Understanding employee needs and creating a highly motivated workforce

Basketball 8-31-14

One of the most important tasks in creating a high-performance culture is taking care of employees’ needs. When employees’ needs are met, and employees feel aligned with the mission, vision and values of the organization, they respond with high levels of engagement and commitment: They come to work with enthusiasm and are willing to go the extra mile to support the organization in its endeavours.

Thus it is important to address the question: What do organizations need to do to create a highly motivated workforce where employees are willing to devote a significant amount of their discretionary energy, as well as their commitment and creativity, to making the organization a success?

You must understand employee needs
I believe the research presented by Daniel Pink in Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us points us in the right direction.

Baseline rewards that are sufficient and fair (fulfilling some of the employees’ survival needs); a congenial working atmosphere (fulfilling some of the employees’ relationship needs); freedom to make choices—autonomy (fulfilling some of the employees’ transformation needs); opportunities to pursue mastery—learn and excel in their field of expertise (fulfilling some of the employees’ self-esteem needs); and perform duties that align with a higher purpose—(fulfilling some of the employees’ internal cohesion needs). In other words, Pink’s research points us towards the seven stages of psychological development and the needs associated with each stage (see Table 1).

Table 1: The needs associated with the seven stages of psychological development

Employee NeedsThe answer to the question, what do organizations need to do to create a highly motivated workforce, is as follows: Organizations need to identify the needs that motivate their employees (what they value) and create a culture that addresses these needs. The needs they have will be directly linked to the stage of development they have reached and the levels of consciousness they are operating from.

Meet employees needs to cause happiness and joy
Table 2, which builds on Table 1, provides a comprehensive list of the actions and opportunities that organizations need to focus on to serve employee’s needs at all stages of psychological development and levels of consciousness. Also listed in this table are the feelings and experiences that are associated with the satisfaction of the needs associated with each level of development (causes of happiness/joy).

Table 2: Actions and opportunities that organizations need to provide to support the full spectrum of employees’ needs

Levels of developmentIt is important to recognize that not all employees are the same: Different employees will have different needs (want and value different things) depending on the levels of consciousness they are operating from. The levels of consciousness they are operating from at any moment in time will depend on three factors: The employee’s level of psychological development; the employee’s ­general life circumstances; and the specific life challenges the employee is ­experiencing.

You can identify what employee’s value by doing a Cultural Values Assessment or using other feedback approaches.

Do you agree with these insights about creating a highly motivated workforce? What else can you add to the discussion? Please comment below.

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Richard Barrett is an author, speaker and internationally recognised thought leader on the evolution of human values in business and society. He is the creator of the internationally recognized Cultural Transformation Tools (CTT) which have been used to support more than 5,000 organizations in 60 countries on their transformational journeys. To date, more than
5,000 change agents, consultants and coaches have been trained by the Barrett Values Centre to use the Cultural Transformation Tools in over 50 countries. (For more information www.richardbarrett.net)

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Steve

    Hi Richard … matching personal hierarchy of values with the organization of work values – is essential to workforce engagement and recognition … and thus “leading persons from high performance” is an important concept and practice that requires seeding, watering, weeding, and harvesting within manager-leaders (using the gardening metaphor with a ))smile … appreciate your tables!

  • http://www.pearlHPS.com Gene Tange

    Hello Richard,

    When the word “a” creeps into the discussion it waters the premise down. To say x or y is “a” critical element says there are others which may or may not be more critical. The discussion then breaks down to a qualitative dialogue.
    Additionally, there is another assumption that has been made: Highly motivated organizations are high performing. I certainly would love to see your data on this. The tendency is to look at high performing organizations and see they are motivated and deduce the reverse would be true when other variables of teams may and are probably at work.
    The next argument then moves to engagement. Peter Capelli is a great read if you think there is a strong correlation between high engagement and high performance organizations. He in several longitudinal studies is able to show the lack of correlation and the rise of other variables that truly impact engagement. In one study conducted by demographers he was able to show the challenges we have with GenY’s is a set of behaviors we have seen before. The same issues faced when the boomers were in their prime and in the drivers seat from a workforce perspective. It was facinating to see when scientist from other disciplines truly examine some of the assumptions being made today how the onion gets peeled easily.

    • Tim Kuppler

      I definitely agree with you on the engagement / high-performance link. Engagement is clearly only one important factor (notice I didn’t say “a” factor). Cover everything else, leave engagement out, and you may still achieve high-performance but is performance the only goal? I am definitely not a fan of the engagement focused approaches because they ignore so many other important aspects of a high-performing culture.

      I don’t think Richard was saying highly motivated organizations = high performing but the journey to high performance will definitely be easier if you do take care of employee needs so they are devoting a significant amount of their discretionary energy. Thank you for the comments.

      • http://www.pearlHPS.com Gene Tange

        I am sure we could have a robust discussion on the points raised since we just came off a massive research effort looking at variables of execution excellence in teams. Our thesis is to understand this new content ( discovery) and change future outcomes. I don’t really care what you call the team because it is all about the outcomes. The C level customers I deal with are tired of the classic process model with a 100 dependent contingencies that are used to rationalize when something doesn’t go right.
        For example the model Pat Lencioni provides is all about improving teamness and falls short when the expectations of outcomes come into the picture. Why? because he hasn’t done the research or the correlations which is a massive undertaking. In our case 12,000 hours with 40 companies and 1600 executives. What we are left with then is either a quantitative approach that is research based or a process model with a lot of assumptions. If you were a business owner with would you choose?

        *Gene Tange*CEO
        PearlHPS Inc.
        925 580 5400

        • Tim Kuppler

          I would pick the research based approach if it led to relatively clear sequencing and prioritization of work. Great research often leads to process models or action planning approaches that are a joke. The vast majority of organizations don’t cover extremely basic fundamentals and habits related to work on their #1 performance priority.

          I use a pretty simple roadmap covering definition of a performance priority and then the vision, critical expected behaviors, strategic priorities, goals, measures, management system, communication habits and motivation. In their own self-evaluations, 97% of organizations are not effectively covering these areas for even their #1 performance priority. It’s hard for any sub-group or team below the top to consistently and effectively manage their work if there is no common core. In a similar way, many focus on hiring, employee development or other approaches which also fall woefully short of what’s possible since there is no understanding of how cultures evolve and drive performance. Hiring to what standards, development around what,… Starting in these areas makes no sense at all but many do while there’s totally lack of clarity and ownership around their #1 performance priority.

          It would be great if you could share some of what you learned from your research on CultureU. Let me know if you have an interest.

          • http://www.pearlHPS.com Gene Tange

            For the appropriate audience I would be willing to share at Culture U. If it is largely HR ( remember I was a CHRO of a big org) my interest would be lower as compared to C levels interested in getting more from their culture.

  • Mahendra K Shukla

    Dear Richard,

    This is clear that first and foremost, employee try to survive in the environment and subsequently move upwards in the value chain whether he is a trainee or a manager. The survival teach him to build relationship and transform himself. He will be happy if during the testing (survival) he receives guidance and motivation which will make a profound impact on his career.


    Mahendra K SHUKLA