Abraham Maslow is not dead, nor should your leaders act dead.
This is the final article in our series on how to consistently deliver engaging member experiences over the phone. Thus far, we’ve covered hiring top performers (January 2016), how to transform new-hire onboarding (March 2016), as well as process improvement (June 2016). This is article is about leadership—specifically on how to drive employee engagement within your organization.
Let’s start with a brief explanation of this article’s subtitle. In case you don’t know, Maslow was an American psychologist who wanted to understand what motivates people. For those of you who think that the subtitle is misleading (after all, he did pass away in 1970), we argue that the spirit of his work is still alive and very prevalent—especially in the workplace. As far as leaders acting dead, well, let’s just say that in many organizations they really do—at least when it comes to their involvement in customer experience-related issues.
So let’s first address senior leadership and we’ll come back to Maslow (which we’ll explore in much more detail) later. You see, one of the common leadership traits among leading service-oriented organizations is active involvement from the top in all areas that impact the customer experience.
Take, for example, the Holiday Helper Program at online retailer Zappos. With the exception of their fulfillment department, every employee (even the CEO) is required to spend a minimum of 10 hours on the phone during the holiday season. This serves many purposes. For starters, it helps them to maintain their service levels during a peak volume period. It also eliminates the need for Zappos to hire and train temporary staff. An ancillary benefit is that support staff and senior leaders can get firsthand insights into some of the challenges the organization is facing so that they can quickly act upon them.
Arkadi Kuhlmann, former CEO of ING Direct, almost always committed time during the week to answer customer calls and even temporarily relocated his office from the executive floor to the call center. This not only showed how passionate he was about customer service, but listening to customers gave him better insights to their issues, needs and wants.
Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, would actually call customers and ask about their on-flight experience. His passion sent a message to employees that customer experience is critical to the success of the organization and, being that he was in a leadership position, he was able to address issues much quicker.
The bottom line is that you need to get firsthand insights on what your customers are currently experiencing and not just rely on feedback from your staff.
Now Back to Abraham Maslow…
Abraham Maslow believed that people possess a set of motivation systems unrelated to rewards or unconscious desires. This belief led Maslow in 1943 to create “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” a theory on human motivation. To this day, compared to all other theories on motivation, Maslow’s has stood the test of time and has best translated into the workplace.
Figure 1 is a version of Maslow’s original Hierarchy of Needs. This five-stage model starts with basic or physiological needs (bottom of pyramid). He stated that one must satisfy lower level basic needs before progressing onto higher level growth needs (we’ll get more into this later).
Why You Should Care About Employee Engagement
When employees are happy, organizations prosper. It’s been repeatedly proven that employees who are happy and engaged at work have a positive impact on the bottom line. In fact, revenues have consistently increased at companies listed in Fortune Magazine’s list of the 100 best companies to work for. What’s more, other organizations, including Gallup, conducted their own research and confirmed a correlation between engagement and earnings.
However, in a recent study by Gallup (March 2016), only about 34.1% of the U.S. workforce is engaged (enthusiastic and committed) at work. Although this number is slightly trending in the right direction, there is still a lot of room for improvement, especially since this number has surpassed 33% only three times since Gallup started tracking this metric in 2000.
Gallup also found that the younger the employee, the more likely they were less engaged. And since Deloitte projects that Generation Y (born between 1980 and 1995) is estimated to make up roughly 75% of the global workforce by 2025, it’s imperative to get a handle on employee engagement.
The good news is that it’s not necessary to offer expensive perks, like Google’s free gourmet meals, to increase employee happiness at work. The right low-cost initiatives can be just as effective, provided they are tailored to meet the particular needs of your organization’s employees.
A good place to start is to conduct work climate surveys. Ask employees what changes they would like to see to improve their package of benefits and/or their job security, and benchmark your offerings with America’s top companies. You’ll quickly notice that it almost always isn’t about money. However, an even better start would be to learn how Maslow’s Hierarchy could be translated into your organization.
How To Translate Abraham Maslow’s Work Into Your Organization
The basic needs for humans, Maslow proposed, are physiological and safety needs. Typically, an employee’s most basic needs are a competitive compensation and benefits package as well as working in a trusting environment (See Figure 2) . However, by simply meeting these needs, employees still view their position as only a job and not yet a career.
Once basic needs are met, Maslow proposed that humans then need love & belonging and esteem needs. This translates to growth and development as well as ongoing, specific and authentic feedback and recognition (especially when their behaviors best exemplify your values). This is when they start viewing their jobs as a career.
Organizations should note that the quality of the relationship between employee and supervisor is critical in this stage since it’s the No. 1 reason why people leave their jobs. Top employees demand top managers. Therefore, hold managers accountable for employee engagement. One way to do this is use Gallup’s Q12 Employee Engagement Survey. Based on decades of research, it pinpoints the 12 questions that measure the most important elements of employee engagement. Also it’s important to note that, in terms of management styles, Generation Y responds well to an inclusive style of management, and they crave immediate feedback about performance.
Self-actualization is all about having greater meaning in life, or in our case, greater meaning in the workplace. When employees reach this stage, it’s no longer a job or career; working for the organization is actually their calling, resulting in increased productivity and a better bottom line.