Using Maslow to create happy employees, customers and more

Chip Conley’s book ‘Peak: How successful companies get their mojo from Maslow‘ is brilliant for two reasons. Firstly it’s an amazing turnaround story of a business (The Joie de Vivre boutique hotel group) on the brink of failure; and secondly it provides an incredibly simple but powerful framework for thinking about what a business offers to its key stakeholders.

Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you can think of each group as having a pyramid with three levels. The base needs of a stakeholder group at the bottom, working up towards delivering self-actualising, transforming experiences for them at the top (what Chip calls ‘Peak’ experiences.) Once you have got the base needs covered, it’s these Peak experiences that can truly set a business apart and will lead to success.

For example, the base needs of an employee are to be paid a living wage and have a safe working environment. Working up to the second level they have the human need for recognition for what they do and have good relationships with colleagues. Then above this, right at the top are things like opportunities for mastery of their area of skill and working towards a higher purpose which they truly believe in and transcends both themselves personally and the company.

Any business can expand on these three levels of the pyramid with specific policies and practices, but the key thing is that once the base needs are covered, it’s focussing attention on the higher needs at the top that creates the magic.

For customers, the baseline is a product that satisfies their needs at an affordable price; then moving up from here we have things like listening to and responding to their wishes and right at the top we have experiences that are beyond the customer’s expectations and meeting new needs and wants. Think Apple creating the iPod in the age of the Walkman or a time when a business has really treated you like a VIP and gone out of their way to help you (doesn’t happen too often, sadly, and this is an opportunity!)

Chip goes on to explain how you can use this same principle for investors too and I also think that the same can apply to suppliers and the local community although Chip doesn’t cover this in his book.

I’m working on a new business plan at the moment and have found it a really helpful framework to have a pyramid for employees, customers, investors, suppliers and local community and fill in the three levels for each to show how the company will deliver real value, right up to Peak experiences. It’s a very exciting process as you begin to see how your business steps up from the ordinary to do very special things. I also found that thinking about the top of the pyramid sparked new ideas and made me think bigger and higher about how the business can be awesome.

As an experiment you could try creating a pyramid for each of your company’s stakeholder groups and filling in how base needs, right up to Peak experiences are being delivered at the moment. You’ll probably find some gaps which can be filled in, and you can also reflect on how you’re allocating your energy – whether it’s purely to satisfy base needs or deliver truly transforming experiences. It’s no co-incidence that Zappos – the online retailer bought by for $1BN and famed for its incredible happy working environment and delighted customers has Maslovian pyramids on its walls, and makes Chip’s book required reading for new employees.

6 thoughts on “Using Maslow to create happy employees, customers and more

  1. Now this one really does provide me with a need to rethink my position.

    It recognizes the need to satisfy the primary need / objective of each participant in a transaction and, having assumed that this primary need / objective has been realised, moves on to look at what ‘higher’ needs might also be satisfied. I can’t see any possible negative associated with this aspiration.

    My only concern is the fact that it recognizes the need to satisfy the primary need / objective of each participant in a transaction and assumes that this primary need / objective has been realised.

    How often is this this assumption realised and, if it is not widely realised, how reasonable / possible is it to move on investigating what ‘higher’ needs might also be satisfied?

  2. It’s quite easy to tell if you’re not satisfying the base needs. Employee or customer churn will be high; possible industrial action; declining sales. Big, obvious warning signs. If you’re not getting the base stuff right then you’re on your way out of business. But the danger is that companies focus too much on the bottom of the pyramid and are destined for mediocrity. Apple don’t want their customers to feel ‘satisfied’ with their iPhone – they want the experience to transform their life (and make them bore their friends to death telling them about it!) This stuff is more ethereal and harder to measure but it’s where great companies create the opportunity to stand out.

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