Primed to Perform - Notes

‘To build a high-performing culture, you must first understand what drives peak performance in individuals. The answer sounds deceptively simple; why you work affects how well you work.’. The why changes the how.

Many leaders forget there are 2 types of performance, tactical performance, executing a plan. And adaptive performance which is the ability to diverge from a plan. These are opposites in tension with each other.

Seminal work on motivation – Intrinsic motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behaviour by Edward L. Deci and Richard M.Ryan sets out a spectrum of the reasons people engage in activities.

Direct Motives; Play, Purpose and Potential

Curiosity and experimentation are at the heart of play. Play at work is not about ping pong or slot machines but is created by the work itself.

Play is the most direct and most powerful driver of high performance

Purpose emerges when you feel your values and beliefs aligning with the impact of your work.

Purpose is not the work itself but the impact of the work.

2nd order outcomes of work that align with your values and beliefs – you do the work because it will eventually lead to something you believe in.

‘A culture that inspires people to do their jobs for play, purpose and potential creates the highest and most sustainable performance.’

Indirect Motives: Emotional pressure, economic pressure, inertia.

Emotional Pressure. Occurs when emotions such as disappointment, guilt or shame compel you to perform an activity. (These relate too to your self-perception and the external views of others judgements)

Economic pressure. Performing to win a reward or avoid punishment or loss.

You’ve lost sight of why your doing something its an automatic repetition of something you’ve stopped thinking about.

Research shows that direct motives typically increase performance and indirect motives typically decrease performance. (See also Dan Pink – Drive)

Barriers to applying research. Sceptics don’t understand or don’t believe the science. Believers lack tools to put science into practice.

Authors approach is to have a tool to measure Total Motivation – (ToMo). This adds up and scores direct motivation scores and subtracts scores for indirect motivation factors to arrive at a single number, ranging

from -100 to 100. Factors are weighted according to how directly related to work they are. There is a free survey tool at

creativity and IQ are not strongly correlated.

The Cobra effect. Named after an incident in India when the British tried to get rid of cobras in Delhi. They set up a scheme to pay for dead snakes being handed in. But eventually it created a perverse incentive with snakes being bred to be killed and handed in so the number of snakes ended up going up. We do this a lot in work by setting up incentives to productivity which end up being gamed.

‘We define a high-performance culture as the system that maximizes adaptive performance through total motivation.’

Strategy helps focus energy on a few critical targets. Culture allow us to react to the unpredictable it is a force of agility. Together they create a complete view of performance.

Play, purpose and potential are strongly associated with adaptability.

Emergence = self organizing system which are inherently adaptive. Eg a city an ecosystem an insect colony. Looks at complexity research, how simple components combine into highly complex adaptive systems. Hierarchical command and control organizations and types of leaders are the antithesis of this. Example of Wikipedia one of top 10 sites on the internet it has over 34m articles and 76k active volunteers who write anonymously. Play, purpose and potential are the 3 strongest motives of these volunteers.

Why so few great cultures. Blame bias (fundamental attribution bias) when we look at the short falls or failures of others we are biased toward blame.

Antidote = assuming right intent and positive expectations of performance.

Fire watchers – people who guard a critical resource and see it does not go out. Scaling organizations need culture builders and leaders. Culture should not be ‘the thing in the side car’ culture is not secondary to the mission it is the way to achieve the mission.