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During my recent workshops, a number of employers have asked me, “How do I keep my folks motivated?” What they really mean is “How do I keep them focused on growing the bottom line?”

I remind them of two things: (1) Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and (2) the formula for using our motivational dollars effectively. I mentioned Maslow last month. This column will have more to say about Maslow. Another article in this newsletter will discuss the retention formula to consider.

In 1954, Maslow wrote a paper entitled “The Hierarchy of Needs.” As I like to kid: Peter Drucker referred to it, Peter Senge refers to it, and everyone else named Peter refers to it. The reason: There’s no room for improvement – Maslow nailed it! The paper laid out five levels of need, as shown below. Let’s review each in turn.

Survival – This is the greatest need of many employees and many companies given today’s economic stress. This stress is largely self-induced, due to poor financial acumen and practices. Having said this, the most important question becomes “What money am I earning today?” That’s what it means for an individual or company to be in survival mode.Smart companies such as In and Out Hamburger (an incredible California-based private business) and Costco realized the value of paying entry-level employees at a rate above their competition. Consider how paying a few dollars above your competition will affect who you attract, how hard they work for you, and how long you retain them.

Security – Unfortunately, many folks still believe that the only form of job security is a union. Just ask the people at United, Delta, American, GM, Chrysler, and Ford. In fact, there’s only one form of job security: Doing a positive job, in a positive manner, where there’s a positive cash flow. Our responsibility, as leaders, is to make sure that our employees understand this by opening up the books and sharing the numbers. I encourage you to watch the Webinar we did with one of Jack Stack’s trainers on the Great Game of Business.

Belonging – You might as well substitute the words “company culture” here. Are you trying to maintain a positive attitude in tough times? Are you trying to make the work fun? Are you taking the time to brand your company to your employees? One low-cost way to do this is through company uniforms — whether work clothes, sports teams, or recreational clothing. If I walked into your company today, would I be able to define your company culture just by walking around? If not, why not?

Ego Gratification – The biggest mistake I see employers making here is ignoring the ego need, especially those of their superstar employees. Here’s an example: “Bob brings $200,000 to the bottom line every year and causes me no drama. I am so glad I don’t have to worry about him.” What an incredible mistake! Unfortunately, most organizations spend 80% of their time on the 20% of employees who don’t bring it every day and ignore the breadwinners; when in fact they should be doing just the opposite. The ego needs stroking. Give these folks awards, get them in the Business Journal or other industry publications, highlight them on your Web site, upgrade their titles, and so on.

Self-Actualization – Although I realize that it’s hard to worry about being self-actualized when you’re in a survival or security mode, this need still remains. I believe that self-actualization has to do with knowing that “you make a difference.” Do this by engaging your clients or customers in the conversation. How do you make or break their day? How does it affect them when they receive good or bad service? Have you brought some of your clients and customers and perhaps even prospects in for a focus group with your employees? Do your employees understand the “precessional” impact of their daily work?

For example, when I finally realized the precessional impact of my litigation career, I had no choice but to quit. Now I know that the work I do makes a positive difference.

This is what it takes to motivate employees. This probably won’t be the last time I mention Maslow. Within each of these categories, we have to be careful about how we spend our money. The next article will address this issue.

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