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

The forgotten sides of the fraud triangle


We have known about the fraud triangle for decades. Fun fact: it has three sides.

Yet, whenever we identify fraud in the organization, our automatic reaction is to work on reducing opportunity. Opportunity is easier to work on. If someone uses the company checkbook to write a check to themselves and embezzle money, we reduce the opportunity by requiring two signatures on checks going forward.

We’ve been working on opportunity (policies, rules, internal controls, audits) for a long time and yet employees still engage in wrongdoing.

Can someone please remind me of the definition of insanity?

I suggest it’s time to focus on pressure (both emotional and economic) and rationalization.

It’s time we re-think how we compensate our employees, how we weaponize data with scorecards that aim to shame our employees into performance, how we operationalize trust.

Addressing pressure and rationalization is a lot more difficult. But most compliance programs have reached the limit in terms of what additional controls can do. In fact, too many controls can add pressure and help rationalize bad behavior.

A good place to start on this new journey is outlined in a fantastic book titled Primed to Perform.

Look around. It’s clear that we need to start performing differently.


When I first read Primed to Perform, I had difficulty applying the concept of inertia to ethics & compliance. I later had the chance to meet co-author Neel Doshi, who explained how devastating to compliance inertia can be.

We’ve all seen it but we didn’t know to call it inertia. In compliance, it’s when you ask an employee, following a preventable accident or a violation of law, why they did what they did, and their answer is: “I don’t know. We’ve always done it this way.”

In the business world, the best way to break inertia is to create velocity. We create processes that force innovation. We can do the same in compliance. We can create processes that force us to constantly evaluate the robustness of our program.

What part of your compliance program has been untouched for more than 3 years? This is where inertia is settling in.

Impact 2018 – ECI Annual Conference – Day 2

The keynote speaker for Day 2 was Neel Doshi, co-author of Primed to Perform.

Based on the review of 100 years of social science studies and their own research, Doshi and McGregor demonstrate that how “why we work determines how well we work.” While it may appear that this book is about business performance, it has a lot to do with ethical performance.

People show up at work for various reasons. A few of us feel like we’ve won the lottery and do a job that we thoroughly enjoy. We simply can’t believe that we’re getting paid for this! Some of us do work because of its noble purpose or for the potential it creates. Meanwhile, many of us go to work under pressure, either emotional or financial. Finally, some of us go to work because… well… we don’t really know. This is the only thing we’ve ever done. What else are we going to do?

The low end of this spectrum (not knowing why we work) is called inertia. From a performance perspective, these employees do the bare minimum. From an E&C perspective, these are folks who, when asked why they do things a certain way, respond “I don’t know. We’ve always done it that way!” They don’t see the risks. They don’t care. They won’t raise their hand when something’s wrong. They are extremely dangerous to the organization.

Moving up on the spectrum are those who work because they are pressured to do so. Their focus is not on the work itself but on relieving the pressure. Thus, their performance suffers. From an E&C perspective, we have long known that these employees are more likely to engage in fraud or other wrongdoing if given the opportunity and a rationale (the three points of the fraud triangle).

As we move closer to the high-end of the spectrum, we find people who care more about the work itself than about external pressures. Those who care tend to perform better. From an E&C perspective, absent significant pressures, they are unlikely to engage in wrongdoing.

The lesson for organizations is this: how responsible are you for creating pressures in the workplace? Are you creating scorecards and weaponizing the data? Are your sales people compensated solely on commissions? In addition, are you creating potential for your employees? Can they see the impact of their work on the end-customer (purpose)? Are the jobs designed to maximize enjoyment of the work itself?

The science shows that getting this right will improve performance and the bottom line. And, as a significant benefit, it will also improve the ethical culture of the organization.

Who will change your corporate culture?

Humans tend to overestimate what they can accomplish in a day and underestimate what can be done in a year.

And for things that must take 5 or 10 years to accomplish, we often don’t even try. Changing a corporate culture is one of those things.

Of course, all we have to do is break down the process in small, manageable steps and move with the confidence that one day we will reach our goal.

If you haven’t read the book Primed to Perform yet, I highly recommend it. All you need to know about understanding, measuring and improving culture is within its pages.

Someone should be working to improve your corporate culture.

