A load of old Maslow

profession is failing to keep abreast of new thinking, argues Malcolm Finney

the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. During the 50 years since
Maslow first suggested his theory of human motivation much has happened in this
and other areas of organisational behaviour. But how many professional HR
training consultancies or in-house HR managers are sufficiently aware of such

IPD’s latest survey on training shows that the most important skill valued by
trainers is knowledge of people management. If this is so, why do so many
outside training consultancies continue to base training sessions on motivation
around Maslow and/or McGregor, for example? And why does Blake and Mouton’s
managerial grid feature so strongly on leadership courses? Why do courses on
presentation skills appear to dwell on the mechanics of slide presentation, how
to answer questions and voice development, ignoring much relevant research on
the theory of communication?

for example, are references to Katzell and Thompson, Locke and Latham; Vroom
and Jago, Conger and Kanungo; Shannon and Weaver, and Bandura?

popularity of some concepts, such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, may be due to
their intuitive appeal and their relative simplicity, which enables easier
understanding. But these qualities do not provide sufficient justification to
warrant providers ignoring subsequent research findings and simply perpetuating
superseded theories and concepts.

simplicity in an increasingly complex world is to be welcomed, understanding,
explaining and predicting human behaviour is unfortunately very rarely capable
of being reduced to a few simple rules.

Bajer in a recent article (Creativity and confidence for the digital age,
Training, April 2000) stated that, “Individuals place personal development at
the top of the list of job requirements”. Formal training is an integral part
of such development and the tendency to teach out of date theories does little
to aid personal development.

to the job hoping to implement new found knowledge is often difficult enough
without having to suffer comments from older managers that they already know
about the likes of Maslow, McGregor, Blake and Mouton from their training some
15 to 20 years earlier.

gap between the state of knowledge in the so-called academic world and that of
the practitioner in many areas has been recognised for a long time.

practitioner can possibly be expected to keep up to date with the voluminous
newly-emerging academic research in the organisational behaviour field.
Nevertheless, the trainee has every right to demand that those who train do
possess such knowledge, or at least have an awareness of its existence. Indeed
the IPD survey revealed that the fourth most important skill valued by trainers
was “knowledge of organisational development”.

the IPD’s survey might usefully have also asked trainers whether they or their
organisations subscribed or had ready access to journals such as, among others,
Human Relations, Human Resource Management Journal, Journal of Organisational
Behaviour and/or Selection and Development Review.

accepting the useful role of journals such as Personnel Today and Training, for
the professional HR trainer a greater in-depth awareness of emerging theories
and research findings is also needed.

I feel sure that many training consultancies and in-house HR managers make
every attempt to keep abreast of new trends and developments, it is clear that
many do not. It behoves all of us involved in management training to be as
up-to-date as possible in an ever-changing world if the HR profession is to
continue to improve its role and status within the business management

Finney is founder of organisational behaviour management consultancy Management

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