Will: Hello, Lindsay, it is great to have you on the show.
Lindsay: Thank you so much for having me, Will. Pleasure to be here.
Will: So Lindsay, when I was at [McKinsey 00:00:06] I did a lot of operations work, and I always was taught this framework that McKinsey uses every single operations project, which is okay we have the operating system, which is the processes and machinery, and the standard operating procedures. And then we have the management system, which is basically meetings and reports. And then we have mindsets and behaviors, culture. We’d spend a lot of time on projects on operating system and management systems, and then mindsets and behaviors I had no training on it and it was always like, what do we do about this spice? Oh you know, sort of a page at the end on culture, but I never really got any training.
Will: So I’m really psyched to speak with you. I loved your book and you have some great articles on Harvard Business Review. Talk to me a little bit about how companies think about culture and really what drives motivation.
Lindsay: Yeah, great question. I used to always think the mindset and behaviors was super soft and fluffy. I would walk in, probably like some of the projects you experienced too, 1000 person call center and it looked like three football fields sewn together of gray cubicles. And everybody looked like they hated their life. You would go in and you would focus on these really tactical tools and system. How do we implement CRM systems, and new software, and new processes, and all these tactical tools that were all about how does everybody be consistent and stick to the plan and do the exact same thing, to the point where you turn people … it was quite robotic.
Lindsay: After a while I realized that while some of these systems were critical, the complaints that we were getting from customers and from management were things like, my people aren’t being adaptive enough, or they’re just following the script, or we’re missing opportunities because we’re just doing what we’ve always done. What’s that? And that started to really puzzle me. How do you get people to really bring their best to work? Because they had the mindset and behaviors, the posters on the wall that we all roll our eyes at, or the holiday party that nobody really wants to go to.
Lindsay: But we all just felt in our gut that culture had to be something more than that because you would walk into some of these organizations and in some it was palpable. You could feel the energy, the enthusiasm, the innovation that was going on at every single level, and we didn’t know how to create that on purpose. So that was the big mystery to me that I really wanted to solve in researching Primed to Perform.
Will: So not to jump to the answer, but to jump to the answer, one of the takeaways was that it’s really about internal and external motivation factors. I think you’re using the direct or indirect. And it’s if you have the positive factors are mostly internal, so purpose, play, and potential. Then things if you’re using to motivate people, emotional pressure, economic pressure, or inertia, then those are kind of negative. Talk to me about how you landed on this framework of motivation and what you see companies doing really well on motivation, and what are some of the maybe misconceptions around motivation?
Lindsay: Our first big breakthrough in understanding all of the psychology behind motivation was to realize that there were two types of performance. The first was tactical and the second was adaptive. Tactical is the force of convergence. Everybody’s following the same plan, you’ve got process charts and checklists. And it turn out that you could motivate people anyway you want to get the tactical performance. But the other part of performance you needed was the adaptive performance, the force of divergence. Are you innovating, being creative, do you know what to do when there’s no script? And we realized that there was only one way to get both the tactical and the adaptive, which is the holy grail for us as individuals and as organizations. And that was through this concept of Total Motivation that you’re referring to.
Lindsay: It was this very interesting … after lots and lots of dead ends in our research, we realized that why human beings do anything comes down to a really simple spectrum of motives. Why people work, determines how well they work. And that spectrum ranges from when you’re doing something simply because you love the work, to doing things that are completely disconnect from the work. If you take a consultant for example, a consultant that’s experiencing the first motive, play, would be a consultant who just feels like they get completely lost in time when they’re problem solving on the whiteboard with a client. They love solving problems, identifying new strategies, coming up with a framework. It just feels energizing, creative, they feel curious and learning. That’s play at work.
Lindsay: If we move a little bit to the right along the spectrum, it’s not longer about the work itself, it’s about the outcome of the work. That’s purpose, the second motive. So you may or may not have play, but you believe in the outcome. I really don’t want to clean up all this data today, there’s many other things I would rather do, but I believe that when I clean this data it’s gonna have a really important impact for my client, so I’m gonna do it.