Might as well be you.

Dear Fellows

I am writing theses lines on my phone during my flight to D.C. for the ECI Fellows meeting.

If you are not a member of ECI, I highly recommend you join. The group comprises some of the most thoughtful individuals in the E&C sphere. These individuals care deeply about our field and seek always to advance it by conducting meaningful research. If the ECI didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it.

Over the next two days, we’ll be discussing how best to incentivize ethical behavior. We have a fantastic lineup of thought leaders, including Primed to Perform author Neel Doshi. I’m delighted that I, and nearly 200 of my E&C colleagues, will get to learn from Neel how to transform our organizations using the new science of total motivation. If you haven’t read Neel’s book, grab a copy now.

Tomorrow I’ll report on our first day. See you then.

Why I work

When I talk about the book Primed to Perform, I often say that the authors have cracked the code on how to build a compliant, ethical and performing culture.

The principles described in the book work in all types of organizations, from single-parent families to multinational corporations. And for organizations like mine with an already great culture, the science of total motivation allows us to measure the culture and seek continuous improvements.

I was thrilled to share the findings of Primed to Perform with my departmental colleagues yesterday. Everyone is getting a copy of the book and we will complete the group survey to create a baseline.

This is why I am an E&C professional: to bring out the best in everyone, always doing the right thing.

Why we work and serve

Yesterday, I met with beautiful people at two of my favorite organizations. I am still on a high today.

My first stop was at Vega Factor. It’s co-founders, Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor, are the brains behind Primed to Perform, a book that has started to revolutionize how organizations are led. Using social science, the authors explain how to measure and improve performance (and ethical) culture. It’s all about the people, all about the employees, and you can feel it as you walk through the halls of Vega Factor: the shiny eyes don’t lie.

And then I visited with Claude Silver at VaynerMedia. Claude is the company’s Chief Heart Officer. It’s an unusual title but there is nothing ordinary about VaynerMedia and its founder Gary Vaynerchuk. Together, Gary and Claude are building a “honey empire”, an organization that will win by doing the right thing and by truly putting people first. They are obsessed with creating a safe work environment because they understand the conditions necessary for employees to do their best work. Claude and Gary extend trust first. They assume positive intent. They believe in the human potential. And in so doing, they are creating a wonderful culture.

I am in awe of these two organizations. One instinctively knows what to do and the other has developed a framework allowing everyone else to build a highly performing and highly ethical organization. They are a gift that we should all gladly accept and share.

Redefining speak-up culture

Today’s post was originally published on LinkedIn. It is reproduced below.

In many organizations, the “speak up” message has been hijacked by the compliance function.

When employees hear “If you see something, say something,” they think about reporting someone else’s wrongdoing. But a true speak-up culture can and should be much more than that.

A true speak-up culture is one where employees feel safe to share any idea that they believe will help the organization or its stakeholders. It can be an idea about a new product, a more efficient process, a new market, a savings opportunity, or even how to improve your bathrooms.

Feeling safe and trusted is critical to a speak-up culture. In their book Primed to Perform, authors Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor explain how “play” is the most powerful driver of performance. Organizations who allow their employees to be curious, to experiment, and to fail often outperform their peers. And my friends at LRN use the neat acronym “TRIP”: when Trust is high and employees feel safe, they take on more Risk, which leads to Innovation and Performance.

Smart leaders understand the true value of a speak-up culture. They invite feedback and treat it with respect. Each instance is a seed that will grow into trust.

Where there is no trust, more than wrongdoing goes unreported.

Step #1 in improving your organizational culture

Only hire managers who care just a bit more about your employees than they do about your customers and other stakeholders (and themselves).

Start that process in the C-suite.

What does a manager who cares about employees look like?

She makes her employees feel safe by allowing them to try new things and fail (it breeds innovation and leads to better performance).

She connects her employees’ work to the end product or service delivered to the customer (it gives meaning to the work).

She positions them to be successful inside or outside the organization (successful employees who leave the organization make great ambassadors).

She avoids using emotional or financial pressures (which hurt adaptive performance, the only type of performance that really matters in today’s economy).

For more on high ToMo leadership, read Primed to Perform. For my reading notes on this book, click hereFor a recent post on hiring the right people, click here.