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Recognition is a Fundamental Need

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Below is an edited excerpt of a LinkedIn discussion which I recently participated in:

Original Blog post by LinkedIn Member:

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was first introduced almost seventy years ago in his paper, A Theory of Human Motivation. He concluded that individuals are primarily motivated by needs in an ascending scale, illustrated by his iconic pyramid showing their ranked order.

In 2010 a team of psychologists revised Maslow’s work to incorporate the last fifty years of study in evolutionary biology, anthropology, and psychology. Some changes were made in his ranking of motivational factors, yet ‘esteem needs’ – which includes social recognition – remained as listed.

What does this mean for the enterprise? Social recognition is not just nice-to-have. It’s mission critical. In essence, Maslow’s theory is that esteem/appreciation/praise/respect is one of the fundamental motivational factors in striving for growth.

And my response:

In the spirit of continuing the dialog I would like to offer a few observations:

  1. As wonderful as Maslow’s hierarchy has been, it is worth noting that his landmark study involved fewer than 50 people. And despite its revisions and upgrades, it might be misleading if a CEO or senior leadership team is looking for strategic insights in how to improve employee engagement over time.
  2. Employee engagement doesn’t start in any one place. There is no official or singular “starting block” where the race begins. The drivers of employee engagement are multifaceted and numerous. There are hundreds of places an organization can begin the process.
  3. The basis of engagement is inherently intrinsic. The research is pretty clear on this point of how much better intrinsic motivators are compared to the extrinsic. It is almost impossible to get sustainable (high) levels of discretionary behavior with extrinsic motivators alone.
  4. The “field” of employee engagement is sadly under theorized. What I mean by that is most discussions seem to focus on tactics rather than on the underlying reason why the tactics work. So if you are responsible for improving employee engagement within your organization, balance your search for the right tactics (recognition, alignment, etc) with a curiosity about why the various approaches work.
  5. I would start with some very intriguing lenses such as Attachment Theory, Social Baseline Theory, Social Exchange Theory, and Nested Systems Theory. The first two, I’ve found, are the most useful in gaining a clearer insight into human behavior and to uncovering why (not just what) tactics work.

BEST PRACTICES TIP:  Attachment Theory is the most compelling, complete, and useful theory for gaining a better understanding for why employees behave as observational research describes.

To view this entire LinkedIn discussion, click here.

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