Lindsay: And then the third is potential. This is when you’re working because of some second order outcome of the work. It usually looks like your work is a really good stepping stone. So potential for example could be, you know I don’t really want to be a data analyst all my life, but I know that being a data analyst is a really good stepping stone to being a team leader. And I can see that a lot of the things that team leaders get to do would be full of play and purpose for me, so I want to get there one day. Play and purpose and potential really drive up our adaptive performance, but unfortunately many of our ecosystems are built around these indirect motives that reduce adaptive performance.
Lindsay: So you mentioned a few of them, emotional pressure. I don’t know if you ever felt like you had a presentation that you knew like the back of your hand and then suddenly you present it to an executive team and you completely crumble. The anxiety, fear, guilt, the worry and anxiety just eats away at you. I grew up with a lot of emotional pressure around just do your best, you owe it to your colleagues or your family to do this kind of stuff, that’s emotional pressure at work.
Lindsay: Economic pressure is when you’re doing things for the reward or the punishment. So for example, you might have been on a team where your manager said, do this and I’ll support you during the promotion process. It’s a really transactional exchange. Or inertia, you’re just doing something because you’ve always done it. You go out to coffee with a friend and they ask you why are you still in this job and you say, I have absolutely no idea.
Lindsay: These motives are so common, are so consistent in how human beings work, across languages and cultures and companies, that you can combine them into this single concept called Total Motivation where you add up how much play, purpose, potential somebody feels, and you subtract the emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia. And you can use that to not only measure the cultural strength of a department, but to then build a business case around great cultures. So when we change the Total Motivation, we call it ToMo for short, when we change the ToMo of a retail team for example, we’ve seen sales lift between 10 and 200 percent. So it’s a real driver of performer, not just a nice poster on the wall or a nice holiday party. It’s one of those drivers of performance that most of us never even knew existed.
Will: Yeah, and one of those is sort of counterintuitive, at least counterintuitive maybe to MBAs, in that almost every sales effectiveness project would probably look at what are the sales incentives and are we compensating people, is it tied to performance and so forth. But with the economic pressure it almost suggests that a lot of that thinking is wrong. That people are not vending machines where you can just put in coins and get something out.
Will: I guess I first came across some of these ideas with Punish by Reward by Alfie Kohn about rewards for school children, gold stars and so forth. Talk to me a little bit about some of the thinking around incentive programs can sometimes really mess things up and be counterproductive.
Lindsay: Yeah, a great example is we were sitting with the executive team of a retail institution and they were complaining that one year they would incent their sales force highly on sales, and then their customer satisfaction scores would drop because their sales people started to use really high pressure sales tactics. So the next year they would focus on net promoter score and customer satisfaction, and then their costs would go up because the sales force started to over spend on their customers and drop on their sales calls. And they had much more complex balance score cards than just that, but essentially what they were telling us is they were playing whack-a-mole. Every, single year you just came up with a different bundle of metrics and it had different unintended consequences.
Lindsay: That meant their sales force wasn’t treating their customers like they would want to be treated. They were essentially turning their sales force into mercenaries when they could have had missionaries. A missionary who believed our mission of this company is to help our customers be their best selves. To do that, we have to create a wholistic experience for them. We of course want to increase the volume of customers that we serve because it means we’re having more impact, but the way we want to do that is by giving them this incredible wholistic experience.
Lindsay: So we think that it’s as easy as set up the right game and we’ll get people to do the right thing. But over time, as the research you referred to mentioned, people checkout of those systems. It causes them to be stressed by it, distracted by it, to game it. And you can actually get much better outcomes for your customers and your sales by focusing on play and purpose.
