Theory of Human Motivation & Business

A Theory of Human Motivation – Human Needs

The psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation is 70 years old but continues to have a strong influence on the world of business.

In 1943, the US psychologist Abraham Maslow published a paper called A Theory of Human Motivation, in which he said that people had five sets of needs, which come in a particular order. As each level of needs is satisfied, the desire to fulfil the next set kicks in.

  • First, we have the basic needs for bodily functioning – fulfilled by eating, drinking and going to the toilet. Maslow also included sexual needs in this group.
  • Then there is the desire to be safe, and secure in the knowledge that those basic needs will be fulfilled in the future too.
  • After that comes our need for love, friendship and company. At this stage, Maslow writes, the individual “may even forget that once, when he was hungry, he sneered at love”.
  • The next stage is all about social recognition, status and respect.
  • And the final stage, represented in the graphic as the topmost tip of the triangle, Maslow labelled with the psychologists’ term “self-actualisation”. It’s about fulfilment – doing the thing that you were put on the planet to do. “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy,” wrote Maslow. “What a man can be, he must be.”

While there were no pyramids or triangles in the original paper, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is now usually illustrated with the symbol. And although the paper was written as pure psychology it has found its main application in management theory.

As managers we can shape the conditions that create people’s aspirations. Managers use Maslow’s hierarchy to identify the needs of their staff and help them feel fulfilled, whether it’s by giving them a pet project, a fancy job title or flexible working arrangements, so they can pursue their interests outside the workplace.

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In the second half of the 20th Century, bosses began to realise that employees’ hopes, feelings and needs had an impact on performance. Some managers began to move away from a purely “transactional” contract with a company’s staff, in which they received money in exchange for doing a job, to a complex “relational” one, where a company offered opportunities for an individual to feel fulfilled, but expected more in return.


Muddying things slightly, Maslow said that for some people, needs may appear in a different order or be absent altogether. Moreover, people felt a mix of needs from different levels at any one time, but they varied in degree. More sophisticated theories followed. Maslow’s triangle was chopped up, flipped on its head and pulled apart into flow diagrams.

Maslow’s friend, management guru Warren Bennis, believes the quality underlying all Maslow’s thinking was his striking optimism about human nature and society.

“Abe Maslow, a Jewish kid who really grew up poor, represented the American dream,” he says. “All of his psychology really had to do with possibility, not restraints. His metaphysics were all about the possibilities of change, the possibilities of the human being to really fit into the democratic mode.”


Anthony Robbins, worldwide coach and motivational speaker, has adapted this concept more recently.

What to know more about this and how you can motivate people in your team relying on their intrinsic motivation to fulfil their needs and realise their dreams?

Feel free to contact me for more details or personalised advice.

What’s Your Elevator Pitch ?

I attend a lot of business events that include networking. When meeting someone new, one of the first things we ask each other is “what do you do [for a living]?”

It’s an easy question, right? Providing a clear, direct answer is SO important to build our personal brand, help us find jobs, and facilitate new business…

And yet I almost never get a good answer to this basic query!

Common Elevator Pitch Mistakes

  • Humor: “I help push drugs” instead of “I do product marketing for a pharmaceutical company”, just isn’t funny and makes a bad first impression.
  • Too broad: “I work in technology” or “I’m a consultant” is useless. “I work for XYZ Company where I manage the help-desk group” is good. “I’m an independent marketing consultant – I specialize in developing sales promotion and direct marketing programs” is good.
  • Underselling: “I’m just an order-taker on the fixed income trading desk”. Way better to just say “I work on the fixed income trading desk”.
  • Too vague: “I help companies unleash hidden value.” What the heck does that mean?!
  • Life story: Your pitch is not the time or place to give the chronology of your career or explain your career decisions. Monologues are bad.
  • Jargon: beware of company/industry jargon until you know your audience.
  • Uptalk: that’s when you’re making a statement but with rising inflection so that it sounds like a question. “I work in finance?” can make you sound weak and flighty.

Best Practices for Your Elevator Pitch

Here are my rules for a good elevator pitch – which by the way is nothing more than your
self-introduction or answer to “what do you do?”

  1. Say what you do at the present time. You may also want to mention what you want to do next. If your job is hard to explain, keep working on it till you find an easy way to convey key information that is consistent with your networking and branding objectives.
  2. If you are in transition, be clear about your target job/employers.  Mention your recent and noteworthy former employers (or clients). Example: “I work in pharmaceutical marketing, most recently as VP for a start-up biotech company and previously for Bristol Myers-Squibb. I’m in transition; my search is focused on mid-sized biotechs, including late-stage start-ups.
  3. Build your brand. Be thoughtful about what makes you distinctive and for what you want to be known. This should be reflected in your pitch.
  4. Test your pitch. If your pitch generates appropriate questions and relevant conversations, it’s a good one. If your listener’s eyes glaze over or silence ensues, you missed your mark.
  5. Always reciprocate. “And what do you do, Mark?” Even better: ask what he does first, so that you can optimize your returning pitch.

You have one minute to explain yourself, your business, your goals, and your passions. Your audience knows none of these. Are your prepared? Can you present your vision smoothly, enticing them to want to know more?

  • Describe who you are: Keep it short. Hint: what would you most want the listener to remember about you?
  • Describe what you do: Here is where you state your value phrased as key results or impact. To organize your thoughts, it may help to think of this as your tag line. Hint: this should allow the listener to understand how you or your company would add value.
  • Describe why you are unique: Show the unique benefits that you and/or your company bring to business. Show what you do that is different or better than others.
  • Describe your  goal: Describe your immediate goals. Goals should be concrete, defined, and realistic. Include a time frame. This is the final step and it should be readily apparent to the listener what you are asking of him/her.


About the Author…

I help professionals optimize their careers through personal assessment, strategic planning, effective job search, and especially resume and cover letter assistance.  

My career experience includes 4 years as a Consultant Engineer in Technology and Air Traffic Management, 4 years in Banking with Lehman Brothers and Deutsche Bank, 2 years as a professor in Business Schools and Universities, and 2 years as a career, leadership and business coach.  Feel free to contact me for personalized advice on your resume.