Unpacking the Science Behind Motivation

Neel Doshi, Co-founder, Vega Factor, Author of Primed to Perform
Feb 3, 2021

It’s no secret that motivation is the precursor to high performance, so why do organizations still struggle to motivate their employees? For starters, many of us are still figuring out how to manage an organization with most or all of its team working remotely. How do we motivate people we no longer see?

According to Neel Doshi, co-founder of Vega Factor and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Primed to Perform, a key to this Gordian Knot of a problem is to understand what totally motivates your people—wherever they are.

On this episode, Neel joins the People Ops Podcast to talk about six fundamental motivators of human behavior, how to optimize the right ones to create Total Motivation, or TOMO, and why motivation is critical to adaptability in a post-pandemic future.

On this episode, you’ll hear:

  • [01:29-04:01]  What inspired Neel to master the science that governs motivation and performance
  • [04:19-08:54] How remote work is impacting motivation and leadership
  • [10:45-13:30] The three direct motivators organizations should maximize
  • [13:31-15:12] The three indirect motivators that organizations should minimize
  • [17:01-19:09] Why people who are driven by indirect motivators are less adaptable, and why that’s a problem
  • [23:33-26:07] How small business and startup leaders can create motivating environments
  • [35:35-37:49] Why it’s crucial to get motivation right to thrive in a future of hyper-competition and change

After you listen: 

POPS Star Bio:

Neel Doshi, co-founder of Vega Factor and best-selling author of Primed to Perform, didn’t start out his career with the enthusiasm he has now.  When he first entered the workforce, he hated his job, yet couldn’t identify exactly why that was. After a few years of struggling to get motivated, he finally quit and joined a startup. From day one of the new job, he found himself working 14 hours a day, seven days a week and loving every minute of it. This experience inspired him and his business partner, Lindsay McGregor, to research the science behind performance and motivation. Today they run their own successful startup and are parents to two kids under the age of two, who motivate and inspire them in a myriad of ways.



Neel: If you want someone to be engaged in their work, you have to make their work engaging

Didi: POPS! It’s the People Ops Podcast from Zenefits, the only show dedicated to small businesses. And sharing their stories of pivotal people, moments. I’m your host Didi D’Errico. Have you ever had a job or for that matter a year, like 2020 that left the youth struggling to get out of bed each morning where you phone it in and you barely work.

What happens when you hate your job and you can’t figure out why. On the flip side, have you ever had a role at work that is so in sync with what you’re good at that it almost feels like play and you love every minute of it? Are these scenarios just about hiring people into the right roles or as business leaders? Is there something more we can do to build a highly motivated and high performing organization? That’s what Neel Doshi has spent the last 20 years unpacking. 

Neel: Along that journey. What I kept seeing was organizations from really big, to really small, just struggled to motivate their people. 

Didi: And that’s what we’ll get into in this episode, especially in light of the last 12 months where we’ve lost the in-person connection with our teams.

Often we think we’re doing the right things to engage our people. But how do we know if we’re providing the right conditions for something Neel calls, total motivation or TOMO for short.

Neel: Maybe a month into lockdown. We published our research on remote work and specifically this locked down experience on what it would do to motivation.

And our prediction in April is that motivational plummet, and not for reasons that people think. So people think, well, is it about remote? Not remote a little bit, like a little bit is about that. And generally, our data shows that when folks are remote their motivation levels on average drop a bit, and you can understand why most organizations are geared to motivate people through in-person contact. They’re not geared to motivate people remotely. 

Didi: So what are the things that we did in the past to help drive motivation? And what do we need to reconsider in this post-pandemic era? Most importantly, what’s the biggest mistake small businesses are making when it comes to their people. That’s a lot of questions that we’re going to answer in this episode of PIVOT. Here’s my conversation with Neel.

Neel: A big part of what drives motivation the right way is choice. Like, did you feel like you made a choice, or did you feel like you had no choice in your course? The difference in choice in coercion when it comes to motivation is night and day. And the challenge with remote work through the pandemic wasn’t that people had a choice.

