As a manager, how do you incentivize your team to reach its potential?
And as an employee, what does it take to dive, head-first into Monday mornings, looking forward to the tasks ahead.
Motivation in the workplace is a vast and important topic. Fail to motivate yourself, or your team, and you can bet that missed opportunity will translate to your bottom line.
So, what’s the most effective way to encourage employees to perform their very best? It may not be what you think.
True: the promise of financial reward, promotion and external recognition may spur some individuals to up the ante, for a while. But if you want to inspire loyalty and long-lasting determination, you need to support employees in self-actualization.
And the key to unlocking self-actualization? Continuous, and meaningful feedback.
What is self-actualization? And how do you know if you’ve got it?
First introduced by the influential German neuroscientist Kurt Goldstein, and later brought to prominence by American psychologist Abraham Maslow, the concept of self-actualization has played a significant role in psychology for the last half-decade. In his theory — the Hierarchy of Needs — Maslow suggests that humans are motivated by five different needs; physiological, security, belongingness, esteem and, lastly, self-actualization.
The pyramid works as follows: we enter, as infants, at its base, with physiological needs being our primary focus, e.g. eating, sleeping. As babies we wail out to be fed whenever we are hungry and fall asleep wherever we are, whenever we are tired.
As we age, we become increasingly aware of needs higher up the hierarchy — we start to feel fear, wanting to remove ourselves from situations which may cause us harm. If you’ve ever been a child, nervously edging towards the precipice of a diving board, you’ll know how this feels.
These two “basic” needs — physiological and safety — underpin all human experience.
At the very top of the pyramid, we find the achievement of self-actualization or, in Maslow’s words, the effort “to become everything one is capable of becoming.”
And self-actualization is a growth need: the more we feel self-actualized, the more we’ll chase opportunities to feel it again.
What does this mean exactly? Well, put simply: it means if you are a painter, you must paint, if you are a writer, you must write, if you are a singer, you must sing… and so on.
That all makes sense for these vocation-based careers, but how does it fit into all the other job specs that make up global business today?
When Maslow first devised his hierarchy, it’s unlikely he was thinking about the corporate world. However, in an age where workers now spend 90,000 hours of their lives at work, the lines between our personal and professional wants and needs are increasingly blurred.
Self-actualization shows itself in the purpose we seek at work; feeling like an expert in our field; meaningfully aligning our passions to our tasks; the autonomy to forge our own path.
If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll probably know that we’ve discussed Maslow’s Hierarchy in-depth before, and for good reason: it serves as the basis for Duuoo’s Six Themes of Employee Engagement, which is a translation of Maslow’s pyramid applied to the workplace.
Translating Maslow’s pyramid for the workplace, we see the Pyramid of Employee Needs take shape as:
- Personal Development & Self-Actualization: The pinnacle of employee engagement is the creation of a workplace that serves as a scene for self-actualization that enables people to act out our individual purpose and a place to unfold their true and full potential.
- Motivation & Inspiration: Creative knowledge work depends on employee enthusiasm and flexible collaboration in order to generate competitive products and services.
- Feedback & Learnings: Encouraging a culture of frequent feedback enables you and your team to be agile and innovative. Feedback, learning, and development is not only a personal matter but relies on a team and leadership effort.
- Collaboration & Culture: The glue that ties the team members, managers, and organization together. It’s all the visible and invisible elements of daily work life that contribute to employee happiness and satisfaction.
- Work-Life Balance & Well-Being: A sound and productive work-life and requires a good balance between the private sphere and work sphere.
- Work Structure, Alignment & Performance: Discussing how tasks are structured and organized in the daily work and to what degree there is alignment between the manager and the team members is integral to performance.
Based on this: how self-actualized do you feel at work?
It’s harder than it sounds.
2015 research found that 28% of the 150 million-member US workforce agreed their work was a source of personal fulfillment. Flip this, and that means 72% of the world’s third largest workforce isn’t achieving self-actualization at work.
So if you don’t feel self-actualized yet, you are certainly not alone.
Why feedback is so crucial to reach workplace self-actualization
65% of employees want more feedback than they are currently getting.
Because feedback is instrumental in personal and professional development; honing skills, losing bad habits and — this is where it gets really interesting— exposing the soft skills; talents and core capabilities you perhaps didn’t know you exhibit.
