Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943) is based on the idea that human motivation is at bottom a bundle of instincts. But this is quite a primeval way of looking at it. It’s as if we were like cats and dogs. It doesn’t recognise the sophistication of how people actually think in terms of motivation and cognition.
It also doesn’t explain heroes or how people are motivated to break through the pain barrier as Olympic athletes do. It doesn’t explain tenacity or perseverance, or heroism. It doesn’t answer this at all. Nor does it explain why people do voluntary work, or why they do poorly paid jobs when they could get a much better job. It does not explain why people are different in their needs and priorities.
The theory is good in that it introduces people to the idea of how their employees might be thinking about work.
Psychologists and statisticians like Maslow because the theory has “strong face validity”. It’s intuitively a very helpful way of explaining human motivation, and does so rather easily. But there are much better ways of doing so that are just as easy to understand. These other explanations have also been scientifically proven. They show managers how, if used properly, you can improve both people’s motivation and their performance.
The theory is Locke and Latham’s (1984) goal-setting theory. It’s not a very sexy name for a theory compared with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but it really is a very good and helpful theory, and would make the subject of a whole other blog post. So, stay posted…