Make it impossible to un-learn

My friends at Vega Factor teach motivation and performance using unforgettable stories, like the one of bounties for dead snakes in Delhi.

And my friends at Broadcat teach compliance with visual aids that cannot be unseen, like the poster that reads “Found gum on the ground? Don’t put it in your mouth. Found a USB on the ground? Don’t put it in your computer.”

What ethics or compliance problem are you facing today? What could you do or say about it that would be memorable and instantly change you employees’ perspective?

What drives you?

In these pages, I have often warned of the dangers for management to drive performance via emotional and economic pressures.*

It’s worth reminding ourselves that if we work for an organization that drives performance primarily through pressures like reserved parking spots, office size, weaponized dashboards and bonuses, we can choose not to let these things drive us.

What drives your performance? Would you be as excited to do you work if there was no promise of a bonus or a plaque at the end?

If not, might it be time to contribute elsewhere?


* Based on the findings of Primed to Perform.

Seeing the unseeable

“We have seen what we thought was unseeable.”

These were the words of an astronomer during a news conference yesterday, prior to unveiling the first picture of a black hole.

To “see” this black hole, scientists used eight radio observatories located on four different continents for a period of 10 days. Then, they spent two years analyzing the data.

Those of us interested in corporate culture can draw a few parallels, as culture appears elusive at times: let’s observe culture from multiple vantage points, collect as much data as possible, and use the scientific method to draw conclusions.

My friends at Vega Factor have spent years doing just that. They call it the science of total motivation (ToMo for short) and they wrote a fantastic book about it. They literally have cracked the code on culture. For me, learning about ToMo was like seeing the unseeable. But it was more than that because once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

On chaos

In a recent post, Linda Henman suggested a list of questions that we can ask ourselves when trying to determine if someone is a strong decision-maker. Among them was the following: “How does chaos affect this person?”

My organization is currently navigating an intense period of change. Not only are we integrating a recently-acquired company of 30,000 employees, we are also preparing for the spinoff of two business units counting more than 100,000 employees. These complex initiatives require an extraordinary amount of delegation, thus a need for strong decision-makers.

We are embracing these changes because of the opportunities they present. At the same time, we are focusing intensely on the additional risks that chaos generates, including ethical risks. One of our countermeasures is an all-employee training entitled “Leading Ethically Through Change”, in which we explain how the pressures of VUCA* can affect decision-making. We believe that the first step in navigating chaos is to understand how chaos affects us.

To improve her organization, the ethical leader should develop strong decision-makers who can ride the waves of chaos when they swell.


*Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity

Early adopters can change the culture

I came across a game-changing idea a few years ago. An idea that fixes everything that is wrong with today’s corporate culture.

Since then, I have been trying to implement it at work. I have presented it to my boss, to my peers, and to my team – and it hasn’t taken off yet. So my next move is to embed the idea in the next all-employee training. By getting it in front of thousands of people, I’m hoping to infect enough of them to get the idea viral.

If you have an idea whose time hasn’t come quite yet, remember that there are early adopters in every market. Find the right one, and you might also find your tipping point.

Beware the compliant employee

Compliance professionals work hard at defeating the efforts of sociopaths like Madoff and Skillings. But sociopaths account for only a tiny percentage of the workforce.

Far more numerous are inert employees. They are the employees who simply do as they are told. When asked “Why did you do it this way?”, they respond “Because we’ve always done it this way.” It’s ironic that we often call them “compliant” employees.

For every control we add, the sociopath will find a way around it. What we need to do is create a workforce around them acting as their conscience and creating the cognitive dissonance a sociopath cannot produce. We need employees who questions orders and who raise a red flag every time they see a work habit settling in.

In other words, we need to eliminate inertia from the workplace.

HT to Primed to Perform

Primed to Perform – The perfect book to start your culture journey

The best way to reduce ethics & compliance risks is for the organization to have a robust E&C program and a strong ethical culture.

While we need to start with a robust program, an ethical culture is the force multiplier. It’s also the more difficult one to implement. Most leaders don’t know how to define culture, how to measure it, let alone how to change it.

Which is why many organizations today seem stuck. Their compliance program has gone as far as it can go and yet, misconduct is higher than it should be. If this sounds familiar, you may be ready to work on your culture. Of course you’ll need help and there won’t be a shortage of consultants offering it.

Before you hire someone, it might be prudent for you to understand why people work because that’s what determines how well they work (and how ethical they will be). The best learning resource I’ve come across is the book Primed to Perform by Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor. It’s an eye-opening book that will change how you think about work and set you down the right path for an amazing culture.

To learn more about Primed to Perform, click on the appropriate tag on this page. My early posts summarize each chapter of the book.

Learnings from Slack’s Frontiers 2018

I spent the last two days in New York City attending a conference held by Slack, a company whose mission is to make work simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.

I attended because Lindsay McGregor was one of the keynote speakers. Lindsay is the co-founder of Vega Factor and co-author of Primed to Perform. She delivered Vega’s “101”, a summary of the science of total motivation (tomo) – a speech I’ve heard at least 4 times. It never gets old. I won’t elaborate here because frequent readers of this blog know all about tomo. If you are new here, search the archive for Primed to Perform.

To keep this post short (as usual), I will list here some of my learnings from the conference. Each bullet point may one day become it’s own post.

  • A speak-up culture starts with a listen-up culture. Good listening breaks down silos.
  • The more innovative an idea, the more likely it is to be rejected. To improve your chance of adoption, make the unfamiliar familiar.
  • Create psychological safety to promote trust and spur innovation. Put out a problem box (not a suggestion box) for employees to raise problems and then assign executives to champion solutions.
  • Ask employees to “kill the company”, or to “kill the department”, or to “kill the idea”. This borrows on the concept of pre-mortem, where you dream up in advance why a venture failed in order to prevent fatal mistakes.
  • Encourage help-seeking, with tools like Givitas.
  • Offices are not natural for human beings. We’ve only worked in offices for about 100 years. Meaningful workspaces are at the intersection of tools, space and culture.

“We shape our buildings. Thereafter they shape up”

– Winston Churchill.

Playground at work

The science shows that employees perform best when they are in roles that allow them to be curious and to experiment. The employer’s job is to provide a sandbox where employees feel safe to play. This is what Google did when it allowed its employees to spend 20% of their time working on whatever they wanted.

A playground at work allows employees to learn and develop their skills in a safe way. If they try something and it doesn’t work, it’s OK. As they try and fail and try again, their skills improve, all to the benefit of the organization.

The best-selling video games know a thing or two about play and skills. The first challenges the present to players can be met with almost no skills at all. The next challenge is barely more difficult. Players acquire skills rapidly while having fun. If they make a mistake, they can start over again and again. Consequently, players spend countless hours honing their skills.

Imagine a workforce that comes to work for play. Each employee has a job designed for their current skill level. Experiments are conducted to generate learning and growth. As their skills increase, their job is redesigned and their pay is adjusted. They keep playing, they keep learning, they increase their skills, all in a virtuous cycle.

There is a roadmap to this future workforce. It’s called the science of total motivation (ToMo). You can learn about it in the book titled Primed to Perform.

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