The BBC published an article on Abraham Maslow this week describing the impact of the hierarchy of needs that bears his name. Any social psychology or organizational behaviour course will touch on this in trying to explain the motivators and needs that have people do what they do.
Like many such frameworks, their utility in explaining/predicting the actions of others tends to fall short. It becomes an endless guessing game of rationalizing conscious decisions and analyzing subconscious yearnings. We are going to move the focus to: “me, and what I want” not “them, and what they want.”
In our Summer Survey, we asked:
“If individuals were looking for a sense of purpose from their professional life, to what degree does your organization provide that?”
NOTE: If you don’t subscribe to the “purpose need” theory, you debunk this whole line of thought. People want money; pay them and they work. Pay them more and they work harder. We will address this later.
The results were not unexpected. At the leadership level of the organization, the “purpose need” appears to be fulfilled: one third report that the purpose is “obvious” and more than half say people could find it in different ways.
Further down the organization, the results are opposite. The number of people who report being “here to work” (e.g. absence of purpose beyond Maslovian survival) grows to one-third at the middle-tier level, and to more than half at the lowest levels of the organization.
One explanation for employees not taking the opportunity to be more invested, involved, and engaged with their work is that the organization is not being clear or consistent enough about how their work matters.
For a moment, let’s put the onus on leadership to declare a preference for the kind of success they will pursue. Yes, we want to be profitable, but our self-imposed constraints (e.g. constraints we select not restrictions/rules to which we comply) reveal what matters most and may embody one’s sense of purpose.
So this could give you:
- a bank that is committed to keeping jobs in the local economy
- an oil-and-gas company committed to reducing the effects of carbon emissions
- a fast-food company committed to educating consumers on nutrition
Do any of these “commitments” sound familiar?
The internal audiences will be most attuned to inconsistency because they will see (or suspect) what really drives decisions and what lines a being stretched or crossed. Inconsistency is a breeding ground for cynicism and could be a reason for disengagement such that you report being “here to work.” The rubber hits the road when an organization takes a decision consistent with a “commitment” and appears to forego profit maximization in the short-term.
- If your organization is poised-to grow, would investors or shareholders support such a commitment?
- If you are competing for talent, would good employees reward you with loyalty?
- If you are competing for funding dollars, could this build your credibility with foundations and with public sector funders?
In all cases, there will be some important parties who don’t agree or don’t care. The better question is “Would you get enough support for you to succeed?” and “What could you do to gain the support of those who need to see results?” Selecting the right measures and delivering results will be fundamental to your success.
Stay tuned for the next post where we shift the focus to the rank-and-file responsibilities.