They had no choice, they had no choice, but to work remotely. And so what organizations have to do to get this right is actually building choice back into the job. And so for all of the other dynamics that were accidentally motivating that they didn’t realize were actually because of in-person dynamics, 

Didi: where are some of the levers, I guess, on that choice that, that you identified?

Neel: There’s a bunch of levers here. So imagine you’re a leader or an expert who has some skills, some technical skills, the remote work model actually makes it relatively easy to allow someone to watch you do your work. It’s a very interesting thing. If you think about it, the way normal apprenticeship works.

Or coaching, even as I watch you do your work and then I coach you or help you on it, or if you’re an apprentice, you watch me do my work. Well, you find a knowledge work. These days is we’ve lost people watching each other, do their work. And if you can’t watch someone do the work, it’s really hard to learn it.

It also turns people from coaches to judges. So for example, if I’m your coach before the game, We’re coming up with plays together during the game I’m watching you play and we’re talking about making course corrections. And then the scoreboard is our shared outcome. If I can’t do those first two things like a plan with you before the game and watch you during it, then the scoreboard, rather than it becoming our shared outcome, becomes my tool to evaluate and judge you.

And so, as a result, we’re actually decreasing motivation, not increasing it. And then through remote work that just gets even worse. And so what organizations have to build back is honest to goodness. Real apprenticeship, real coaching, working with you on your plan before the game watching you play the game and the scoreboard is our shared outcome.

Not your outcome. I 

Didi: think a lot of people are struggling with is the difference between many companies. Individuals felt historically that motivation was a little bit more extrinsic factors, external factors, what you got paid, what your salary was, what, you know, what kind of the ego-driven things that were associated with your role versus intrinsic motivation.

I can talk a little bit about, a little bit about those and then the learning component that is so important in all of this. 

Neel: The way, the way it once was D D was you assume that people were coin-operated only that if you wanted performance, it was just simply a matter of coming up with the right concoction of sticks and carrots, and the sticks could be big rewards or promotions or title or perks, or, you know, et cetera, et cetera.

And the carrots could be punishment. You get fired shame, a bad rating, uh, disappointing your bosses. But when you really think about performance, does that really make sense? I mean, just start with that question is that really makes sense. You know, this basic question of why am I doing something? Why is my colleague working the way they’re working?

Why do they even work at our organization? This question, why someone does something is called their motive? A person’s motive is their reason for doing something. It turns out are fundamentally six human motives. The first motive is called play. You do something because it’s just fun. You enjoy it. So think about a hobby that you might have that no one’s paying you to do.

There’s no reason for it. The outcome might not even go anywhere or serve any purpose, but you still enjoy doing that thing. The second motive is called purpose. The purpose is not the big mission statement that companies spend so much time. These days working on purpose is you believe your work matters.

It’s you do something because you value its outcome. So think about this right now, a lot of, a lot of companies are getting this wrong, and this is where startups have a real advantage. They can get these rights play. Isn’t ping pong tables, foosball tables, play isn’t kombucha on tap play is you enjoy the work.

The work itself is enjoyable. You know, it’s funny, it’s funny. D-Day, everyone’s talking about engagement and their solution for engagement is perks, but that doesn’t make any sense. It’s pretty simple. If you want someone to be engaged in their work, you have to make their work engaging. That’s it that’s literally, if that’s the whole thing, make it interesting, make it fun, and inspire curiosity, novelty experimentation.

The purpose motive is not the big mission statement. Another area where a lot of big companies get this wrong, where startups can get this right or small businesses. These would understand the purpose is to understand its opposite, which is fungibility. Like if you feel fungible in your organization, You cannot feel the purpose motive because your organization is telling you, you don’t matter.

And think about how many organizations, large ones set themselves up to make everyone feel fungible. And they do that because they say, well, you know, people come and go. And I got to route my calls and I got to organize my leads and the easiest way for me to do that is to make everyone feel fungible.

