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Why understanding human needs is the key to business success

Determine how best to motivate and retain your employees using the simple psychological framework known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, advises DAVID BROWN.

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 this, the less friction you will encounter.

Of course, the process of doing business will never be completely smooth – after all, a customer would rather pay you nothing for what you sell.
However, you can minimise friction once you understand what people want and how you can give it to them.

An equally – if not more – critical priority for business owners is meeting the needs of your staff.

Defining human needs

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.

In 1943 Maslow published a paper that has become standard reading in every business degree since.

Maslow’s paper described human needs as a pyramid, with the more basic needs at the bottom and the more advanced at the top.

The lower two levels of Maslow’s hierarchy involve survival needs – food, water, warmth and rest – followed by safety/shelter.

Above this level and you start to reach the areas where a business owner can contribute to the lives of those they deal with, particularly staff: belonging and love needs, which form the middle rung of the five ‘need levels’ expressed.

Importantly, each lower level need has to be satisfied first before the next can be achieved.

To put this in business terms, there is little chance of motivating a person with a promotion if their need for food isn’t being met!

Satisfying staff needs

Many business owners underestimate the importance of the workplace in providing staff with human contact and friendships.

Creating a positive environment of belonging can go a long way to fostering 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 recognised the impact of a positive workplace.

These businesses foster environments that make the day-to-day routine of their employees more pleasant.

Now, you might not have the budget for in-house childcare or an all-expenses paid cafeteria that those tech giants provide, but there are smaller things you can do that can still make a huge difference to your employees.

Social events, group targets and goals, and team rewards are all great initiatives that foster teamwork and satisfy the belonging need.

Productivity and the pyramid
“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.”

The second-highest need on Maslow’s pyramid is esteem, which refers to prestige and the feeling of accomplishment.

Along with belonging and love, 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 attained.

Many people define themselves by their career and feel a great sense of self- worth when they are employed.

Provide your staff with a working environment where their triumphs are recognised and rewarded, and you will go a long way towards keeping them happy in their jobs.

The top level of Maslow’s pyramid is self-actualisation: the ability to achieve one’s full potential.

Providing a career path and a chance to grow in the job is the final need you should address for your staff.

Whereas the belonging need can be satisfied collectively across the team, the two higher levels of esteem and self-actualisation 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.

Ask, 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.

David Brown

Contributor • Retail Edge Consultants

David Brown is co-founder and business mentor with Retail Edge Consultants. Learn more:

SAMS Group Australia

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