Will: So I can imagine how a smart founder could start a company, maybe intuitively or having read your book, and start a company and design it around getting these goals right, getting these incentives and motivation factors right. But what about those of us, give our listeners and myself advice here, for a lot of us we don’t work with a perfect company, but a company in the real world that maybe didn’t start perfectly. Give us some advice around how you can help a company actually transform from how it is today to doing a better job encouraging purpose, play, potential, and downplaying some of the other motivating factors. Maybe even start with play, I’m really curious to hear how you can help encourage a company to make more play possible.
Lindsay: Yeah, absolutely. The fundamental driver of play is learning, feeling like you’re constantly learning, experimenting, growing, testing new things. And when we look at many teams, play is a really foreign concept. When you measure play it’s actually twice as powerful as purpose in driving performance, and we spend tons of time developing great mission statements and talking about our values, and very little time on how do we create play. We found that play really comes as a team leader or as an organization from learning as fast as possible. So if you’re a team leader for example, there’s really three types of learning you want to drive for your company. There’s strategic learning, so you’re always getting better at solving your customer’s problem. Second is skill learning, your personal getting better at what you do every day. And the third is operating model learning, how your team or your company works together is constantly improving.
Lindsay: And we found that one of the biggest drivers of play is for teams to really set up what are the big challenges or things that they want to learn in these different areas. And then what are the routines that they’re gonna use to accomplish them. One of the easiest ways for a team to drive play is to identify what are the big challenges or things that they want to learn, and then to design lots of little experiments that they could run to learn that thing. For example, if you sat in a typical team meeting, my guess is that oftentimes it either feels completely chaotic or it feels like a random, round the room, status update. Jack’s accomplished items one, two, three, Sally’s done four, five six. And it feels extremely painful.
Lindsay: Instead, we turn those meetings into something where we look at those top five challenges or things that this team is really trying to learn and discuss what are the experiments that we ran this week to try and crack them. What did we learn from them? What should we scale across the organization as a result? What are the experiments we want to run next week? And this part is critical. Normally when people come up with an experiment they come up with a huge, giant idea that’s gonna cost a million dollars to fund and take six weeks, and require a hundred point project plan. But the team’s goal is to really take that idea and narrow it down into something really small and testable, something where you could actually accomplish it next week with no budget, with little time, to start learning if it’s gonna work so you can really make progress in slow and steady ways.
Will: Yeah, I love it. Give us an example of that.
Lindsay: For example, one experiment we ran was in a set of retail stores. The first experiments or ideas that people came up with were things like, headquarters should send us better marketing materials, or our Compliance Office needs to change the procedure. And we then really focused on what are the experiments that you control? One of their challenge questions was, how do we help the consumers in our stores test and learn how to use our digital products? So the experiments they ran were things like, have somebody stand next to the checkout line with an iPad and start to ask questions about whether the consumers had tried their digital product, and learn why they haven’t. And then the next experiment was do some demos in the checkout line, see how people respond. The next was host a party on a Saturday afternoon where people could come and get tutorials and lessons on how to use the digital product.
Lindsay: All of them were small, easy things where if each associate had three conversations that week with a customer, they could begin to learn what’s working, what’s not working, and really push their strategy forward as a team. It really shifted the environment from a sort of victim mentality, where people felt like headquarters had to solve things, to deep ownership for the team. And with just a couple of months focusing on play as well as purpose and potential, that team, those stores, had doubled the profitability of a set of control stores that we looked at to understand how much did ToMo really drive performance. Not was it just a nice thing to have for the longterm for retention and recruiting, but does this drive sales? And it did.
Will: I love those examples, doing something small. We don’t need to commission a half million dollar market research, let’s just go out and try something today, ask 10 people.
Lindsay: Exactly. We get so frozen in over analysis, and let’s do this in a deep, detailed way. But sometimes just going out and doing something is incredibly liberating.
