By Winnie Chu
What do you strive for at the end of the day: food and shelter, family and friends, or fame and fortune? Maslow’s hierarchy of basic human needs, first introduced in the 1940s, has been widely applied in management training, personal development, and sociology studies. The hierarchy identifies physiological and biological needs as fundamental. People first need to fulfill their basic physical survival requirements such as air, water, food, clothing, and shelter. Once we are satisfied with our survival needs, we then move on to the next fundamental need: safety. Next are love, esteem, and self-actualization. Although there have been many expanded human motivation needs, this is the fundamental hierarchy structure: Maslow’s pyramid.
People are the heart of any organization. Great organizations understand this and are structured to fulfill this pyramid of human needs from food and shelter to self-actualization. This motivational structure starts at the executive leadership level. Executives need to set the example for treatment of employees as well as customers.
I’ve seen this firsthand through the founding and evolution of Nanozen. Trained in semiconductor sensors, I started an uphill communication in 2004 to communities within the sensor field on why and how we need to build intelligent sensors in the workplace and the community. With an eventual $5,000 check to hire an undergraduate student part-time and purchase materials, I started our sensor work. Nanozen has come a long way, and the company did not really take shape until a serial entrepreneur, Peter Briscoe, now CEO of Nanozen, agreed to lead the company. Peter’s good reputation in previous ventures has helped Nanozen attract good people. Employees from his previous companies have either joined Nanozen, want to join the company in future, or offer their help in any way possible for the company. They may not have been making sensors, but their expertise is essential in building sensors, particularly on hardware, firmware, and communication of big data. My knowledge and connections in academia and industry were also essential to recruiting strong young talent to be mentored under experienced technical experts. Each and every one of them told us that as an engineer or scientist, he or she could work for anyone and build anything—but designing and building the next-generation sensors to protect workers and the community adds meaning to their lives. This is the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
It definitely requires extra thinking, care, and personal attention to make sure young people will have their personal growth and development needs met. But when the whole team works as one to reach the company goal, you know there is no other way of building the company culture than treating them as well as you treat the customers.
Winnie Chu, PhD, is Founder and CTO of Nanozen.