How we work depends on why we work

This post is the fifth in a series devoted to my reading notes (and thoughts) on the essays contained in The Culture Book, Volume 1. This essay is from Lindsay McGregor, co-founder of Vega Factor and co-author of the bestselling book Primed to Perform: How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures through the Science of Total Motivation (ToMo). Vega Factor’s mission as a company is that every single organization on Earth has a high-ToMo way of operating and a great culture by 2050. For my 2016 reading notes Primed to Perform, please click here.

Social science uncovered six motives that explain why people work: Play, Purpose, Potential, Emotional Pressure, Economic Pressure and Inertia (For an overview of the six motives, click here). These motives can be measured, and the measures can predict the performance of an individual and of an organization. More specifically, the measures can predict a number of outcomes, including ethical behavior.

Our reasons for working, our “why”, directly affects what we do and how well we do it. Culture is everything that shapes our “why”, all the things in an organization that influence how we show up for work.

Anyone attempting to measure performance must first understand that there are two types of performance: tactical and adaptive. Tactical performance is your ability to execute against plan. Adaptive performance is your ability to diverge from plan, a necessary skill in today’s ever-changing world. Leaders need both types to run an organization effectively. While all six motives can improve tactical performance, only the first three increase adaptive performance. As they set to measure performance, leaders are warned not to “weaponize” the data they collect through dashboards and scorecards. Of course, metrics are necessary but they must be carefully selected, not used to instill fear in their employees, and not necessarily tied to compensation.

The most powerful driver of employee motivation is role design. A role is poorly designed when employees don’t know what they are responsible for, only understand a piece of the problem the organization is trying to solve, don’t see the impact of their work, or don’t have the skills for the job. It should be noted that well-paid does not mean well-designed. When a role is well-designed, employees are trusted to experiment and they see the link between their work and the organization’s mission/purpose

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