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It’s Time to Revisit Maslow

Contributing Author: Brian Bauer - Business Advisor | 100Waters Group

You have needs. Your clients have needs. And they are not random: we typically meet our needs in a very specific order. Whether you have long forgotten Maslow, or never quite learned about him in the beginning, it is time to revisit.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed his Hierarchy of Needs in 1943. Stated simply, there are five categories of needs – often depicted in a triangle, with the most core needs resting on the bottom and then moving up. The five tiers, starting from the bottom, most basic needs, are:

  • Physiological needs: food, water, warmth and rest
  • Safety needs: security and safety
  • Belongingness & love needs: intimate relationships and friends
  • Esteem needs: feeling of accomplishment
  • Self-Actualization: achieving full potential, including creative pursuits

One must meet the more basic needs of a lower tier prior to moving up to a higher tier. Things like food, water, shelter, safety and security rank very high in this theory, forming a base for the triangle – meaning that they are core needs that are “do not pass go” items. For a deeper dive on the exact details, Wikipedia offers an excellent introduction to the concepts.

The world-wide COVID pandemic has caused all sorts of systems to become disrupted. The population collectively struggled in the first few weeks of the pandemic with core needs such as “do I still have a job?”, “how do I get toilet paper and other essential supplies?”, and “am I safe/healthy?” Items that we took for granted were no longer easily available and, as a community, that is all that we could talk and think about.

While the remainder of the spring and summer improved, there were definitive periods where we revisited periods of insecurity. As questions of summer plans arose, and currently – questions about the return to school for kids – the collective conversation has focused almost exclusively on what, and how, to address these questions.

Why is Maslow important to my business?

Your employees, your suppliers and your customers are part of this community and are experiencing these periods of insecurity in many of the same ways. It’s likely that even if they are not directly impacted, their families and other close friends are. As an example, think of a healthy middle-aged professional with job security who is not as concerned for herself, but then worries about her elderly parents on a fixed income or living in a care facility.

Saying that core needs are a distraction is the first step.  During periods of insecurity, individuals are likely to be less open to starting new projects, signing a new contract, or taking on new risks. Maintaining what is already in place is an easy decision to make – because even cancelling a contract requires change that most people aren’t prepared to initiate.

That give you two strategies for your business:

  1. What activities are most beneficial during periods of insecurity? Consider delaying new initiatives until the period has passed. This especially applies to new business development, as new customers are going to be most open to the conversation once their core needs are met. Focus on over-serving your existing clients. Be a good partner. Check in on them. Provide excellent service. Show them that while they are concerned with life’s issues, you’ve held the ball for them, moving it forward while they were distracted, and provided thought. As an example, during the early days of the pandemic – I was incredibly grateful to my doggy daycare for sending out an email that provided, in specific detail, all the things that I could do to help Fido adjust to quarantine. It was one less thing I had to worry about at a time when I was figuring quite a few things out. Do the same for your clients.
  2. What activities are most beneficial during periods of stability? While the school situation may not be fully resolved with a long-term solution by mid-September, it is highly likely that families will have adjusted to the temporary normal. That gives us, as partners to our clients, a 4 – 6 week period of stability until the next round of changes is implemented. Customers know that they have wanted to create new progress for their business, and so there will be pent up demand following insecure periods. As such, use these time periods of relative stability to launch new projects and sign contracts.

To be clear, don’t stop moving your ball forward. In 4 – 6 weeks, we can re-evaluate the collective mindset and how hard to push on new initiatives. But now, it is time to focus on your core needs: keeping your existing employees and customers happy.

Brian Bauer
Brian Bauer – Business Advisor | 100Waters Group

Brian Bauer guides businesses through their awkward adolescence with a human centered, partnering approach to business advising. Utilizing incremental change with the five year goals in mind, and implemented at a pace that adjusts for the needs of the business and the capacity of the owner to digest change. Bauer is able to help transform businesses and their owners into healthy, balanced  and successful businesses. Most of all, he seeks to bring joy back into the owners life. Brian holds an Executive MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University Of Chicago where he graduated cum laude, and a B.S. in Business Administration from Truman State University. For fun, Bauer run triathlons (slowly) and has an unhealthy love of Shamrock Shakes.


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