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Thought Leadership


Self-Actualization Needs at Work: The Changing Hierarchy

In our first two articles on Basic Needs and Psychological Needs, we discussed the changing landscape of needs, how they translate in the corporate world, and how the current climate is affecting how we view our needs. These first two layers are the critical and required foundation before organizations can move to self-actualization. In our final article of this series, we’ll talk about Growth Needs, the ultimate goal for organizations that want to take their business to a transformative level.   

As a reminder, it was Abraham Maslow who brilliantly summarized these needs for your personal life and categorized them. At the Maslow Centre, we’ve been researching how Maslow’s work can be translated into your professional life. You can see our work so far here, and about halfway down you’ll see a table of basic, psychological, and growth needs for the workplace.

Basic and Psychological Needs are far more concrete. These first two layers are what we could call the “doing” needs. They come with tangible steps and tangible outcomes.  Growth Needs, by contrast, are far more conceptual. They are “being” needs and are much harder to fully quantify. This is one of the reasons why organizations often fall short of achieving their full potential. 

For a business to succeed in moving toward self-actualization, they must be open to big picture thinking, strategic and thought leadership, and embracing the more conceptual aspects of leadership. Let’s talk about what Self-Actualization / Growth Needs mean. 

Embodied Purpose

All organizations have a purpose, whether or not it is well articulated or executed. What both customers and employees want to see is a purpose that is inspiring, meaningful, and embodied by leaders. What leaders are demonstrating to their employees is key, but many leaders are disconnected from how their employees are actually feeling. Interestingly, an article from Microsoft shows that those at the leadership level are thriving in remote work, as they feel they get more slack and freedom. Lower level employees, however, are struggling far more in a remote capacity, feeling disconnected from their teams and managers. 

What you can do:

  • Ensure your organization has a well-articulated purpose, with clear steps on what demonstration of it looks like. 
  • Onboard leaders into your purpose, and make embodiment of it part of their expectations or even code of conduct.
  • Measure employee satisfaction and sentiment (i.e. through engagement or other surveys), and then make tangible action plans to address gaps.
  • Stay connected with the frontline. Senior managers run the risk of being too many layers away from the reality of their employees.

People-Focused Culture

This is the space where organizations move to self-actualization. That said, most companies aren’t ready or are unable to foster a people-focused culture, because they haven’t yet figured out basic and psychological needs. That doesn’t mean that organizations should ignore their culture until other needs are met, though. Rather, growth needs should be front of mind throughout policy, planning, and budget, so that companies are better positioned for success once they meet their employees’ lower level needs. 

The 21st century is the era of People & Culture practices. Companies cannot thrive anymore solely on products and services—consumers are demanding experience, and employees are demanding value. Organizations must make People & Culture a centralized focus, because employees want to work in people-focused cultures.

What you can do:

  • Consider how people focus is incorporated into your organization’s strategic and senior leadership plans, and ensure that People & Culture is a mainstream line item. 
  • Build robust measurement systems to gauge success and track progress. If you have a current engagement survey, does it capture the right aspects? Does it avoid leading or biased questions? Does it embrace the hard questions or shy away from them?
  • Empower your leaders to empower others. In the Maslow Centre’s research, employees of people-focused organizations consistently mentioned that they felt valued, trusted, and believed in by their leaders. 
  • Incorporate coaching and mentorship competencies as a mandatory and regular attribute of your leaders and managers, including the C-suite. Leaders who ask curious questions are better at uncovering hidden needs and gaining employee trust.

Leadership Cohesiveness

Cohesiveness is the area, by and large, where organizations have the most work to do. In our research, we consistently found that leaders struggled to work as a cohesive team. Instead, leaders (including, maybe even especially, executive leaders) first identified and felt aligned with their own department and didn’t see their peers as a cohesive team. In meetings, executive leaders come to represent their own department, rather than work together with their peers to overcome obstacles. This creates individual siloes, disconnect, and self-interest rather than collective progress.

The Maslow Centre helps executives build their teams to be more cohesive through executive coaching, working with C-Suite leaders to both develop and practice collaboration so they can move toward actualization.

What you can do:

  • Consider an organization wide strategy over individual department ones to foster shared goals and purpose.
  • Employ regular executive coaching with a focus on alignment and collaboration.
  • Identify and eliminate policies or procedures that reward competition or superiority of one department over others, particularly at the executive level.
  • Bring in expert coaches on team coaching and/or culture coaching that will foster better collaboration. 

As the landscape continues to evolve, so shall your employees’ needs. The Maslow Centre will be here to keep you updated on the latest trends and how to stay ahead of the corporate need curve.

Remember that self-actualization happens when employees’ lower level needs are met and growth needs are an intentional focus. If you haven’t yet, read our first two articles in this series on Basic Needs and Psychological Needs, so you can identify any pre-work required to get to the stage of self-actualization. 

Empowering Leaders – Leaders as Coaches & Mentors

We asked our research participants to think about “when they felt they were their best selves”, “when they felt they were truly utilizing their potential” (and some cases we tested directly asking “when they felt self-actualized”), they shared different examples but all mentioned a leader enabling this experience. The terms they used to define this leader was empowering, trusting, a leader that believed in them. When we further inquired what the leaders were doing, participants defined their leaders as great coaches and/or mentors. These leaders believed in human potential and helped them reach their best selves. What they were doing was beyond just delegation, they were grooming people, actively working together with their people, identifying their north star and helping them move towards that. In sum, becoming a coach leader, the leader as a coach was a key enabler for individuals and teams moving to self-actualization. 

What you can do: 

  • Learn professional coaching skills and commit to our coach certification: We developed our coaching certification programs based on these research findings.
  • Get coached: Experience getting coached which will complement the process of becoming a coach leader.
  • Build a culture of coaching: If you are in a senior leadership position, work with HR to develop a coaching strategy, clarifying your approach to bringing in external coaches and building internal capacity (internal coaches and coach leaders/managers).   

Culture Actualization

Abraham Maslow’s pioneering work identified characteristics of self-actualizing individuals. In his last decade, Maslow acknowledged the importance of the workplace and started to contemplate on how self-actualization and the workplace was related. He proposed the term “enlightened management” , not in a spiritual sense , suggesting that we need wiser manager / leaders helping their people moving towards self-actualization. We coined the term culture-actualization to define this process of realizing organizational potential. Self-actualization and culture-actualization are interdependent processes of realizing collective potential. If you are interested to learn more about culture actualization, please reach out to us.