How Maslow's hierarchy of needs can be used to implement change initiatives

. Thursday, May 6, 2010

I got an opportunity to attend a discussion forum which consisted of some of the leading thought leaders in the Canadian IT industry space today. It was a wonderful experience and listening to some of the insights of these leaders on some of the technologies that one must watch out for in the coming years. What was wonderful about this forum was the opportunity to listen to some of the challenges that IT teams face across different industries.

One of the topics discussed highlighted some of the management challenges faced in implementing innovation initiatives that are focussed towards gaining and managing some of the expertise that lie within the firm. One of my previous employers tried to use Outlook's message board functionality to incorporate Knowledge Management initiatives. Increasingly, firms are coming up with Facebook like interfaces that can help connect employees to effectively integrate their social lives and professional skills. Employees can form common interest communities which can be technical or social in nature. The challenge in these initiatives is that after the initial 'bang', most initiatives fizzle out because people simply do not have the time to contribute to additional projects considering their existing work pressure. The challenge boils down to providing the right incentives for employees to contribute to innovation (or) re-engineering (or) any change management initiatives.

It is here that Maslow's hierarchy of needs can be used as an effective tool. The hierarchy of needs basically indicates the key drivers that motivate human behavior.

In order to sustain interest in change initiatives and garner acceptance by the employees, offering incentives that lie in the lower levels of the pyramid. In the above example this can be done by rewarding employees that contribute actively to KM initiatives launched by the organization by making it a part of an employee's performance criteria. (Level 2)

At the same time it must also be kept in mind that every level in the pyramid is kept more or less constant. i.e. stakeholders must not be overburdened with too many tasks for it might just irritate them and overload them with work.

In a nutshell, if you wish to launch a new initiative, in order to secure buy-in
1. Use the hierarchy to identify what drives your employees
2. Drive the initiative at the a level that is the closest to the base of the pyramid - this is the most effective way to ensure that the initiative can bring about a culture change
3. Once the initiative has reaped the results that you have desired, move it to higher levels in the pyramid so that newer initiatives can be launched in the base of the pyramid

2 points of view:

Anand said...

Very interesting application of Maslow's hierarchy dude!

What sort of change initiatives would you use Maslow's structure on though? I'm guessing these should be changes that take a long time to implement?

Shiv said...

Thanks Anand.

I'd say all change initiatives (short term or long term) can be effectively launched through a simple co-relation of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. And since IT teams are responsible for most re-engineering initiatives, the understanding is even more important.

Any change initiative has to answer the question "What is in it for me?" from an employee's perspective. If you are answering that, you are basically positioning the desire to accept the initiative at the appropriate level in the hierarchy.