My daughter and I were talking recently about the unprecedented situation we all find ourselves in. It’s so new to us that I find it difficult to know even how to talk about it. As a father I want to instill security, hope and love, but I also want to help my kids critically think through what is happening so they can deal in facts and not fear and look for solutions and opportunities when others send out doomsday signals. My daughter said something during our conversation that helped me synthesize my scrambled thoughts from the last few days. She said, “Dad, people aren’t worried about the normal things right now. There are families out there worried about food and shelter that they used to get from schools and other programs that have shut down!” She’s right. Our concerns have shifted.
This got me thinking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how, in the corporate world, we focus so much of our daily attention on our employees’ motivational needs of Esteem and Self-Actualization. But as my daughter so aptly pointed out, the concerns of our communities have shifted nearly instantaneously to the more foundational needs of basic necessities, safety and human connection.
It seems like just yesterday employees were concerned with whether they received a 3 or 4 on their annual performance review. Today, we are scrambling to find food at grocery stores; we find ourselves needing to make the difficult decision between work and watching our children; we’re concerned about the health of our elderly parents; we’re concerned about losing our jobs; we’ve lost all confidence in our economy; we’re skeptical about any interaction with others for fear they may “have it”; and we’ve lost the ability to connect with others in a personal way that gives us the support we need in difficult times. Wow. That’s a significant reversal of perspective. And it is this sudden change of needs that our private companies need to deal with.
As someone trained and experienced in risk management, I’ve consulted many companies in their risk management programs. I’ve seen companies put together business continuity plans for stock market crashes, natural disasters and potential acts of violence. Most companies approach this exercise methodically, as if it’s a puzzle that needs solved. And today, companies are certainly faced with how to respond to disruptions in supply chains, investment portfolio adjustments to ensure adequate company reserves, equipping employees with appropriate hardware in order to effectively work remotely, and all the other logistical considerations that are no doubt part of this current scenario. However, what feels different, what is different, is the significant mindset shift of our people that accompanies this ugly scenario. How our companies and the leadership of our companies address the basic needs and fears of our employees in this time of great uncertainty will not only differentiate good from bad, but will absolutely be an essential aspect of our ability to nationally and globally get back to a state of normalcy.
I’m inspired so far by what I see. Some examples:
Lately, as a father I see the amped up fear in my kids’ eyes. As an individual I feel the gravity of the shift in my own perspective, and I wonder how this pandemic permanently impacts our culture and behaviors. As a business person, I understand the need for our private sector to be part of the solution. It is times like these where the companies must step up and care for the workforce and find innovative ways to address employees’ most basic needs. As these needs are met, Maslow would attest that we (individually and corporately) can then, and only then, focus on self-actualization and being the most that we can be.