Just freewheeling about Maslow and talent management

In order to attract and retain my grandfather’s generation, a firm had to provide security of tenure. Since every firm offered security of tenure, it didn’t really matter. And since there wasn’t really a war for talent, it mattered even less.

In order to attract and retain my father’s generation, a firm had to provide quality benefits. The provision of quality benefits required scale. There was therefore a migration of talent towards firms that operated at scale. Since the war for talent was largely between a small number of scale firms, it didn’t really matter. [Except for the firms that bid up the talent using the benefits…. they’re paying some hefty prices now for the provision of those benefits. Witness Detroit.]

In order to attract and retain my generation, a firm had to provide challenging work. The war for talent had now begun, and those that were far-sighted enough to offer the right challenges attracted the right people.

In order to attract and retain the current generation, a firm had to provide equity. The war for talent was now intensifying, and talent moved to the place with the best growth prospects. But there was some harsh learning to come. People had to learn that options didn’t know how to swim.

In order to attract Generation M, a firm has to provide …. what? Values and beliefs that are congruent with the talent pool.

Security of tenure. Food, clothing and shelter. Challenging work. Ability to make pots of money. Values and beliefs. Hmmmm. Never thought that I could use Maslow to depict the motivation for people joining a company.

7 thoughts on “Just freewheeling about Maslow and talent management”

  1. Values and beliefs. Environment. I’ve noticed a real shift with employers of all sizes to sort out their brand as an employer. They’re less willing and able (perhaps) to stretch to uneconomic salaries, so they must compete on a different level. No bad thing.

    Whether this continues in an economic downturn remains to be seen. Let’s hope so.

  2. So what’s the Detroit of tomorrow…Microsoft? Difference here is they’re reinventing themselves away from ‘software maufacturer’. Detroit didn’t.

    Problem for most companies of scale is that they’ve gone so far to ‘mechanized’ that they can only ‘make cars’. Regrouping? First you have to kill the beast…so far, I only see them trying to ‘dress the beast’ (shades of Shrek).

  3. JP,
    It is a pity the Maslow in an HR context surprises you. Probably means that HR isn’t doing its job….

    There is a strong body of sociology and psychology theory that should be used more in an HR and business context. Too much compensation and reward thinking is based on common sense, which is normally wrong.

    Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Model is well worth a look at, as is Mcgregor’s xy theory…

    More managers and HR folks ought to spend some time with this book, The Psychology of Behaviour at Work, by Adrian Furnham.

    Adrian is at UCL, and if you ever get the chance to hear him speak, take it. There are few academics of his standing that can put their research into a real world context. He can…

  4. “In order to attract Generation M, a firm has to provide …. what? Values and beliefs that are congruent with the talent pool.”


    Don’t you think this is a paradox, Capitalists/ Values and beliefs – both of them seem to world apart.

  5. Worth looking at Maslow’s later work, particularly around his ‘higher reaches’ and peak experiences phase of thinking. His revision of his own model is very insightful for management, especially of Generation M:

    – They want a sense of belonging
    – They want to serve a higher purpose (i.e. a purpose beyond themselves).

    Businesses are going to have to learn to serve their communities and enable their employees to be part of doing that.

    This is compatible with capitalism, but think ‘capitalism like people matter’.

    Good topic!

  6. I’ve read this a couple of times now and couldn’t get away from a feeling of missing something.

    Actually, make that two things…

    1) The further up the hierarchy you go the more it’s really about want, not need. Survival is an absolute, fulfillment is relative. So the higher you go the more it’s fungible. Given a “like for like” choice I’ll pick the more challenging, inspirational, enjoyable role over the lesser one every time; the hierarchy of needs holds true. Hang on though, how much of that would I trade for twice the pay (or future prospect of pay) or three times or more? Theres an increasing level of compromise the further you get from absolute survival.

    2) Time horizon matters. My friends and I have often debated, and lamented, how our parents had it easier when it comes to the long term. Sure, we have much more fulfilling jobs and higher pay and prospects, but they had guaranteed pensions funded by the company and enjoyed early retirement. Not a prospect many of our generation will enjoy; not unless you trade the fulfillment for a bit of security; not unless you trade now for tomorrow. Try reconciling that with fulfillment.

    The people I know, or come across, who are living at the self-actualisation level of the hierarchy are either trading on their future (in the hope of a big pay-off) or have already achieved a level of self sufficiency. I think we’ll increasingly see this polarisation of the workforce in future years.

    Those that can afford to take the roles that align with their values entirely because they have time to spare or because they have the money to spare. Anyone else will oscillate between the top couple of levels quite a lot over time.

Let me know what you think

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