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 Amazon.com 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.