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Build Esteem To Fuel Your Business

January 18, 2010

Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.

~Booker T. Washington

There is much research about the basic needs of human beings all built on Maslow’s hierarchy and heavily studied by psychologists around the world.  At a high level, the hierarchy says that beyond basic physical needs, sense of safety and love comes esteem.  The first three are self-explanatory but what does ‘esteem’ entail?

Esteem = achievement, status, responsibility, reputation

I’m not an expert in the human psyche, if there even is such a thing, however I am a firm believer in the importance of esteem as defined by Maslow.  In all of the companies I’ve had the privilege of working with, the ones with the highest customer satisfaction ratings are the ones that have employees with a high sense of esteem.

This led me to run a few experiments with interacting with people and the careful observation of their behavior in response.  My first experiment brings us back to my vacation in Cebu, Philippines.  I was looking for a nice place to have dinner and opened the hotel guide to see if there were any recommendations.  The selection was large and I wasn’t in the mood to make a lot of decisions about travel, location, cuisine type, etc.  I went to the concierge at the lounge and told them what I wanted – a nice quiet dinner off the resort property with a relaxing ambience and good food.  While I sipped a glass of Pinot Grigio the staff got to work.

I had just placed a lot of responsibility on them and trusted them with my second basic need – safety.  I was informed that a reservation was made for me at a nearby restaurant, approximately 5 minutes away.  I was sent to the lobby to wait for a hotel car to take me to the restaurant.  When I arrived, the driver waited until I was greeted in the parking lot and walked into the restaurant by the host.  Normal service?  No.  The concierge from my hotel called ahead, asked for me to be escorted and told the driver to wait until I was safely with the restaurant staff.  Something that would not of occurred had I made arrangements for myself.  Cost to me so far?  Amazingly, zero.

The host seated me at the best table of the house – another request of the concierge.  A quick look around confirmed that they had made an excellent choice for me.  Then I looked at the menu – extensive and filled with dishes I didn’t recognize.

Experiment two: I closed the menu, looked at the waiter and asked him to select a meal for me and include a complimentary wine.  Oh yeah, and I don’t want to know ahead of time.  Surprise me!  He was confused at first, asked if I had any allergies, and then smiled.  He would pick the perfect meal for me.  Responsibility, status, achievement and reputation were all on the line for him…can you guess at how he responded?

I had the best meal I had all year.  It was perfect and the service was extraordinary.  I met the chef, the restaurant manager and other waiters…pretty much the entire team at the restaurant.  It is rare for them to have so much responsibility placed upon them.  They were excited and proud. Beyond the wonderful experience, I learned a lesson worth more than the complimentary chocolate soufflé and tea served after dinner.

Lesson two from the Philippines:  Placing responsibility on a person enables them to meet a basic need and this is not taken lightly by anyone – whether consciously or subconsciously.  In return, they will exceed all expectations.

I have worked with many organizations around the world in a variety of industries.  The nature of our approach puts me in direct contact with CEO’s and mail sorters in a single day.  I have seen all kinds of corporate cultures.  Every client has told me that they are different, their industry is unique, their national culture is new for me, etc. And they are right. There are nuances that all of these factors bring.  However, at the end of the day people are people and they all have the same basic needs.   More employers need to trust that when they place responsibility on their employees they will exceed expectations as they are being encouraged to enhance their need for esteem.