me as a leader?

Here's a real world example that I came across a few years ago.

At the time, the leader of a San Francisco based hotel chain, called Joie de Vivre, had just used the theories of Maslow to turn around a near-failure. The CEO Chip Conley had been searching for new approaches to turn the business around. As part of that quest, he went into a bookstore where he came across a copy of Maslow's book, Toward a Psychology of Being. He'd read the book in college and recalled that, at the time, he’d been knocked out by Maslow’s understandable and common-sense approach. He bought the book and put it to use. Later, in an interview, he talked about how he'd used Maslow’s fundamentals to save his company during a time when other businesses were crashing all around. I checked it out recently to find that, years later, Joie de Vivre is now even bigger than it was back then.

Conley applied the basics of Maslow's work to his operation. In doing so he re-created the entire environment, based on the simple premise that all employees, clients, and even shareholders of an organization have similar psychological needs. His belief - and it proved to be true - was that treating those stakeholders in a manner which rewarded each of their hierarchy of needs would result in his company turning around and then prospering.

Conley made a comment back then that I regard to be fundamental to management, but it’s too-often forgotten. He noted that people who feel recognized tend to be loyal.

By treating his employees (80% house cleaning staff, by the way), clients, and shareholders with respect, and recognizing all the many "little" things they do, he created a very successful chain. It survived. And today, while other so-called "prestige" hotels fail (like the recently bankrupt high-end St Regis in Orange County, CA) his chain continues to prosper. And, it didn't cost a lot to do this.

If you haven't read Maslow, you should. If you did read him years ago, but are having troubles with your team’s performance, consider reading it again. Or else, you can call us at Business Success Coach.net. We'd be happy to help.

john

Leadership Coach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

24 comments
o.moreau
o.moreau

To summarize Maslow's approach, the basic needs of workers are : 1) Money (to fullfil physiological needs) 2) Work contract (for safety needs) 3) Friendly workplace (Love/belonging) 4) Reconition (Esteem) 5) Good company (self actualisation) Are you OK with these 5 levels ?

dburck
dburck

Thank you. Direct quotes of Maslow are as enlightening to most people as referencing an equation to non-mathematically adept. The reference may be accurate and true, but broader understanding comes from others who can explicate the insight in "plain language".

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

His paper is full of big words. Makes head hurt, for example: "11. The situation or the field in which the organism reacts must be taken into account but the field alone can rarely serve as an exclusive explanation for behavior. Furthermore the field itself must be interpreted in terms of the organism. Field theory cannot be a substitute for motivation theory. " What'd he say?!? Alright, it's out of context. The wikipedia article explains the heirarchical theory better. But read Manfred Max-Neef's opposing theory, Fundamental Human Needs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_human_needs Both theories would support treating your staff with respect. Your example doesn't show where Conley used a heirarchical approach vs any other approach. Did he set up a free lunch program for employees from the kitchen first? Then go on to a safety program? Or what? I don't think most people care as long as their needs are met. Pay me enough & I'll make my own decisions about lunch. Who cares if you got your theories of behavior from Maslow or Max-Neef or even Dale Carnegie? I'm slow and need simple concrete examples in order to understand more complex theories.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

you have to be a leader to begin with. A dictator can't make it work, that I've seen to, and they failed as their style of dictatorship messed up. Mind you, Adolph used a Maslow style approach and ti worked for him in the 1930s. Where using a Maslow approach shines is when you have it embedded in the corporate culture, people work hard and don't want to leave.

jkameleon
jkameleon

The same methods American advertisers used, and still do. They were introduced by one Ernst Hanfstaengl, also known as "Putzi".

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

physical needs of the population by stopping inflation, getting food into bellies etc. His method may not have been as well set out as Maslow, but he addressed their needs in the same order as Maslow did. That's what cemented him in power - giving people food and jobs and housing, getting the country working again.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

reasonable predictions into the future for fifteen to twenty years. Adolph was doing a lot better, until he invaded Poland, than any other country in the world at the time. Many economist of the time wanted to introduce his process into other countries too. Having studied economics, I can tell you being a good top level national economist ranks just ahead of being an astrologer on the predictability scale.

jkameleon
jkameleon

... Hitler wasn't doing so well economically. Some economists had calculated, that 3rd Reich's economy was bound to collapse somewhere in 1950s. Hitler desperately needed war to mask the bad economy, and stay in power. The usual trick.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

point where he said "I do so well, I deserve to control all the world, if they want me to or not." For several years he did a heck of a lot of good for Germany.

jkameleon
jkameleon

He should have let his people starve, that would have been the proper way to do.

jrhue
jrhue

Maslow came up with thoughts and a theory based on his observing a very small number of successful people. Treating people with respect is not something Maslow came up with. And, ultimately, taking self-actualization to it's logical end ( which Maslow would say cannot be done because logic is flawed and not absolute ) means ultimate survival-of-the fittest and selfish behavior. What this hotel manager did was good as evidenced by good results. However, the cause was not the application of Maslovian philosophy. It was the application of a philosophy that recognized the value and importance of the employee which bore respect and recognition of the employees from management. In you article, you did not reference what parts of Maslow's ideas you were applying. In essence, your article is summed up by your statement "By treating...with respect, recognizing..." If you are going to base everything on such an academically popular view, you should reference that view and deal with it with a little more rigor.