Well, the problem with everyone feeling fungible is they can’t feel the purpose motive. Small businesses should not make that mistake. Because usually in a small business, every single person matters. The mistake is not letting someone realize that the third motive is called potential. If the purpose is you’re doing something cause you value its immediate outcome potential is you value its eventual outcome.

So this is leading to something that matters to you. It could be your own development. It could be. Now, this is where big missions come into play, but this is the potential motive. These three motives are called direct motives because they’re related directly to the work. Plays the word purpose, immediate outcome, potential eventual outcome.

If you’re a small business, your focus should be on building an organization that maximizes C3. Now there are three others indirect to the work. So the first is emotional pressure and a good example, emotional pressure is guilt. So, you know, DD, have you ever guilted a loved one into doing something? Don’t ask my husband that question.

If you think about guilt. So I guilt my wife and the doing things all the time and she does the same. So, you know, all fairness. But let’s say I guilt my wife into taking care of our kids one night. Well, that the activity was taking care of our kids. Maybe at that moment in time, my wife may or may not have felt, played purpose and potential for it, but I’m applying guilt.

Essentially external force is acting on her identity to get her to do something shameful, peer pressure, looking good to your bosses. All of these are forms of emotional pressure. Economic pressure is you’re doing something to gain a reward of what a punishment. So, if you think about the jobs that we have in our work, there are three layers here.

There’s the work itself, there’s the person. And then we add a reward and punishment later to the mix. If your colleague is doing the work because of the reward or punishment, it’s definitionally economic pressure. And then lastly, you have inertia. Inertia is when you ask someone, why are you doing what they’re doing?

And they say, I have no idea. I literally can’t tell you why I’m doing this. Now. These three motives emotional pressure, economic pressure, and, or indirect motives. They’re not connected to work anymore. Well, you find by and large, as most organizations are run off of indirect motives. And as a result, they get very lousy levels of motivation and performance, because fundamentally the goal is actually to minimize the indirect motives and maximize the direct motives, not the opposite.

And so, you know, to help you connect dots, if you maximize the direct motives and minimize the indirect motives, this one construct is what creates a growth mindset. It’s what creates psychological safety. It’s what creates flow. All of this comes from that one concept. That’s the construct that’s called total motivator, maximizing the direct motives, minimizing the indirect ones.

And we shortened it to Tomo just to kind of make it easier to talk about, but if your startup, every, every startup or small business that we work with, what we try to do is make sure that they create competitive advantage by being more adaptive than big companies. By making sure that their people are more motivated.

You put differently who doesn’t understand that motivation drives before 

Didi: I’m struck by, you know, the constructs. And I really, I really appreciate that intrinsic piece of the equation. And in talking about it that way, even if a company isn’t. Falling prey, perhaps to making pressure on the economic or the emotional pieces.

Those are such huge boulders that we’re all dealing with in the COVID economy. I’m just curious if you feel like there are ways, can you overcompensate or can you build around that as a business in order to help? 

Neel: Yeah, a hundred percent. Think about it this way. Imagine if the societal. Context is actually creating pressure by itself.

So now has nothing to do with your company, which is happening by the way. I think about emotional pressure on a societal level. We live in a social media world where everyone is showing the very best aspects of themselves on social media, which creates a lot of FOMO, fear of missing out on emotional pressure.

Or economic pressure. We’re feeling the pinch of an increasingly expensive society, uh, and possibly the issues of income inequality, and on top of that, the pandemic and unemployment and job insecurity and all that. Well, think about it this way. All of that is decreasing motivation because people are feeling driven by the indirect motivators.

Now not the direct motives. And our research really plainly shows is that when someone is driven by indirect motives, now this happens to me all the time. When the indirect motives are what is driving you, you’re less likely to be adaptive. You’re less likely to learn. You’re less likely to experiment.

You’re much more likely to revert back, stick with what you know, you see it all the time. Usually a salesperson under extreme pressure. Just sticks to what they know. I’ve seen hedge fund portfolio managers who have a ton of skin in the game, their own money. When they’re under a lot of pressure, they just throw all that they’ve learned out the door and they just go back to instinct straining because when someone’s under that much pressure, it’s when they’re least likely to try something new.

