WittyBizGal Nonprofit Management; Motivate Your Staff, Maslow Style

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A lot has been written about how to motivate employees to work towards achievement of organizational goals and objectives. There are also various theories of motivation itself. Almost everyone has heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which classifies human needs into five broad categories; physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and finally, self actualization. In a nutshell, Maslow theorized that people’s needs must be met in this ascending order, beginning with physiological, and ending with self actualization. In other words, don’t even try to talk to them about how much they need to care about all the lofty goals of the nonprofit they work for, if you’ve been overly long winded at a pre-lunch staff meeting, and all they can think about is that PB&J sandwich in their desk drawer.

Other researchers in the field of psychology have devised other motivation models, but Maslow’s remains my personal favorite. It explains, in the most basic of terms, what makes people tick. Once you understand which needs motivate them at a given point in time, you can better understand how to motivate your staff to help you achieve the vision and mission of the nonprofit organization. So, here goes…not necessarily in order of importance, don’t think of it that way. Think of it as a sequence which must be followed, so you’ll spend less time spinning your management wheels, and more time achieving your management objectives.

PHYSIOLOGICAL

Just about everyone who works has some sort of monetary motivation for doing so. I’ve read a lot of articles and textbooks, etc. that make the assertion that people’s primary motivation for working is not salary or hourly wages, bla, bla, bla. This is simply not true. When push comes to shove, to varying degrees, people usually work in a paid position because they need the cash to cover their rent or mortgage, buy food, clothes, etc. Once these needs are basically addressed, then they have the luxury of thinking about other things they might want. While it is not always possible for nonprofits to exceed the market in terms of competitive wages, all nonprofits should strive to at least meet the market. I don’t know of any organization that has achieved much of anything by following a lag the market strategy.

In order to attract and retain the human resources you need, you must strategize to pay your people competitively for the positions they hold. So, first and foremost, develop a compensation strategy that can be consistently applied throughout the organization. This means you should have rhyme and reason to how you pay everyone in your organization. It needs to make sense, relatively speaking for each position, and have a sensible range at each pay grade which can be tied to performance, which we’ll get into later. Get hold of some current salary survey information so that you can effectively benchmark those grades and ranges too, and compete for the best and the brightest in the candidate pool. The Nonprofit Times offers this information for a relatively small fee here: Salary Survey Data Tax Free, of course…:-) If you can’t afford that, be creative. Make some investigative calls to other area nonprofits and gather as much information as you can from them, enough to help you get an idea of where to set your own compensation framework.

SAFETY

People need to feel reasonably physically safe in their work environment, and they also need to feel relatively secure that their organization is stable and their job will not disappear inexplicably overnight. First and foremost, get your risk management ducks in a row and develop workplace policies on safety, security, sexual harassment, etc., and put some weight behind a simple paper policy that sits on a shelf gathering dust by planning and conducting regular training on each of these. The best place to go, always, for human resource management related information, forms, and best practices is the Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM. Some resources are free on the website, and some require membership with SHRM, which is well worth the annual fee.

As for economic security, the best thing for you to do is to shore up your organization and strengthen it, to increase the chances that it can weather any storm, survive any recession, and be sustainable in the long term. There are a lot of ways to accomplish this, but perhaps one of the best is to engage in formal strategic planning. Strategic planning forces you to assess your current situation and environment (both internal and external), determine where you want to take your organization, and plan out, in a clear and realistic way, how exactly you are going to get there. There is some excellent (and FREE) information for nonprofits tackling strategic planning, especially for the first time, here: All About Strategic Planning

BELONGING

Your employees need to feel as if they are part of a team. Teamwork is a business buzzword that is tossed out a lot these days…by organizations trying to make themselves look like one big happy family, and by desperate job seekers trying to make themselves look like they will fit right in–anywhere, so that they can meet Need #1, Physiological. But, quite frankly, high functioning, cohesive, healthy workplace teams are much rarer than these folks would have you believe. If you are looking to foster real teamwork in your organization, there are many books and resources out there to give you advice. Hint: Avoid books that are overly gimmicky, and offer a too-simple-to-be-believed, easy recipe for teams.

Over the years, however, I have picked up a few broad guidelines for teamwork that do actually work:

1) Create a Team Charter–it needn’t be overly formal or complicated, but should probably be written down, and it should clarify the broad purpose or task of the team, specific, measurable objectives for achieving that purpose or goal.

2) Set Ground Rules & A Game Plan–This may seem like overkill, but the expectations of each member of the team should be established, both behavioral and task, and these should be written down, and acknowledged by each team member with a signature.

3) Create Communication Guidelines–Once again, this may seem silly to actually think about and write down and have people sign, but trust me, it’s not. We may think we are all adults and will act like it in the workplace, but I have seen grown ups on teams behave like kids on a playground when a miscommunication or lack of communication occurs. There are so many ways communication can break down, and when it does, your team can fall down a well that even Lassie cannot pull them out of. Think about all of the potential pitfalls of your team’s communication, and establish rules to follow for effective communication, active listening, and conflict resolution.

ESTEEM

People who work need to feel good about what they do on a daily basis, so they will have a reason, a motivation to keep doing it, and to help you achieve the mission of the nonprofit organization. The best way to ensure that they will feel good about their jobs is to develop a comprehensive system of performance management. Notice I didn’t say performance evaluation, because they are not the same thing. Performance evaluation is one piece of performance management.

I actually did my HR master’s thesis on the topic of performance management, and these were the conclusions I drew based upon research and analysis:

Good performance management in any organization involves using:

1) Effective organizational and interpersonal communication: Comprehensive job analysis and descriptions & telling people exactly what is expected of them–don’t assume anything.

2) Goal setting: Involve the employee in setting performance goals for themselves at regular intervals from the beginning, not just once a year. 

3) Ongoing feedback, to guide and shape the job performance of individuals to better meet the mission of the organization: Make feedback regular, perhaps daily and weekly, in order to shape performance on an ongoing basis, again NOT JUST ONCE A YEAR at performance evaluation time.

And finally….

SELF ACTUALIZATION

Aside from their sense of doing a good job in the position for which they were hired, employees need to feel as if they are contributing in a meaningful way toward serving the mission, and the client group. In other words, your staff needs to feel like they have a direct impact upon achievement of the mission, whatever that may be. So, how does a receptionist for a nonprofit organization feel as if he or she is making the world a better place while answering phones, routing calls, greeting the public, typing and filing all day? Simple! Re-design jobs to increase direct contact and interaction with the client group, and also that individual’s input and control over how the mission is achieved.

You will want to start with job analysis, also mentioned in #4, and consider adding elements to job descriptions which are designed to give every position more interface with the client group. For example, you might want to put a Receptionist in charge of developing and maintaining a client satisfaction survey program, or something of that nature. And add cross functional teams and committees to your organization. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a permanent team or temporary committee being comprised of executive staff and line employees. In fact, this makes a better team all around! This is because you introduce diversity of perspective into the mix, which, when combined with the great teamwork you developed in #3, along with effective dialogue, and a sense of openness in communication regardless of position level, can propel your organization to greatness! No nonprofit, or any organization for that matter, has ever benefitted in any meaningful way from homogenous teams, groupthink, and line employees who are afraid to share their perspectives and ideas for improvement.

Once again, you can always find great information on the SHRM website for anything employment related, including job analysis and job design. 

I hope you have found these motivational guidelines, inspired by Maslow and designed by me, to be useful and applicable to your own nonprofit organization. If you have additional information you’d like to share about your own experiences with motivation in the workplace, please feel free to comment below!

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