The Human Needs Advantage

In my first article, I talked about Human Needs Psychology, and the Six Basic Human Needs. Now we’ll dig a little deeper into this powerful behavioral model in order to understand how our needs drive our behaviors, the impact it has on decision-making, the patterns we develop as a result, and how you – as Project Manager – can use this information to benefit the team.

Let’s first explore how each of these needs can impact behavior. Since this article is directed specifically to Project Managers, I will view these through the lens of change management, which of course is a vital component of project management.

Certainty. The person who values certainty is the most likely to respond in a fearful way to change. Because they place certainty at the top of their needs, their ability to see the benefits of change may be impaired by the mere fact that there is now uncertainty being introduced into their workplace. It’s not that they are necessarily resistant. They may feel powerless, insecure, or out of control. Since they don’t know what’s coming, their initial reaction may be to write the story ahead of time, but in a fear-based or negative way.

Variety/Uncertainty. The person who values variety is typically excited by change. These are the thrill-seekers, the edge-of-their-seat adventurers who thrive on new and unique experiences, whether at play or at work. These are the people who will rush headfirst into the change, maybe without even verifying first whether they have all the information, tools, skills, and training they may need to implement the changes.

Significance. Be prepared when this person gets a whiff of coming change! The person whose top need is significance is anxious to be heard and have their ideas given high priority. They thrive on making an impact, being important, maybe even showing their superiority to the rest of the team.

Love/Connection. The connected person is concerned with how these proposed changes are going to affect everyone else. “How will my team respond?” “What will this mean for the department?” Their views of the changes tend to be other-centered, empathetic, and directed toward making things as smooth as possible.

Growth. A growth-oriented person is excited by change because they know they’re going to be learning something new. Their behavior is geared toward embracing the opportunity to build their skill set, increase their knowledge; becoming more than they were before. They may value the knowledge, learning and growth over the changes themselves, regardless of whether they are valid, worthwhile changes.

Contribution. The contributor is interested in how the proposed changes will improve the work experiences and lives of all the people who will be impacted. They want to know that they are working on a project that will have value not only to the company, but to the individuals who will be most affected by the changes. They feel most engaged when working toward a cause.

If everything we do is done to meet our specific needs on some level, then the question becomes whether we are doing that through conscious choice or unconscious reaction. We have all developed patterns of behavior in our lives that help us do exactly that. Here is where things get even more complicated, though. People will violate their own values in order to meet their needs.

Let me give you an example. Would you say that honesty and/or integrity is a value you hold? Have you ever lied? The truth is, we’ve all done this. Oh, you say, “I had my reasons.” That is exactly what I’m talking about! Your reasons, as you call them, were nothing more than an attempt on some level to meet one or more of your basic human needs.

Learning how we have set up our needs in the context of our own lives is critical if we are to understand our patterns of thought and behavior, as well as our belief systems. Before we can strive to understand others, we must first seek to understand ourselves.

Here is a “formula” of sorts for comprehending how our actions become ingrained as patterns. If an action of ours meets 3 or more of our basic needs at a high level, then that action becomes a habit, a pattern, or even an addiction. It all happens quite unconsciously, and before you know it, you’ve got a deeply entrenched habit or pattern. You may even be mired in habits that are unproductive, and even unsafe on some level.

When we can learn how our team members have prioritized their own needs, we gain a glimpse into how they make decisions, and more importantly, how we may more effectively communicate and work with them in a team environment. Two key questions that need to be answered are: How well are team members’ needs being met? How can we find new ways to meet them without compromising the goals of the project? When you can answer these questions, you are well on your way to laying a solid foundation for a cohesive, sustainable team.


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