Mr Maslow Builds a Successful Business


Last week we looked at Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; a theory that deals with the needs of the individual, but which to me applies equally well to the needs of a growing small business and the person running that business.

We left Maslow at the first of his five stages – with the basic needs of life being met. In business terms, I thought there were two basic needs – adequate capital, and a regular supply of new clients or customers.

Maslow’s second level is the need for safety, for health and financial well-being. In business terms, that’s almost self-explanatory: it’s the need to know what’s going on in your business. At its most basic, to know that money coming in each month is equal to or greater than money going out.

That’s why I’m so keen on monitoring the progress of your business through Key Performance Indicators. You need to know the numbers: if you’ve a problem with high cholesterol you have a regular check-up so you know what the relevant figure is. And with your business, there are certain KPIs you can measure every month that provide you with a speedy and effective health check – and if they’re wrong, you take action. Quickly.

At Maslow’s third level we find the need to love and to belong. And this is where I was first struck by the parallels between Maslow’s Hierarchy and The Alternative Board. As we’ve said many times on this blog, running an SME is a lonely place to be. No-one really understands how you feel – and the highs and lows you experience – apart from someone else who’s running an SME.

That’s one of the reasons discussions round an Alternative Board table are so frank and open – every Board member empathises with the emotions and the ambitions behind the decisions being discussed.

At the fourth level Maslow puts the need for esteem; the need to be accepted, respected and valued by others. To me, this is similar to the third level. You can go home and say “We’ve had our best year ever.” You can say that to your bank manager or your best friend. And they’ll say, “That’s nice, well done.” They’ll mean it as well. But they won’t know what it really means – because they weren’t there at ten o’clock at night dealing with an order that just had to go out to a new customer you’d fought for months to get.

Yes, we need acceptance and respect, but we need it from someone who’s fought the same battles that we’ve fought, and who knows that for every ‘up’ there’s almost certainly a ‘down’ round the next corner.

Finally…level five. Technically, it’s self-actualisation – or as Maslow put it, “What a man can be, he must be.”

As I said last week, those are the key words for me in 2013. The Alternative Board is there to support you and to help you learn from your peers – but in the final analysis we (your fellow Board members and I) are failing you if we don’t push you to achieve the most you’re capable of achieving. No-one is in business to only give it 80% and presumably no-one wants to retire thinking, ‘Well, I could have achieved a lot more…’

So at levels three, four and five The Alternative Board can welcome you, make you feel you belong and praise you when things go well. But best of all, it will take you to the top level – and help you reach the heights you always knew you were capable of reaching.

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