Hierarchy of organizational needs

I received an email this morning with a subject line seeming of great importance: “A hierarchy of organizational needs”.

What is the hierarchy of organizational needs?

Discussing organizational needs can typically involve another discussion around the topic of organizational growing pains. As organizations grow, they require new elements which may not have been as obvious of a need during the early-stages of growth.

Examples of growing pains may include:

  • members unsure of the vision
  • too much time is spent “putting out fires”
  • unawareness of what other people are doing
  • too many decisions require group input

There are many more than four types of growing pains an organization may encounter. I chose to highlight the four I listed above because I noticed those specific growing pains in the organization I started a few months ago, Princeton Impact Project.

Princeton Impact Project Growing Pains

Princeton Impact Project was born on March 26th, 2015. As a new organization, and perhaps the first of its kind in the region, there have been a few stumbling blocks. I had hopes and aspirations for the project, but when I started it I was unaware of the interest in the community. After a few weeks of consistent meetings it became clear that our small project had legs. We are hosting the first Princeton Cooperative Impact Social Innovation Conference this Thursday, May 14th. A Philadelphia reporter did a story on the project a few days ago.

We have grown at such a rapid pace that we began to experience some “growing pains”. This was due to my lack of preparation for growth. I like to think this is a good problem to have. At the same time, it is an avoidable obstacle. If the organization had proper infrastructure from the onset we would have likely been able to steer the ship with a bit more precision.

Overcoming growing pains

Now that I found myself in the place of experiencing growing pains I had to work through identifying potential solutions. I learned a few lessons in the last week:

  • Members unsure of the vision: at one of our weekly meetings one of the members was not sure about where the group was going. A common question that began to pop up was, “What’s after this?”
    • Lesson Learned: It is easy to think all the brainstorming and powerful thoughts in your mind are glorious. However, if you don’t communicate those thoughts and visions with your core, and eventually make that knowledge available to the public, people can easily become discouraged.
  • Too much time is spent “putting out fires”: once other members of the group began to take ownership over our movement, and volunteer to take responsibility for accomplishing tasks, there was no system in place to manage the tasks for other people.
    • Lesson Learned: You may have a system for managing your own tasks. It might be a scribbled list on a Moleskin, a tidy spreadsheet, or a Kanban board on your wall. You must have a system that is prepared to manage tasks for multiple people BEFORE you ask people to take on tasks. I envisioned the project management being a group decision of some sort. I realized that not everything must be a group decision.
  • Unawareness of what other people are doing: it was nice to see people in the group excited to be involved, and work as one unit to accomplish our shared vision. However, a problem occurred when I did not setup the infrastructure for communication protocol in terms of what to do when you accomplish a task, what to do if you have an update, what to do when you have a question, etc.
    • Lesson Learned: Neglecting to setup a process for sending and receiving updates from your team will result in team members communicating with the entire group when they have updates. This type of over communication is not desirable at any stage of an organization’s growth as it dilutes important messages from the team leader.
  • Too many decisions require group input: the previous lesson was about avoiding “over communication” and diluting important messages – both of which led into this obstacle. One of the values we offer is the collaborative process around decision-making. There is a delicate balance of collaboration and progress. Coexistence of the two is possible, but it is difficult.
    • Lesson Learned: It is understandable that you want to maintain a collaborative process for making decisions. However, if you continue this process to the point of constant deliberation – and it gets to an extreme where members of the founding team are unable to make decisions without the entire group’s input – it will prevent progress.


One of the ways I have been able to overcome some of the obstacles is by speaking with mentors. I frequently write about the power mentors have had in my life. I try to invest adequate time speaking with mentors and advisors. Having conversations with several different people provides me with an array of input so that I may fully understand the complexity of the situation. It also allows me to understand which mentors are more experienced for different situations. One of my mentors spent 25 years as a British Diplomat leading a Renewable Energy Technology team in London. It was clear he has a natural ability for listening to people. Members feel a connection with him because he cares about learning each person’s point of view. People gravitate towards him. The qualities he brings to the table are of those I would also like to develop.

Hierarchy of organizational needs prevents growing pains

I mentioned Seth wrote a new blog post today about the hierarchy of organizational needs. Below is the list from Seth on such needs. To help make the transition from growing pains to hierarchical needs I would say to you to think about the needs listed below as the pain-releif medicine you would take if your organization experiences growing pains. Likewise, the list below can be thought of as preventative care as well.

  • Make it properly
  • Make it on time
  • Make it efficiently
  • Make promises
  • Make it matter
  • Make connections
  • Make a difference
  • Make a ruckus
  • Make change

“It gets more and more compelling (and more difficult) as you move from making it properly to making change. But we need all of it.”

Authors influencing organizations

It is always nice when Seth writes about something of great interest and utility to particular situations of which I tend to find myself. It seems as though he knows what I am going through on a specific day, and he writes about it. So, thank you for that, Seth.

[1] Growing Pains in Small Business, by Eric Flamholtz, Ph.D.

[2] Princeton Impact Project, a Princeton-based Social Enterprise

[3] Princeton Cooperative Impact Social Innovation Conference

[4] Cultivating Community and Impact in Princeton, by Kristen Gillette of Generocity.org

[5] Kanban, a production process management tool

[6] A Hierarchy of Organizational Needs, by Seth Godin