sliverson
sliverson

I have a psychology degree, have worked as a counselor, and have worked on hospital psychiatric units. I have also read Maslow. You, on the other hand, display no particular evidence of understanding his work.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

I also don't understand his work. I fail to see where the example in the article explained heirarchical needs vs fundamental needs vs plain courtesy.

kcs5456
kcs5456

A Theory of Human Motivation is an accurate paper on the subject of human motivation. I have seen and used the ideas and practices in this paper thought my 29 years in the IT industry. It has saved and supported me, my business and the teams I have managed through the rise of tech the 90?s to the dot com bust of the 2000 and into the economic hard times we now face. The constant in business and through all this time is, us, people and we all have similar need and wants. With the application of care and thought on what truly drives you and your employees, to get up in the morning a take on the day, you gain insight to a major component of what can make or break a business. With that knowledge you gain and advantage in your market place and we all know how difficult finding advantages are these days. This paper is worth a read by all managers and owner of large and small businesses.

PlexusSage
PlexusSage

The paper is worth a read for managers and CEOs perplexed by seemingly low performance/morale in this poor economy. I plan to forward it to several leaders I know facing similar issues with staff working in IT, retail, accounting and other areas. It is counter intuitive as one would think that, given the grim job prospects elsewhere, people would be extra happy to be employed period. The reality is that the bad economic outlook, two wars, mortage meltdown, not to mention the deaths of MJ and Farah Fawcett have all contributed to a crappy state of mind among the workforce. Judging by the international responses to this article, the impact is global. CharlieO http://www.plexuscommunications.com

roxannemcclain
roxannemcclain

Once upon a time, people were a business - it was in the best interest of any business to understand our hierarchy of needs and, perhaps selfishly but definitely successfully, use those concepts to help meet the people needs to help meet the company needs. As noted, the industrialization of work initated the demise of the belief that people were really the essence of any company. More and more, and increasingly most recently, people are a component of the industrialization. Where possible, people are replaced by automation, their needs become an impediment to progress, intentionally, the goal for most companies of any genre, location, industry is to maximize profit while minimizing the need for people. It's even happening in our schools - look at the size of most of the high schools in the US - they're more factories intent on pushing students from one end of the conveyor belt to the exit - individual student needs are given lip service but are not essential to the process. As an optimistic pessimist, I don't see how these 'advances' will continue - I still feel strongly in the existential belief that people are here for a unique purpose and that tools should support, not supplant that. As a pessimist, I'm not sure my optimism is well-founded.

tdarmond
tdarmond

Holy cow! I tried to read Maslow's report, "The Theory of Human Motivation." When he kept referring to us as Human Organisms...it was hard for me to go on reading... I tried. I really did. I found the report on Moslow himself from Wikipedia was easy reading and even enlightening. This was the reading where I could identify with his therories and studies regarding motivation and the various levels we each have depending on a variety of circumstances. I'm fortunate to have some extraordinary Directors that do recognize individual and team efforts. We have a monthly team meeting to recognize individuals for their efforts and contributions. We are not crucified if we make a mistake. We work it out as a team and go on. We also announce births, birthdays, trips, vacations and remember the human being behind the technician. We have a variety of teams in our department ranging from all levels of IT. We seem to have reached that magical understanding of combining technology with acknowledgement and respect of one another. It's not a perfect world by all means, but I do work for a great company with excellent leadership.

webgov
webgov

When you go look at Maslow's pyramid of needs, you quickly see why modern businesses fail. They not only fail to even attempt to provide/assist employees in reaching higher level needs, but usually undermine even their ability to meet the 1st level needs by refusing to keep salaries competitive and fostering distrust, bitterness and animosity between subordinates and divisions in an attempt to create "healthy competition".

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

Leadership is dead, long live the MBA.

jkameleon
jkameleon

"By treating his employees (80% house cleaning staff, by the way), clients, and shareholders with respect, and recognizing all the many ?little? things they do, he created a very successful chain." That's common sense, and it usually works. In order to recognize things employees do, however, manager must be familiar with the business he's managing. In IT, that's usually not the case. Employees often know more about the business than their MBA bosses. In such situation, any non-monetary motivation is perceives as an insult. The only worthy motivation is cold, hard cash. "Maybe I should get rid of the whole group and hire some people who?d appreciate having a job." The rule of thumb in IT is that insecure jobs should pay 50%-100% more to compensate the risk. It makes perfect sense for an employee at to quit his well paid job at startup company, and accept lower paid permanent position at established firm, and the other way round. Therefore, if you say "Work harder or else I'll find somebody who will" to your team, you have effectively lowered their salaries by 25-50%. Effectively in a sense, that if they come across a secure, less stressful job, which pays 25-50% less, they might as well take it. Quite a motivation, huh?

Varun
Varun

the link between insecurity in job and the premium it calls for in salary has been well articulated

Dgray
Dgray

In relation to the article about motivating a team what really gets me is ....You could do a hundred things right a day gain new customers enlarge current relationships etc etc but you make one mistake come hell or highwater you will be slaughtered .....And you wonder why we dont feel "motivated" please open your eyes to the facts "bosses" Does anybody else feel the same way about thie

TheAlcatrazKid
TheAlcatrazKid

Amen, no appreciation of the good things but heaven forbid "an error" and suddenly it's BOHICA

erh7771
erh7771

...but they're human and often need to be reminded constantly of the positives a group has added to the organization