Sunday, April 22, 2007

Maslow for businesses? 

It must be something in the water on the western seaboard on North America, roundabout the 49th parallel. Hot on the heels of Christy’s post yesterday, comes this from Chris Corrigan:

"There is a kind of deeper hum within every organization - call it the culture if you like - that supports the work, generates the working environment and connects to the purpose of each person. People who are highly satisfied with their jobs and organization will often feel connected to this deeper field. They resonate with the bass note, the fundamental note of the chord. When this note isn’t present, it feels like work is not connected into a deeper pattern. Understand here that I am talking not about organizational purpose - it runs below that. It is more like organizational inspiration, operating at the level of the spirit of the place.

Making Open Space part of the operating system of an organization results in tuning this bass note, or perhaps sounding it again. We have a chance to open space to breathe a little, get some distance from the mundane tasks of our job and ask some of the bigger questions about who we are and where the organization is going.

The folks in this organization are lucky that the upper leadership wants to see things working this way and has provided them with the time and resources both to meet in Open Space and to carry out the small projects starting next week that keep the bass note humming."

This set me thinking, wishing that the organisation I work for might start to think about its business in the way he describes, and wondering what gets in the way of that kind of thinking. Sure, there are issues of scale and leadership - I work in a huge organisation with what I can best describe as tenuous leadership - but we never seem to escape from the urgency of the moment; always hand-to-mouth, always pressured, rarely taking time out to reflect and connect - or not at the intermediate level at which I work, at any rate.

It struck me that there's something at play here which is similar to Maslow’s idea of a hierarchy of human needs, – that our drivers have to be satisfied sequentially so that, for example, the need for food and shelter must first be satisfied before our social needs, for belonging and affection, come into play. Here’s my version of what a hierarchy of business needs might look like:

Just as with Maslow’s human needs, these build on each other and so must be satisfied in sequence.

I want to post more on this, but I know I will have no breathing space at all for the next week at least. Another show – Godspell this time – starts on Tuesday and runs until Saturday. Tech setup tonight, dress rehearsal tomorrow, then shows every night plus a matinee on Saturday. And a full work diary, so it’ll be 7 days of frenetic activity. But hey, this is a blog; I don’t have to wait until I have full thesis, so I’ll develop the thinking here piece by piece, as I have time.

I can see a good fit between this model and conventional businesses, but I wonder whether there might be another model, one perhaps that isn’t built on a monetary foundation? Certainly, currency of some kind seems to be vital, but need that be in the form of cash?

Update: I don't say this model is necessarily "true", but I do think most organisations - the traditional ones, anyway - behave as if it is true. Workplace reorganisations tend to flow from the bottom of this model up, so if you're constantly reorganising, building at the structure/process level, the top levels are never fulfilled. That certainly seems to be the case around here, anyway...

Back to current posts