It’s when they’re least likely to learn. Now, if that’s happening at a societal level, that’s really problematic because we’re living in a world where we have to all learn all the time. The world is changing too fast. And so we’re globally fueling the kind of pressure that causes us to revert, not adapt.

That’s a massive problem waiting to happen. So what can companies do about this? Well, one don’t add to the pressure, look at all the systems and processes you’re using internally and ask yourself, what are we doing to increase pressure ourselves and start getting rid of them. There’s just too much already, but then there’s the second half of the equation.

How do I increase play purpose and potential? I’ll give you some quick tips on this play. Don’t micromanage your folks instead, give them micro-goals, micro-challenges, and coach them on it. Go back to the basics here, coach the plan, code the play, and share the outcome. So that’s kind of step number one.

The reason why leaders aren’t doing this is that they can’t see their players play the game. That’s the issue. And so you have to construct rhythms. You have to construct habits. You have to construct the means by which you can actually do those things. Number two is you have to spend time to actually help your colleagues all see that they individually and uniquely matter to the work.

That’s not easy to do because, in a lot of organizations, colleagues have been set up to be fungible. And so it’s hard for them to see that they uniquely mattered to the work, but leaders have to actually make that happen. So on this, I’ll give you an example in our small business. So. In our small business, we make sure that every single person has a unique role.

They know their unique role. It changes not like it’s a static construct. It changes over time, but they’re aware of the fact that they uniquely matter that they have a unique scope. They have people that depend on them, not their bosses, but customers. And we always remind them of the impact they’re having on their customer.

So for example, in our organization, when we think about praise, The praise that we try to give our colleagues isn’t Hey, Deedee. I think you did a great job. It’s Hey, D D your client thinks you did a great job and is really appreciative of your work. We try to make sure that our colleagues aren’t dependent on their founders or leaders for that loop, but that they see it directly for their own client, their own customer, which is really important, especially in a small business and on potential double down, triple down, quadruple down, whatever you need to do.

Unskilled building your colleagues, like really use this opportunity to make sure that your colleagues feel like they’re developing in the skills that really matter for the future of the economy, which by the way, are just adaptive skills. The tactical stuff is all getting automated. 

Didi: It’s such a  huge point. And I talked to, um, a customer of ours. We’ve you’ve met Eric Edelson, he’s the CEO of a company called Fireclay Tile, and when the pandemic first hit, you know, part of his workforce are designers. Salespeople, uh, helping, you know, individuals and commercial businesses figure out how to use their title and design it into their projects.

Part of it is the hourly staff that are actually the artisans who are building the tile. And when week one was faced in the local Bay area, the pandemic of, we may have to close down. Cause we’re not, they’re not sure yet if there is. Deemed as an essential business. The very first thing he did was say, okay, well, I’m going to set everybody up with access to online learning.

So you can, if you can’t work, you can continue to learn and build your skills and feel connected. And I thought, man, that’s so powerful. And there’s so many. Uh, there’s, I think there’s kind of this human nature to pull back and go, Oh my gosh, how do we hunker down for whatever? We don’t know that it’s coming, as opposed to looking at that potential already so early into the equation.

And I thought that was incredibly powerful and, and not easy to come to for a mere human to think about leadership. 

Neel: I have a lot of commiseration for the founders and leaders of small businesses and startups because as a startup founder, myself, It’s hard and it is so focused on strategy and revenue, more than anything that it’s easy to stop focusing on your people.

The thing that we have to find a way to do is make it easier and more set it and forget it to help take care of your people just to be practical. I think it’s really hard to do that. And so there’s a couple of things I suggest to those founders. One is. Teach your people, what motivation and performance mean and make them part of the journey of getting it right.