Will: So that’s an example of strategic learning where it’s not so much learning a skill, but it’s more testing something out and seeing what works, what changes things. So if you’re a retail store, maybe how you treat the customers, or do you have them a guide at the door or a welcoming person, or changing the presentation of what’s at the counter, all sorts of … just try something different. I imagine if you’re in a production facility it could be the way we staff the line changes things. Talk a little bit about skill learning. What’s important there and how have you encouraged companies to implement that?
Lindsay: The big trend that we see in skill learning today is companies are investing a ton in providing online courses and formal resources to their employees and badges. But the challenge is that the way that people really learn is through on the job practice. It’s by doing something for real and having one of your colleagues give you tips and tricks on how you can adjust in the moment, on the fly, better. We also see that that’s a much more realistic way of learning, because all of us our busy. You’ve got your full-time job, to then add in night school is really, really difficult for most people.
Lindsay: So with skill learning what we find is it’s all about how do you create on the job learning opportunities. It starts with determining what are the really high ToMo skills that you could learn in this career path, and then coming up with how are we going to coach and develop each other in real time on them. So for example, and engineering team we were working with. There’s a lot of engineering teams who will feel like their development has stalled because their companies have implemented agile routines in a really tactical only way, where they essentially tells us things like, I feel like my company’s turned us into short order cooks. I take a ticket off the line, a spend half a day coding it, I send it back. I have no ability to problem solve what customer problem I was solving to see the impact of it, things like that. So they feel quite stalled.
Lindsay: To start to address that, to make an agile process tactical and adaptive, we do the strategic learning. But the skills learning is also really critical. For example, every engineer will pick what are the skills that they personally want to learn, and then how are they going to get feedback from their colleagues. And it’s neat because you’ll see engineers who for example, you’ll think that all their learning goals or skill goals will be around coding. But they’ll say things like, I want to learn really how to communicate through presentations, or I want to learn how to run team routines.
Lindsay: And all of a sudden, once their colleagues know that they want work on it, before their colleagues will say who am I to give that engineer advice on his presentation, he presents once a quarter, that’s not why he’s here, it probably would be insulting, to a switch where people will say, hey do you want help with your quarterly presentation? Do you want me to be your buddy to share advice afterwards on what you could do a bit different? Do you want to practice with me? It creates a much more democratic learning environment where it’s not about your boss evaluating you, it’s about all your peers knowing how they can help and participate in your life.
Will: On this topic of learning, you were talking about team some, but a lot of listeners of the show are independent professionals. What advice do you have for people, either independent professionals or even just on a more personal level, setting learning goals for yourself as opposed to necessarily achievement-oriented goals? And it’s kind of relevant here as we’re approaching the new year and thinking about instead of a typical resolution, any thoughts around learning resolutions?
Lindsay: It’s hugely relevant to anybody who’s trying to manage their personal productivity and their personal aspirations. Many of us are taught, as you said, throughout business schools and our training, to set big hairy audacious goals that are simply numerical outcomes, like get three new clients, or publish five articles. They are very performance-oriented goals. But the research shows that if you pivot that goal to a learning goal, you’re much more likely to accomplish it.
Lindsay: So for example, instead of getting three new clients, it’s learn how to … you have to think about what you need to learn to get three more clients. Because if you could snap your fingers and get three more clients, of course you would already have three more clients. The question is, what do you need to learn to get there? It could be something like, I need to learn how to speak the language of this new industry I’m trying to get into so that I can get three new clients. I’ve always worked in financial services, I want to work in healthcare, I want to learn how to apply what I do to healthcare to get three more clients.
Lindsay: Or it could be, I want to learn how to build a better network so that I get 50 more introductions this year. You’re shifting the focus from an outcome that’s uncontrollable to a learning process that is very controllable, because you can absolutely then find play and purpose in what you’re learning and how you’re going about it. And you can really control that each and every day.
