Lessons Learned from Maslow


The social status is an assessment of this position in the sense of an appreciation of the holder of a position. This social status assigns an individual a role or a position within the social structure of an organization. However, expectations placed on the role’s holder are also associated with this role. If these expectations are fulfilled, then there is oftentimes a reward; if this is not the case, then a punishment may follow. This role-based behavior is internalized and socialized by the society. Thus, our status is very important to us – regardless of whether or not we admit this to ourselves and/or to others – because the behavior of people amongst each other is defined by status. Also or particularly in organizations, the status is of existential importance. Hierarchies define the status of persons within organizations. Thus, we define a corresponding orientation regarding who, when, what is to be prescribed and who has to obey whom. Whenever we analyze organizations, then we may never forget during the discussion of status that there are two perspectives: A motivational perspective and a power psychological perspective.


The probably most well-known motivational theory was already defined in the 1950s by Maslow. He developed a 5-stage hierarchical system of human needs. 

  1. Basic needs (need for air, water, food, etc.)
  2. Security needs 
  3. Social needs (interaction with other persons)
  4. Ego needs (desire for recognition) and
  5. Self-actualization needs


Motivation (according to Maslow) decreases as soon as a need is satisfied; if this is the case, then motivation can only then still be found at the next-higher level; thus, only unsatisfied needs have a motivational effect.


Within the organizational context, particularly the ego needs level (“esteem needs”) is of importance. On this level, the needs for respect and appreciation are essentially important. For all people, this level triggers a need for self-respect and self-affirmation. However, if we change this level for individuals during change processes, then this triggers sustainable processes for these affected persons. Oftentimes, particularly managers then lose their self-respect. A feeling of uselessness and insignificance sets in and strong personalities appear quite suddenly to be very weak and demotivated. Change processes then very often come to a standstill because precisely this management level is extremely important in order to sustainably implement the change within the organization. Only how is this supposed to then be possible?


However, status is also often associated with organizational (functional) power. In this regard, according to McClelland (1975), the feeling of holding power is of a more decisive influence than the concrete influencing of others – thus the exercising of a powerful action. The motivation to accept a management function oftentimes was attributable to these power sources: Prestige, status, information controlling, etc. In this regard, we follow the three basic motivations: Striving for achievement (need for achievement) in order to be better than others, striving for power (need for power) in order to have influence over others and social striving (need for affiliation) in order to be “made” by others.


During the change processes, “human interaction” is always involved and we oftentimes pay much too little attention to the fact that the change is opposed by the managers’ motivations. In order to sustainably and successfully design a change, we must begin to redefine “status”. Recognition may no longer (only) be associated with the function. Even more so, function alone may not bring recognition, but rather the achievement or, even better, the collective achievement must satisfy the ego needs level. Moreover, power may no longer be understood functionally, but rather the power must be transferred, for example, to the network level. We cannot simply act as if status were no longer important. A higher status is always worth striving to attain. It is only a matter of what we define as a high status within our organizations and ultimately also within our society.

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