If you’re a leader of a company or a leader of a team and you put it on your own back, you just add it to your own pressure. And that’s really hard to do. You’re busy. And if you put in your own back, you’re now a single point of failure on your own organization. So what that suggests is step one, all the stuff that we’re talking about here, teach your own people so that they realize, Hey, us building a motivating environment.

It’s not actually on the back of the leader alone, it’s up to all of us. This does a lot of positive things for one, it de-risks your organization. You’re no longer the single point of failure on your culture. But the second thing that it does is as a leader, you don’t have to walk on eggshells all the time, because I see so many leaders that are.

They’re afraid of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing. That might de-motivate their people that they’re constantly in a state of walking on eggshells. If you explained to your colleagues, Hey, here’s a little, this is what motivation means. It means you got to maximize these three motives.

You’ve got to minimize these three motives. If we can all do that, we’re just going to love working here, which will actually get us to perform at our best. That’s what we’re trying to do. You explain that to your colleagues and if you say to them, Hey, I’m learning too. I don’t know how to do this. I’m figuring it out as I go.

I’m going to try my best to get it right. But I can’t promise you when you get it right all the time. So I’ll give you an example. It’s probably maybe two or three years ago, I’m rushing out of the office. I’m late for a plane. So I’m really kind of trying to go. And on my way out, I barked essentially I’m parked in order at our youngest colleague.

And he says to me, you know, Neel, that was really low Tomo. And I’m glad he said that because it was, and he said, I know that wasn’t your intent, but I thought I pointed out. Now the beauty of him doing that is the alternative would have been, he goes home that evening. He grumbles about a drug. He starts polishing off his LinkedIn profile.

And instead, his reaction was, I know this, wasn’t your intent, but here’s what happened. And, you know, we can do better next time. Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful because it wasn’t my intent and we’re not perfect. None of us are perfect. And making this a team issue, not a leadership issue makes all the difference.

Original thinking on this was these drivers of a high-performing team should be quote-unquote leadership competencies. The new thinking is these are team heads. And the reason why that shift is so important is that, well, one. It’s not about the leader. It’s about the team. Don’t put it on the back of a leader, make it a team issue to competency.

The word itself is tinged with so much pressure, like your other incompetent or competent. As the point of the whole thing is an evaluation to judge your leaders. Whereas a habit, it implies a bunch of things. It implies, looks, we all know we should have healthy habits. We all know that when things get rough or habits fall apart.

So they don’t last, they don’t last forever. It actually takes some effort to keep them up and sometimes they lapsed and then we have to get back on the horse and try again. It’s a much more human way of describing what teams have to do. Then essentially saying this is a competent or incompetent leader. This is not the right way to think about it.

Didi: They recently did, uh, did some research in benefits and, and found that small business leaders came back and about 80% of them said that. The pandemic has permanently changed. How who and where the companies work. Are there some nuances here when you are managing, or you’re a key part of a team that is both in-person as well as remote for people to pay attention, to think about it this way.

Neel: If everyone was in the office or if everyone was remote, those two bookends are far easier than the middle. Because if everyone’s remote, everyone gets on zoom. You can do this. Pandemic. People have learned how to run that interaction. When everyone is in the office, you pull them onto a conference room and we know how to run that interaction.

When some people are in the office and some people are remote, how do you run those interactions in a way that’s engaging for everyone, you tilt too much in one direction that feels weird for the others. You use a marker board. It feels really difficult for the people that are remote. So the construct of what’s coming, which is hybrid, is going to require every organization to upgrade their leadership capability because they all have to learn now, how do I do something that’s even harder than the two bookends.

Now, some organizations have got to deal with hybrid work for a long time. So that’s theme number one. Organizations now, especially small businesses start experimenting, start learning, get ahead of the curve. This isn’t going away. If anything, it’s going to last for a long time, if not forever, because small businesses in many dimensions have to compete against larger businesses.

If larger businesses are leaning into hybrid and as they’re leaning into a hybrid, they’re getting a disproportionate advantage on talent because they’re actually able to hire from anyone anywhere. Now I’m working with one organization right now. Who’s based in, uh, in Asia. And they used to think about hiring engineers only locally, like in the city of their headquarters.

