Company CultureIncentive Program SuccessIncentives

Vitamins, Pills, and Pyramids

By July 14, 2020 No Comments

Part 1

Years ago I learned about vitamins and pills as they relate to selling products and services. The basic idea is that if you have a horrible headache you want a pill that makes it go away RIGHT NOW. Typically we will pay good money to eliminate the problem.

Vitamins are not marketed as the “go away” solution. They are more preventative, and “you will be healthier in the long run.” But almost everyone knows if you have a problem that can be solved by a pill, you get the pill. (I recognize vitamins come in pills, but here I’m using it as “non-vitamin medicine”).

In business, I was told, it’s easier to sell pills because we find people who have a problem and sell them the solution. They want it now and money isn’t a big issue, if their pain is great enough. “Want your killer headache to go away? I have a solution!”  You can’t say “Have a horrible headache? Take these vitamins and next year you shouldn’t have any!”

See the difference?

You can certainly be in the vitamin business, and that is okay… you would just market to a different audience with different messaging. I learned that one isn’t better than the other, they are just different. And it’s critical to understand the difference.

Part 2

Okay, tuck that away and let me jump to another topic. I created a course on Pluralsight where I talk about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Caveat: If you read a bunch of articles you might see the names of the needs, or what they are made up of, a little different from author to author. For the purpose of this article I just went with something close enough.

This is the pyramid you’ve seen that explains the priorities (or hierarchy) of human needs. At the bottom, the basic needs include air, water, food, shelter, clothing. If a human doesn’t have enough air, or water, or food, or a good shelter, or has clothing issues, then they can’t really go to the next level. They can’t think about “safety needs,” which includes personal security, employment, health, property, etc. If, however, you have the first two levels taken care of… you feel satisfied and safe and secure, then you can go to the next level, which is “love and belonging,” including friendship, intimacy, sense of connection, etc.

Maslow defined five levels, which are (from the most basic): physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

I have heard arguments about people who are in the first or second level who can focus on higher levels. I don’t want to argue that (we could talk for hours about that). I just want to focus on the more simple idea that we need to satisfy one level before we can spend time in the next level.

You can’t think about love or education if you are starving or trying to sleep in the rain. But fix the food issue and the shelter issue and then you can think about other things.

Part 3

Just this week I realized that a business should have a hierarchy of needs model. I think back to my first startup, when I was creating my business, getting a license, and setting up a business checking account. These things might be on the bottom level of the hierarchy… having everything set up legally. I can’t (or shouldn’t) work on things like culture or training or bonuses if I don’t even have a legal structure in place, or employees hired.

I am not sure what I would put in my hierarchy, or where I would put those things. I’d have to think about it, and talk to my team about it. You should create your own hierarchy model, based on your own company, industry, situations, etc. I think that would be a very interesting and fun exercise to work through.

Here’s where all of these concepts come together: An incentives program probably wouldn’t be on the first or second tier of the hierarchy. Payment, yes, but a more purposeful incentives program that helps you shape and shift your culture in a way that basic payment doesn’t might be on a higher level. You can’t really put that into place, though, until you have some of the more basic needs met.

I think, then, solutions to help you take care of the first two or three levels on your hierarchy are solved by a pill. These are things you need to get done so you either spend time doing them or hire experts to get them done right. It might be costly, but if you don’t do them you might completely fail. Once you get them done, the pain goes away and you can spend time on higher level things.

The vitamin, then, are the fluffy components of culture. Hard to explain, hard to wrap your mind around, but we all agree that somehow in some way it is important. We should work on building a better culture, the same way we should take our vitamins.

Part 4

The problem with vitamins is that we can neglect them forever. They are never really necessary. We can put them off because we are lazy, they cost too much, or we just haven’t seen any results. This is the same as building our culture. We can put it off because we are lazy (or just don’t understand the importance), because culture programs cost too much (in time or money or other resources), or we have tried things but they just don’t seem to impact our fuzzily-defined culture.

But imagine if you faithfully take your vitamins over time. Years, even decades pass. You didn’t know it but the vitamins you have taken over the years have been very beneficial. Your health is better than it would have been if you hadn’t taken the vitamins. You might not feel it or appreciate it, but comparatively you are better off.

That’s the hard thing about vitamins… it’s hard to really know if they made a difference until you either do a fair comparison, or if you could somehow know how you would be if you hadn’t taken them.

The same thing with building culture. If you can start to implement things like a strong performance management and incentives and recognition program early on, as part of your cultural design from the beginning, you will be better off in five or ten years. You might not even realize how much better, until you get employees who say “man, this company is different.” “I like working here!” That is the comparison. You get to appreciate it again and again, when someone leaves to a worse workplace environment, or when you get a new team member in who helps you see things from their perspective.

But this doesn’t happen on the first day. You don’t gain instant health from starting vitamins today. It builds gradually. The question is, do you want to build gradually now, or start to build gradually in five or ten years?

Part 5

You’ve heard the question, “When is the best time to plant a tree?” The answer is 20 years ago. If you had planted 20 years ago you would have shade, or fruit, or nuts, or whatever, now. But that questions stinks if you hadn’t planted 20 years go. So they say, “The second best time is NOW.” Plant the tree now so that in 20 years you aren’t left wishing you would have planted it long before.

If you are ready to talk about real culture changes that can impact your top and bottom lines, we are ready. Just reach out to us. We’d love to get on a call, show you how Snowfly incentives and gamification works, and how we can help you craft and build the culture you want. We get to brag about what we’ve created, and what we’ve learned, and how we’ve helped our brilliant customers. And you get to decide if you are ready to plant the tree.

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Jason Alba

Jason Alba

I'm passionate about building great cultures. I love respect in the workforce, especially respect that is earned. I love strategic management, leadership, and vision. I love healthy companies through profitability. I love employee engagement, employee performance, and employee satisfaction. I love how Snowfly can help YOUR organization work towards all of these things.

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