Interview with Chip Conley on Peak Performers

From Good Experience by Mark Hurst.

Chip Conley is CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, the world's second- largest boutique hotel company. After a severe downturn in his business after 9/11, Conley read Abraham Maslow's works as inspiration for his turnaround plan. It worked: Joie de Vivre is again thriving, and Conley has written a book about what he learned - not only from Maslow, but from companies like Nike, Apple, and Harley-Davidson, which follow Maslow's thinking.

Chip's book is Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow.

Q - What's the main idea of "Peak"?

The main idea is that we're all humans in the workplace - whether employees, customers, or investors - and those companies that succeed and become peak performers touch us as people in the workplace, by focusing on higher needs, as opposed to base needs.

Q - How is Abraham Maslow significant?

Maslow wrote about the hierarchy of needs in the mid-20th century. There's no psychologist or psychiatrist quoted more in business schools or corporations than Maslow.

What's interesting is that the psychology profession - including Freud, Skinner, and others - commonly looked at the worst practices in behavior in defining the human condition. Maslow says, let's look at best practices - people who are fulfilled or self-actualized, who can "be all you can be" and have clicked in to doing what they're supposed to be doing.

Q - Describe the pyramid containing the hierarchy of needs.

Reading Maslow woke me up to the idea that if there are self-actualized people in the world, then maybe there could be self-actualized companies, since companies are just collections of people.

So in "Peak" I break down Maslow's pyramid and apply it to key relationships - employees, customers, and investors. I took Maslow's five levels and turned them into three levels: the first two levels, physical and safety needs, are just survival. Levels 3 and 4, social and esteem, are just success needs, how the world sees you. At the top of the pyramid, self-actualization, is a transformative state, where you've moved beyond your own ego. So I created the "transformation pyramid": survival on the bottom, then success, and transformation at the top. I then applied those three levels to the motivations of employees, customers, and investors.


How do you put your attention on the top of the pyramid? The three levels represent money, recognition, and meaning: let's translate each to a word that describes a person's relationship with their work: a "job", a "career", or a "calling." Employers that move their employees up the pyramid get more happy and fulfilled and productive employees, who are much likelier to stay longer, and a positive spirit in that workplace. The fact is, I have 3,000 employees, and 1,200 of them clean toilets for a living. So it's a challenge for me to create that with my employees.


Pure customer satisfaction is at the base of the pyramid. The success need is having desires met, and that creates customer loyalty. By meeting the unrecognized needs of a customer, which the customer may not be able to articulate themselves, you create a customer evangelist. So there's customer loyalty in the middle, and evangelism at the top. Companies that do this well create not just loyalty but a marketing machine.

Q - What are some best practices of companies that use the customer pyramid to great effect?

There are four qualities that define companies that are creating these customer evangelists. First, they help their customers meet their highest goals - allowing a customer to achieve their ideal goals from using the product. Second is giving your customers the ability to truly express themselves. Third is making customers feel like they're part of a bigger cause. The fourth quality is offering customers something of real value they hadn't even imagined.


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