Now they can hire them. There’s anywhere, anywhere in the world, but they have to get good at managing a hybrid team. So the same principles are true. You have to maximize motivation the right way. So start there. What we generally recommend is to measure it, measure motivation, actually know, is your team feeling motivated?

De-motivated. And do it on a relatively regular basis and do it at a team level. It’s a little bit like just measuring the gas in your tank, you just, every now and then you’ve got to look at the gas gauge to make sure that there’s enough fuel in the tank to get to the next place. So it teams need to do that.

That’ll help because it’ll put on the, for that, even with my hybrid team, this is really, really important to us, you know, put differently what organizations measure is the single strongest indicator of what they care about. And a lot of people don’t realize that like if you really looked at an organization based on his measurements and made that the judgment of their values.

I think a lot of CEOs wouldn’t feel proud of that, s measure motivation and signal to your teams that do we inspire you that’s essentially high Tomo or do we course you that’s low Tomo is critically important to us set that signal, make that, allow it to signal to your people, to whether you like it or not.

You’re going to have to embrace digital ways of working. Because the only way to make a hybrid work last is to embrace digital ways of working. There are lots and lots of options, but it’s a reality. I think a reality that, unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of small businesses are prepared for, you know, if I’m a small business, I’m asking myself, where’s my competitive advantage.

Come from. Well, large businesses are experimental. These large businesses are really slow, really, really slow to adopt and embrace any new way of work. Large businesses are no terrorist in that. Great, change management. So. Small businesses can catch up. They can overtake, but you got to start now. 

Didi: You just made this an amazing point about what you measure indicates, what you care about. Maybe if you could just talk about that for a moment. 

Neel: Yeah, absolutely. What are the things that our research is? We realize that this construct of total motivation, these six motives are pretty easy to measure and we found that the measurement of them are highly predictive of performance. So in our book prime to perform, we share a lot of the data, like hard data on real organizations on what drives their performance and motivation is affecting that performance.

You can also lookup our articles in the Harvard business review because we published a lot of our research there as well, but we realized that measuring motivation is an important construct to get, right. It’s a great way to actually make sure that your people see that you care about it. It’s also a great way to help teams take care of it and try to strive to get better.

But that’s, that was our goal to essentially get every team, every organization on the planet to realize if we motivate people the right way. Well, one, we can unlock them. They’ll have a far more fulfilling, rich inspired work-life and we’ll unlock our organizations. Our performance will increase. Let me just think about it this way.

What do you think is going to win a missionary or a mercenary? Someone who’s inspired or someone who’s coerced, obviously. It is the person that’s inspired is going to outperform the person that’s coerced. It’s time that organizations actually put this front and center in their people operations. 

Didi: One last question before I go to wrap, what does total motivation success look like? 

Neel: Think about it this way today and tomorrow and every day after. Adaptability is going to be the thing that matters more and more and more businesses are seeing it left, right. And center that it’s harder to compete. Competition comes up and grows fast.

Now is really easy for someone to set up a competitor in just about every industry. It’s becoming increasingly easy for people to work with partners and suppliers globally. And so we’re in a world of hyper-competition, which requires hyper adaptability. The other thing is. Technology is accelerating.

Technology is automating everything that was once tactical. And so generally all that’s left for humans is being adaptive. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, by the way. It’s a bad thing. If we don’t prepare ourselves for that reality, which I don’t think we are if I’m being honest, but the goal here is we got to prepare our workforces, our people for the inevitable adaptive future.

That’s coming fast. So from the perspective of motivation, there’s no better time than now to build an organization that is getting motivation, right? Because it’s gonna get harder and harder. The adaptability waterline is rising faster and faster and faster. And so on, on one regard, how’s it different today?

It’s actually more important today than in the combining influences of the pandemic, the emergence of hybrid work. The emergence of hyper adaptive, hyper-digital work. If companies aren’t getting motivation right today, it’s just going to get harder and harder for them in the years to come where number two is probably harder now because of the external contexts that are in people’s lives.

