Fist Bump1

Preventing Your Culture From Going to the Dogs!

Early in my career as a marketer, my best friend, Nancy Bauer and I had a marketing/special events company called Maslow & Pavlov. One day, we flipped a coin for who got what philosopher on their license plate and I lost – Nancy ended up with Maslow and I was “stuck” with Pavlov. I was disappointed because Maslow’s hierarchy of needs appealed to me much more than Pavlov’s theories on conditioned response. At the time, I wasn’t sure exactly why and now I know.

Frankly, I haven’t thought much about either Maslow or Pavlov until this week when I read Fred Irwin’s blog post, “Is it them? Or is it you?”, about what young professionals want from their jobs as well as her second one about business owners searching for Maslow.

In a nutshell, employees don’t want a controlling, top-down, not-until-you-pay-your-dues kind of environment and leaders don’t want to run these kinds of companies either. Leaders and their troops want to be part of a culture/cause and build products/companies that will ultimately lead to self-actualization – the fulfillment of their goals and that of others. Why is this a big surprise?

In a recent catch-up call with Meg, our 20-year old sophomore at James Madison University, I heard something similar. She recently decided to pledge a service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega. In addition to her schoolwork, playing collegiate rugby, working off campus, and participating in a few other clubs, she has somehow found time to volunteer off campus for a variety of causes. She has planted a community garden, worked with kids, and supported a variety of fraternity activities on campus . . . and she’s only been involved for a month. I don’t think Meg has any more time than I did back in college, but her decision to use her time to support others brings meaning to her collegiate experience and puts her in contact with like-minded folks who aspire to contribute positively to the world. APO gives her that chance.

So what does this mean for those of us trying to attract and keep good people? I think we need to be less Pavlovian about our efforts – make sure the money and time ratio are competitive – and focus more on being in tune with Maslow’s hierarchy. It turns out that salary and benefits are only the tip of the employee retention iceberg. We need to think beyond the wages we pay to the messages we are sending, the cultures we are building, and the values we support.

For starters, we recruiters need to recognize that while we are evaluating candidates, they are looking at us. They are reading our websites, picking through our blogs, probably sneering at our social media, and looking for pictures of people, who look like them, cheering at the latest March Madness happy hour or getting their hands dirty engaging in a new social service project. In the same way we are evaluating the quality of every interaction they have with us, they are taking note of how people talk to each other while they are getting coffee, coming/going from meetings, welcoming them at the front door.

These things matter to candidates and as we continue to see the trend in hiring moving toward a job-seeker’s market, we will continue to see job-seekers freed up to protest or flat-out refuse to tolerate some of the more annoying, but sadly standard recruiting practices.

Here’s a reality check for you — when was the last time we thanked a candidate for taking time out of his or her lunch hour to talk about our opportunity?

Table stakes include treating our candidates with respect regardless of whether or not they are “the one.” When a candidate interviews in our offices, are we taking them on a tour, showing them where they will work, introducing them to anyone they meet and not just the people with whom they interview? Yes, courtesy is important and it goes both ways. Did you earn that post-interview thank you note or do you want it just because you want it?

Every time I write one of these posts, I am always faced with seeing my own failings in the area under the microscope, especially when I’m under the production gun. Given this is my second go-round thinking about Maslow & Pavlov, you’d think I would have absorbed more about what it takes to develop and maintain a self-actualizing talent operation. It just goes to show you that we are all conditioned to think about the employer–employee relationship as hierarchical, me included. Maybe it’s time to think of it more as an exchange – less dog treats and more fist-bumps. I’ll leave the visuals to you.



  1. Lonnie Rich
    Lonnie RichApril 19,16

    Good advice!

  2. Nancy Bauer
    Nancy BauerApril 19,16

    Maslow continues to be impressed with her early business parter and apologizes for hogging the Maslow all these years 🙂

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