IT Maturity and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Mike Guerrieri | 02.07.20
Topics: CIO - Digital Transformation - IT Maturity

At a recent conference, I ran into Beth Lilienstein, a colleague I haven’t seen in a long time. She attended a presentation I did with a client where we presented the case study of the client’s IT maturity evolution and the benefits of DelCor’s IT Maturity Model (ITMM) for her organization. She was struck by the similarity of it to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I thought that was brilliant and decided to draw the parallels here.

hierarchy

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

I’ve long been interested in human behavior. I studied Applied Behavioral Science in grad school and what I learned has served me well as an IT leader. One of my first behavioral scientist heroes was Abraham Maslow. His work was groundbreaking because, unlike most other psychologists, he studied human potential, not just pathologies.

See this article for an overview of the theory. Check out this segment of the TED Radio Hour podcast for more on Maslow’s impact to the field of psychology.

When we perform technology assessments for our clients using our ITMM, we often identify things that need to be fixed (pathologies) and provide suggested remedies, but we also offer recommendations for the organization to advance their IT capabilities and maturity to higher levels (potential).

Here’s how Maslow’s hierarchies relate to our ITMM levels (I’ll take a little liberty and group Maslow’s first two levels because his hierarchy has five levels and ours has four).


Security and Physiological = Restrictive

When a person is struggling with security and physiological needs (i.e., food, water, shelter, clothing), it is impossible to strive for anything beyond survival. Similarly, when an organization’s technology maturity is restrictive, it is a struggle to do even the basics of providing reliable technology tools for the organization to meet its business objectives. Every day is filled with responding to crises, customer experience issues, business opportunities lost, and staff productivity losses due to ineffective technology.

Without the ability to manage IT governance, infrastructure, data, and digital experience at a basic level, the more advanced needs are not achievable. The goal for the organization should be to develop a plan to invest in technology to get out of this state as quickly as possible.

 

Love and Belonging = Functional

Humans are social animals, so once basic needs are met, it follows that we want to be part of a group, to belong. Once the basics of technology are covered reasonably well, the next stage is to improve how IT is serving the business.

At this level, there is still much room for growth, but rather than technology impeding the organization’s progress, it is more supportive of the organization’s goals. Information technology is more integrated into the organization. There is less of an “us vs. them” mentality.

However, this level of IT is typically inconsistent. Some aspects of technology work well, others, not so much. Achieving consistent results in all areas will help the organization move to the next level of maturity.

 

Esteem = Effective

Contrary to the wisdom of Lennon and McCartney, according to Maslow, love is not all you need. Once the previous levels have been achieved, we want to be recognized and appreciated by others and to achieve satisfaction in work. Being a valued partner to the rest of the business is a sign of reaching the effective IT maturity level.

In addition, a focus on user experience through digital channels, reliable and secure infrastructure, strong IT governance, a clear technology strategy, effective project execution, and using data to inform decisions in the organization are a few of the characteristics of organizations at an effective level of maturity.  

This may be the highest level of majority many organizations achieve—and that’s ok. If innovation is not critical to the organization’s success and if the technology needs of the business are adequately met, effective is a good place to be.


Self-Actualization = Innovative

Even if they don’t achieve self-actualization, people often find that simply striving for it can lead to much personal growth. Likewise, organizations that don’t settle for effectiveness (no small feat in itself), will mature considerably in the effort to reach the innovative level of IT maturity.

An innovative organization uses technology as a lever to better serve its members and other customers and to ultimately drive engagement and increases in revenue. Technology is viewed as critical to the organization’s success.

No matter where you are in Maslow’s Hierarchy, human needs serve as drivers to advance to the next hierarchy. Likewise, regardless of where your organization is in its IT maturity journey—restrictive, functional, effective, or innovative—you can look for ways to continuously evolve and improve your maturity level.

Want to learn more about IT maturity? Contact DelCor today.


Mike was a guest on DelCor's Reboot IT podcast, Episode 12: Talkin' IT Leadership.

About Mike Guerrieri

As a performing guitarist and singer, Mike helps our clients harmonize technology and business goals as part of our CIO consulting team.

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