So the bar had gotten higher to get good at this, but it’s not coming down. So you might as well learn. 

Didi: What are you most motivated or optimistic about for this year? 

Neel: We’ve been at this for a long time, Didi, as you know, and I’d say towards the end of 2020, we’ve never seen so many leaders realize how important motivation is.

There was this seemingly simultaneous global awakening that CEOs, executives, founders, small business owners realized, huh? I have to manage motivation. It really matters. Now, unfortunately, it took a crisis to realize that, but we realize that and my hope and what I’m really excited about is I think once leaders have realized that and they actually learn how to do it, there’s no coming back, which is a great thing.

It’ll mean that we’ll build better workplaces. We’ll build better jobs will inspire and empower more people, which will actually make these businesses perform, which will make the economy stronger, which will create more opportunity. Like, there’s a very virtuous flywheel that goes when we get motivation.

Right. And I think for the first time, in a long, long time, we’re seeing that mass awakening. Which is really cool. 

Rob: Hey, there, it’s Rob your third alternate runner-up employee of the month here with some R-rated thoughts on today’s topic. Neel’s brilliant. Framing of total motivation hearkens back to the great wisdom of Albert Einstein, who famously observed that great cheese comes from happy cows.

Wait a minute. That doesn’t sound right. Okay. Google. All right. Apparently, it was a cheese commercial, but you get the point. Anyway, the real question for me is why has it taken so long for us to act on an idea like Tomo that on the surface is so obvious and eminently agreeable? I think the problem is that work was never designed to serve as a vehicle for entertainment or personal development.

I mean, most jobs are literally the thing that you don’t want to do so much that you’re willing to pay someone else to do it. Sure. The guy who’s spray tan, swimwear models probably finds playing purpose easy to come by. But what about the people that have to dig coal, clean up crime scenes or test vegan deodorant on lab animals?

The other challenge is that the indirect or negative motives are just so ingrained in our psyche. They may not be great at getting the best from people, but they sure have a long track record of getting things done. Guilt shame and threats of punishment, of built pyramids for the pharaohs powered Roman slave galleys and helped my aunt Marcia, our families, the iron-willed, matriarch, who affectionately refers to me as candy ass to get me to hanger Christmas lights for the last 10 years.

So how do we transcend our baser instincts and foster a more enlightened attitude towards work? As Neel rightfully points out. I think the key is measurement. I’ve climbed to the lofty Heights of my current mid-career plateau on the back of one simple premise, never care about anything my boss doesn’t care about.

And right now my boss doesn’t have to care about my motivation because he isn’t measured on it. He loses sleep over things like hitting our department goals and driving revenue because that’s the way he’s judged. But what if his bonus was based on things like team attrition, retention, promotions, and attainment of learning goals.

Wouldn’t that give him the air cover to focus more on coaching and help me better align to my job’s purpose and potential, of course, tying his paycheck to motivation sends us right back down the dark alley of economic pressure, which kind of defeats the purpose, I guess. Neel’s right. If I want to move from serial under-performer to occasionally meets expectations, it’s up to me to figure out how to make my job fun and meaningful. I’d get right on it. But I got to run. I’m late for a meeting. 

Didi: That’s Rob I’m Didi. And this was PIVOT.  If you have questions, you want us to answer on our show, check out the link in our show notes below and we’ll get it covered. And if you haven’t read Neel’s Primed to Perform book, check it out. You can also head over to his site vegafactor.com to take a total motivation assessment and take stock of your own TOMO. Thanks for listening.


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About The People Ops Podcast

Every week, we share the decisions, struggles, and successes for keeping up with an evolving workforce and a changing workplace. No matter if you’ve been in HR or are just getting started, this combination of transformational stories with actionable ideas, as well as context on hot issues, keeps you up-to-date while answering the questions you didn’t even know you had.

Oh, and you know what they say about all work and no play? We tossed in a little levity to keep it real. Lessons, answers, and humor: everywhere you listen to podcasts.

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