Sometimes, it is as simple as a change in language - Modern Needs and Motivations

We’re all aware of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s one of those management staples that rears its pointy head in most professional development manuals and basic leadership courses. Whether you identify with it or not, the influence it has had on how we think, and are taught, about motivation is undeniable. However, there is a growing body of academia that has all but superseded Maslow through the application of an organisational psychology theory based on the principal of self-determination.

Maslow’s Hierarchy: Fundamental Needs and the Desire for Self-Actualisation
Let’s go back to school for a second. Maslow’s Hierarchy centres on the idea that people are motivated first to meet their fundamental, or “deficiency” needs, which are esteem, friendship and love, security and physical needs, before driving on to meet fulfil other “growth” needs, such as realising person potential and the need for “self-actualisation”. Although commonly the Hierarchy is portrayed as a pyramid, in reality the theory is more fluid, as a person may jump between different levels of motivation depending on circumstance.

Essentially, Maslow’s Hierarchy explains personal motivation outside of a reward system, and therefore has been used as a solid basis for exploring motivations in much basic academia and leadership thought over the last 50 years. However, given that most of your finance team will have their basic needs fulfilled, this theory doesn’t quite align with the nuances of today’s generations.

Self-Determination & Intrinsic Motivation
As with all theories, thinking evolves. The most prevalent development since Maslow’s Hierarchy is the rise of the Self-Determination Theory, a way of thinking brought into the mainstream by Edward L. Deci and Richard Ryan. Focusing on “intrinsic” motivation, that is the desire to achieve something because it is satisfying in itself, they define three psychological needs that motivate the self to initiate behaviour that promote a sense of well-being. These needs are proposed as being universal, innate and psychological and include the need for competence, autonomy and psychological relatedness.

Competence refers to the desire “to control the outcome and experience mastery”;
Autonomy is defined by “the universal urge to be casual agents of one’s own life”; and;
Psychological Relatedness refers to the desire ”to interact, be connected to, and experience caring for others”.

So, what can you do to take advantage of these 3 needs and leverage the concept of “intrinsic motivation”?

#1 Refrain from managing through small incentives
Motivate through communication higher-quality objectives and meaningful purpose.

#2 Link work to personal values and shared objectives
Taking the time to align day-to-day tasks with a common goal will foster intrinsic motivations.

#3 Enable and promote opportunities for team members to demonstrate subject matter expertise
Feeling of value promotes feelings of competence, which spurs motivation and determination to achieve more.

Critically, it’s more about shifting your leadership focus from what can I “give” people to motivate them, to how can I satisfy my team’s need for autonomy, relatedness and competence? For example, instead of “giving” a task to someone in because they’ve asked for more, “invite” them (autonomy) to join you in achieving a project that aligns with a strategic goal (relatedness), in recognition of their subject expertise (competence).

Sometimes, it is as simple as a change in language.

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