Without feedback we would learn very little about ourselves, in or out of work.
The feedback process is like holding a mirror up to yourself; that’s why it can be uncomfortable at times. You have to be prepared to listen to and acknowledge whatever reveals itself.
But it’s a more than worthwhile experience, for the individual and the organization as a whole.
Insufficient feedback — or worse, a total absence of it — leads to deficit of direction, deficit of motivation and, ultimately, deficit in profit. Each disengaged employee costs a company 34% of their salary, in lost productivity, missed shifts and disrupting other colleagues with their negative attitude.
And you don’t need a psychology degree to decipher that disengagement and self-actualization do not go hand-in-hand.
Indeed, engagement through feedback begins to impact the Esteem level needs (in Maslow’s hierarchy) and what’s broken into Feedback & Learnings and Motivation and Inspiration level needs (in Duuoo’s pyramid); giving a much-needed pat on the back after a grueling project, providing a tangible and encouraging reward — monetary or otherwise — and sharing pride in a job well done.
But if we only use feedback to massage our egos, we are missing half the picture.
Constructive or corrective criticism — however uncomfortable to receive — pushes beyond the Esteem need, and helps us achieve self-actualization.
If we think of self-actualized employees as being on the top of their game, you can guarantee they didn’t get there without learning from their mistakes, and working on their shortcomings, to reach their potential.
In their 2000 research study, 'High potentials as high learners', Lombardo and Eichinger concluded:
“The bottom line is, those who learn, grow and change continuously across their careers are the most successful. Whatever skills you have now are unlikely to be enough in the future. Acquiring new skills is the best insurance you can get for an uncertain future. Some of us won’t face our limitations; we make excuses, blame it on the boss or the job or the organization. Others are defensive and fight any corrective feedback. Some are just reluctant to do anything about our problems. Some of us want a quick fix; we don’t have time for development. Some of us simply don’t know what to do.”
In order to grow — to be a high learner, and reach high potential — you need to be open to personal and professional development.
You need to have a growth mindset.
Feedback needs a growth mindset, or else it falls on deaf ears
Carol Dweck, a psychologist and Stanford University faculty member, proposed ‘mindset theory’ as a means of understanding how individuals view their capacity to develop and evolve.
Those with a fixed mindset, believe that they have little to no capacity for personal development — the way they are, is the way they are. As a result, they rarely ever excel in anything; they avoid new challenges and opportunities for growth. They shy away from the unknown and appraising these individuals will be largely ineffective.Interestingly, Dweck’s seminal work shares many crossovers with Maslow’s; Maslow described this limiting fixed mindset when he said:
“If you deliberately plan to be less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you’ll be deeply unhappy for the rest of your life. You will be evading your own capacities, your own possibilities.”
In other words, individuals with a fixed mindset will likely never achieve self-actualization.
A growth mindset, on the other hand, is one open to evolution. Armed with a receptive, growth mindset, individuals can appreciate how effort, training and indeed feedback, can change one’s capabilities and characteristics.
So how can you test whether your natural tendency is toward a fixed or a growth mindset?
Read each of the following statements and decide whether you agree or disagree:
- Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
- You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how capable you are.
- No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
- You can always substantially change how intelligent & capable you are.
Questions 1 and 2 reflect a fixed mindset, Questions 3 and 4 suggest a growth mindset.
If you’re exhibiting a fixed mindset today, you have two options: you can either accept these limitations, or take this feedback and endeavor to change.
The good news? You can change your mindset, but it will require both continuous effort and continuous feedback.
Continuous feedback, leads to continuous learning, which in turn, leads to self-actualization
If you, like others with a growth mindset, believe that you have the capacity for change and development, then you should never struggle to find intrinsic motivation at work.
But, to help you on your way, make sure you ask for the feedback you require to grow.
Using a platform like Duuoo, you can request and capture real-time, meaningful feedback; helping you shape your skills and tease out the talents which have been hidden to you, until now.
Self-actualization is the pinnacle of intrinsic professional success; when you achieve it, you’ll welcome each day with vigor and drive.
Self-actualization is hard — much harder than it sounds — but with the right feedback processes in place, it’ll be so much easier.