Here’s something you learned in college that actually works in your business today if you pay attention.


Many of us remember the name as having studied Maslow in Sociology in college. But unless you have actually worked with the hierarchy you may not realize how important it is to understanding your employees’ (and your own) motivation factors.

Abraham Maslow introduced his concept of Self-Actualization as the highest level of human behavior needs in 1934. The Physiological needs are for survival – food and water. The second critical need is for Safety and Security –a home in a safe environment, some job security, some retirement expectations, a ‘nest egg’, etc. Love is really the ‘belonging’ need that involves relationships, family, career, community (religious, recreational, political). Esteem involves two forms – a lower level that is earning the respect of others, status, fame, recognition, dominance- and a higher level – self-respect, confidence, competence, freedom. Finally, Self-Actualization defines the position that only a few percent of the population achieves, the desire to fulfill their own potential and to ‘be all that they can be’.

When we are addressing the motivating factors of producers you will find that we cross the lines of almost all of the Hierarchy of Needs and that no one is in a static or unidirectional position in the hierarchy. Things change and the person who has been at the top level in Self-Actualization may quickly slide through the rest of the pyramid if conditions are just right to do so.


When we hire a young producer who has virtually nothing, his first need is to put a roof over his head and pay for his living expenses. These youngsters are sometimes operating in panic mode. This is NOT a position that will reflect well on your clients because they will seem that the producer must sell something – his livelihood depends on it. This “needy” feeling will certainly be noticed by prospects who don’t feel the producer is there to help them – he’s there to sell them something. This level of need is often noticed in the Auto Sales industry.

To make a producer successful you must get him out of this stage. The best way to do so is to guarantee him a living wage – sufficient to pay for his living expenses – as long as he follows your training and direction. If you begin a producer without the pressure of having to sell something to pay his rent you stand a much better chance of building the producer into the kind of professional you desire to promote your business.

A Producer in the SAFETY position of the Hierarchy

Not only does a producer have to know that his daily expenses will be sponsored by his position with your agency, but to crack through the insecurity of thinking he could be fired any day. To do that you must give the producer a career path that shows him how he can gain Job Security. This involves implementing a system that will give the producer every opportunity to achieve the goals that you and he have set for him. Happily we have progressed far beyond hiring a producer and telling him that if he doesn’t hit his sales goal he is fired. The agency owner who wants to progress his producers to the more productive levels of the Hierarchy will train the producer and will give him all the leads and prospects he can handle and then coaches the producer through the process to guarantee his success unless the producer is incapable of selling.

The Sales Manager will identify mismatches quickly and either move them into a position more attuned to the person’s ability or cut the cord quickly, allowing the agency to replace the producer with someone more productive and allowing the producer (who will certainly know that he isn’t performing to desired levels) to find something for which he is better suited as a profession. The SAFETY level is accurate until we prove the producer to be capable of achieving his goal. We would like to progress him to the next level as quickly as possible by assuring the successful person that he is secure in his role with the agency.

The Producer Moves Toward Professionalism and Ego

You can’t be in a higher position on the Hierarchy if you have issues involving the lower positions. This means that someone who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from is less likely to be concerned with Esteem and Love issues and may not even be concerned with Safety issues in the all-encompassing effort to survive.

But once the producer knows that he has ‘caught on’ to the formula he is ready to stretch his ego and move to the love/belonging level of the Hierarchy. He understands the coverages sufficiently to express himself as knowledgeable to clients and prospects and has evolved a sales method that will build relationships with clients. He is no longer the ‘newbie’ even though he still has lots to learn. Love and Belonging begins when pride and ego evolves.

This stage requires the producer to belong to a group, whether a sales team a product group (PL team or CL Team) or even the agency as a whole. At this stage the producer will feel more confident as part of the group rather than as an individual performer. He wants to be part of the pack.

The Ego-Driven Stage – Esteem

Sometimes the conversion is quick and other times it can take years, but eventually the producer becomes ego-driven and feels like the master of his role. Whether or not it is accurate, he feels he doesn’t need further help and he is the reason for his success rather than the efforts of the entire team or agency. This is both an awesome position and a dangerous one. This is the position in which most disputes occur that loses strong performing producers. On the plus side, there is an abundance of self-confidence and the producer is no longer uncomfortable trying new things or approaching new prospects. On the negative side, if you let him stay at this level this is where the friction with CSRs, managers and underwriters occur.

Breaking through to Self-Actualization

When you see a producer in the Esteem and Ego stage of the Hierarchy, your goal should be to help him achieve Self-Actualization at which he is confident in his abilities, no longer insecure about his continuity and his role in the agency, and ready to do the right thing for himself, for the agency and for the client – simply because it is the right thing to do.

Somewhere between the Esteem and Actualization stages the producer is no longer driven purely by money. He has reached a level of financial security. Sales and more money becomes a ‘marker’ for him to tell him how successful he is becoming.

Few of us ever get to Self-Actualization and it is difficult to stay at this level. The fragile nature of a producer’s ego, in itself, will tend to knock him out of Actualization when a client mistreats the producer, when he feels slighted by an employee or when one of a myriad of things happen in his life. But the longer we get him to stay in this position the more valuable he is to the agency, to his family, and to his clients.


The challenge for any business owner or manager who has staff is to keep his finger on the pulse of every employee and respond to each according to where they are on the Hierarchy at the moment.

As they achieve higher levels any shock to their system like lost clients, marriage problems, and business failure can move them down the escalator to lower levels of the Hierarchy rather quickly. When you recognize this you can begin treating them differently, motivating them according to their current level of the Hierarchy. If you don’t recognize that they have moved down you will quickly realize it when they react completely differently than you expect for the level at which you assumed they had achieved.

The rule is that they usually move up the ladder one rung at a time and it takes time at each level to achieve the next. However, the move in the other direction may be multiple levels of performance change and could happen very quickly.

Read up on Maslow – it can teach you as a manager and owner how to respond to each of your employees in the way that would best achieve your desired goals. Remember, management is not a science, it’s an art. If you manage properly you will have a low turnover and your employees will be much better attuned to your organization’s goals.