Motivation – Needs from Lower to Higher

When Calvin was in first grade, his teacher had a practice to motivate her students by a chart with every students name on it – stars were given and each kid was excited to see their progress. But she also had a bulletin board with an apple tree and each kid had their name on an apple. When a child acted up, was a bit of a rebel, or just went against the flow – the kid’s apple fell off the tree and rested on the ground of the bulletin board. I joked that Calvin’s apple was on the ground so much that it turned to apple sauce. I think the stars worked for a good motivation (reward, self image) but the apple tree just did not have an impact. To take the metaphor a bit further, when it comes to Calvin and me – the apple did not fall from tree. I caused quite a stir as a student as well – I will let your imagination roam wild but will leave all examples to myself.

A few years ago, Virginia Tech adapted some business textbooks and published a paper on motivating employees. (Go here to see the text) Motivation is the drive to achieve a goal, or to work towards a particular course of action. Motivated employees are more productive, call in sick less, and cultivate better attitudes in the work place. Their are intrinsic motivations – enjoyment, satisfaction, and desire. There are also extrinsic motivations such as rewards, bonuses, and avoiding punishment.

The VT paper discusses the four basic theories on motivation. I just want to introduce the first one here – the Hierarchy-of-Needs Theory. This theory says we are motivated by trying to meet unmet needs. There is a hierarchy, and lower level needs must be met before we seek to satisfy higher levels. The chart is here (higher needs on top). Another aspect of the Needs Theory is that once a lower level is met, the need no longer motivates us. Managers need to realize what levels have been met – and then they motivate at the next level.

REMEMBER – Lower level needs should be met before higher level needs
NEED — [personal fulfillment/professional fulfillment]


Self-Actualization — Success/Professional & Challenging Work
Esteem — Status & Respect/Authority, Recognition
Social — Family & Friends/Team Membership & Social Activities
Safety — Financial Stability/Job Security
Physiological — Food & Shelter/Salary


So what does this mean for you and me? The needs fall into personal motivation for fulfillment and professional fulfillment. Though they may be in conflict at times, the personal should never be overlooked or downplayed. We come to realize what needs we really have, and then we work on meeting those. If you are in a leadership position, you need to know your workers – not just the big picture, but each individual that reports to you. And maybe the motivation should also fall into personal level as well the professional level.

Spend some time evaluating your life – and realize it is in meeting those needs where we find real motivation.

Maybe if the teacher spent a little more time getting to know Calvin,
his needs, and his life situation
– then just maybe, the apple would have stayed on the tree.

Note: Colored chart came from this website

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