By Terry Manion SVP, Business Development Canada, Creative Group

Do you remember sitting in a classroom, half listening while your teacher droned on about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

At the time it may not have seemed relevant to your life, but I’d like to suggest that when it comes to incentive programs, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is dead on.

In a nutshell, the late psychologist, Abraham Maslow, had a theory that determined we humans have five innate levels of need. As each need is satisfied – in priority, beginning with the most basic need – we are motivated to achieve the next need and so on, until we reach the fifth and final one.

You’ve probably seen Maslow’s Hierarchy presented in a pyramid cut into five color-coded sections: beginning with the physiological (food, water, shelter), then safety (health, employment, social stability), love and belonging (family, friendship, intimacy), self-esteem (achievements, earning respect of others), and at the pinnacle is self-actualization (purpose, inner potential, acceptance).

Maslow Chart


Done right, incentive travel is a powerful tool that, on a deep and lasting psychological level, motivates us to try harder and reach higher. Businesses can harness their power to drive their employees, salesforce, dealers, brokers, and others to be and to do their best.

Let me prove it to you, beginning with Maslow’s third need.

Of love and belonging

All of us want to feel part of something. A well-structured incentive/recognition program, with the reward of select membership to something special, fits hand in glove with our human desire to belong. Let’s consider the names of many of the incentive programs we see in the marketplace: President’s Club, Circle of Excellence, Achievers Club, Chairman’s Council – each suggests an exclusive membership of some kind, a need to qualify. Since we were kids, we wanted to be included, we wanted to belong to something important, something cool.

Consider, also, the feelings of affection and camaraderie that come when you share trip-of-a-lifetime experiences with travel companions – all of whom achieved the same club status.

Of self-esteem

I like to refer to this one as “the social need on steroids” because it’s not just about belonging (as is the previous need); oh no, this is about belonging to The Best, feeling great about it and knowing that others think you’re pretty great, too.

For super high achievers, the need for status recognition doesn’t stop there. These folks are driven to continually raise their performance, to be known as “The Best of the Best” (BoB) and “The Greatest of All Time” (GOAT).

Programs that are carefully crafted into motivational tiers – with each tier ratcheting up the level of recognition and reward – keep things fresh and exciting for your BoBs. Their engagement and high level of motivation last throughout the length of the contest, maximizing results.

Of self-actualization

This is the highest and most complex of our needs and can only be realized once all the others have been checked off our lists. According to Maslow, self-actualized people typically enjoy solving real-world problems and are driven to help others improve their own lives.

For many years incentive programs were, quite frankly, more inward-looking. But with the introduction of corporate social responsibility (CSR) – for companies to do good for others – our need for self-actualization has been realized.

Whether you want to help communities rebuild after suffering natural disasters like a hurricane, build schools in remote villages or contribute materials for a local literacy initiative, you and your team are giving your time and expertise for the betterment of others. The feeling of satisfaction is priceless, and it lasts a lifetime.

An incentive plan’s success is often measured by its ability to change behaviors. I believe, however, that if Abraham Maslow (1908 – 1970) was alive today, he’d argue that we aren’t changing behavior, we are enabling innate human needs to take their natural course.

Let us show you how to get the most out of your incentives.