Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (Human Motivations)

Understanding human motivation is critical for all levels of management and leadership, starting with managing ourselves. There is no single "Perfect Model" defining what motivates every person but there are some great models to help our understanding.

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One of the most well-known models is called "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs" from American psychologist Abraham Maslow. Maslow describes five interrelated categories of motivation in his 1943 book, "A Theory of Human Motivation." Additional research and refinement added three categories which he published in 1971 as "The Farther Reaches of Human Nature."  

In our experience, some undesirable outcomes occur because the manager doesn't know what to do but most occur because the manager can't get the team to execute effectively. 


The five-part explicitly hierarchical pyramid is the most common depiction of Maslow's first theory, though each is very interrelated and sometimes shown as a series of integrated priorities with intensity shifting over time with personal development progression. The diagram incorporates both Maslow's later model with eight categories indicating both the constant presence of each category along with the general amount of focus on each as a person progresses through their development. 

Below is a simple summary of each category. To learn more, we recommend reading or listening to A Theory of Human Motivation for everyone which will take about an hour.

Brief Summary of Needs:

  1. Physiological Needs: At the base of the pyramid are physiological needs, which include basic requirements for human survival such as food, water, sleep, and shelter. Maslow argued that these needs must be satisfied first before higher-level needs become motivational.
  2. Safety Needs: Once physiological needs are met, the next level consists of safety needs, encompassing personal and financial security, health and well-being, and safety against accidents/illness and their adverse impacts.
  3. Belongingness and Love Needs: This level includes social needs, such as the desire for emotional relationships like friendships, romantic attachments, and family. Maslow believed that humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among social groups, regardless of whether these groups are large or small.
  4. Esteem Needs: Next are esteem needs, which include the need for things that reflect on self-esteem, personal worth, social recognition, and accomplishment.
  5. Cognitive Needs: These involve the need for knowledge and understanding, and a desire to explore, seek meaning, predict, and control the world. Maslow included these needs to acknowledge the human desire to learn and understand.
  6. Aesthetic Needs: These needs are related to the appreciation of beauty, balance, form, and other aspects of aesthetics. Maslow recognized that people have a need for harmony and order beyond the basic physiological and safety needs.
  7. Self-actualization Needs: Near the peak of development are self-actualization needs. These involve realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences. Maslow described this as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.
  8. Transcendence Needs: Introduced later in his life, transcendence needs are about spirituality and helping others to achieve their own self-actualization. This need represents the highest level of development in his revised hierarchy.

For a myriad of reasons companies and their managers are expected to fill a greater percentage of these needs. The talent shortage in the construction industry means that contractors who have the management systems and managers to best help people progress through this hierarchy will be those that emerge the strongest in the future.

For job roles such as Project Executive, Superintendent, Chief Estimator, or similar where you must manage other managers, we recommend investing an additional 16-20 hours per year learning more about the different models, measurements, and tools around human motivation. Some starting points include:


Whether you are a Foreman or a CEO and whether your company has five employees or five thousand, please contact us for some more specific recommendations based on your specific situation. 


Other Models and Theories (Brief Summary)

Though Maslow's is one of the most widely referenced, there are many other theories of human motivation. Each has its differences but there are key similarities including:

  1. Focus on Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators: Many of these theories distinguish between intrinsic (arising from within the individual, such as satisfaction, personal growth) and extrinsic motivators (external rewards such as money, praise). For example, Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory explicitly addresses intrinsic factors as motivators and extrinsic factors as hygiene factors.
  2. Hierarchy of Needs: Several models, including Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Alderfer's ERG Theory, propose that human needs are arranged in a hierarchy. This implies that more basic needs (like physiological or safety needs) must be met before higher-level needs (such as self-actualization or growth needs) can be pursued.
  3. The Concept of Needs and Drives: Many theories are centered around the idea that human behavior is driven by the need to fulfill certain needs, whether they are biological, psychological, social, or a combination. This is evident in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, McClelland's Theory of Needs, and Hull's Drive Theory.
  4. The Role of Expectations and Goals: The Expectancy Theory and the Goal-Setting Theory emphasize the role of an individual's expectations and the setting of specific goals in driving motivation. These theories highlight how the anticipation of achieving a goal or reward can motivate behavior.
  5. Behavioral Influence: Theories like Skinner's Reinforcement Theory underscore the influence of external stimuli and reinforcement on behavior, suggesting that behavior can be shaped or modified by its consequences.
  6. The Importance of Self-Determination and Autonomy: Self-Determination Theory (SDT) stresses the importance of autonomy and self-motivation. Similarly, other theories, albeit indirectly, acknowledge the role of personal agency and self-determination in motivation (e.g., Maslow's self-actualization).
  7. Multi-dimensional Nature of Motivation: These theories collectively recognize that human motivation is multi-dimensional and complex, influenced by a range of factors including biological, psychological, social, and environmental.

By understanding these common threads, one can appreciate how these theories collectively contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of what drives human behavior and motivation.


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We develop strengths in individuals. We align the right people to build great teams and contractors, ultimately delivering business results.

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