Will: Yeah, that reminds me of some of the work of David A. Fields in his book The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients, where he talks about if you’re trying to get new clients one of your learning, and it kind of relates to what you’re saying, is find out what problems those clients have. So rather than saying, hey I want to get three new clients, say I want to interview … I want to find out and learn what the problems are that five or 10 clients are facing, to understand better what their needs are. Or you could say, I want to discover when a client that I want to serve is seeking consulting advice, how do they search for it, who do they ask, as a way of reframing it from not how do I get to them, but how is the client finding someone like me.
Lindsay: Yeah, those are great examples. You’re really shifting your focus to what do you want to learn and how are you going to get there. What experiments do you need to do to achieve this outcome.
Will: The third part of your book, the last section of your book, is really a whole primer on how to lead a culture engagement. Talking about leadership, identity, role design, career paths, compensation, community, performance management. Not to give a summary here for that, but tell us a little bit about, for an independent consultant who maybe wants to incorporate a piece of culture transformation in their project, what are some key things to be thinking about and maybe some of your favorite tips from that section of the book?
Lindsay: Yeah, we used to think that the way to build a high performing organization, a highly motivating culture, the first things people usually think about when asked about that are, is my leader a jerk, and do we have the right values, which are both really critical. But what we’ve found in transforming organizations is that a lot of the systems, a lot of the operating model, is far more powerful. Mission and values of leadership are really critical, but even more powerful are things like how your organization’s structured, how roles are designed, how your operating model works, your strategic planning works.
Lindsay: And my number one insight or breakthrough on how I thought about this is, whenever I’m doing a consulting project for a client I would think about how do I design these processes to be really efficient. But I would never think about how do I design these processes to be high ToMo. How do I inspire play, and purpose, and potential through these processes. Even if it comes down to simple change management. For example, I’m guessing many of your listeners are implementing change in the organizations they work with, and usually change management looks like let me roll out a big Excel spreadsheet, let me track who’s doing what, let me give everybody deadlines. And if you don’t meet these deadlines, first you’ll get a verbal warning, then you’ll get public shaming, and eventually I’ll turn off your email until you comply, right?
Lindsay: But the flip side to that is how do you create this change management in a way that’s gonna inspire play and purpose? How do you … for example in rolling out a new CRM system, one organization created big boards where they celebrated success stories. They had emoji contests of who could do the most hilarious emoji once they had installed the new software. They ran forums where people would share the experiments they had run with the new system and succeeded. So it’s how do you really shift all your thinking so that you’re inspiring play and purpose for your customers, for your consumers, for your clients, in whatever experience they’re going through with you.
Will: Let’s talk a little bit about your firm. You and Neel Doshi, your co-author and your fellow partner at your firm, tell us a little bit about, let’s call it service lines or the types of projects that you get involved in.
Lindsay: Our mission as a company is that by 2050 every person on Earth works in a high ToMo company. And it doesn’t matter if they use the work ToMo or whatever, but we as a … it’s just become intuitive truth that it’s no longer about sticks with carrots, it’s about play, and purpose, and potential in the environment. And to get there, to accomplish this mission, there’s three prongs of what we do. The first is education, getting this knowledge out there. And for that we’ll give talks, and speeches, and leadership events, and we publish a ton so that other consultants that are working on this stuff can benefit from the knowledge as well. For example, one organization educated thousands of their leaders in ToMo, and every single leader was then able to think through whenever they were launching a strategic initiative, how is this initiative gonna boost ToMo, for example.
Lindsay: The second piece of the mission is to create tipping points across industries so that every industry, which is a little bit unique from each other, has an example of a company that’s built in a high ToMo way and they can see the business case for it. That’s really our consulting practice. And then the third piece of the mission is how do we bring the cost to fix an operating model down to almost nothing, so that you don’t need a consultant, so that we can just share with any talented leader or consultant the tools and materials that they need to transform their own team or their own organization. So that’s what we work on.
Lindsay: There’s lots of resources that are up on our website, people that really want to start to use ToMo in their own work. For example, we’ve got free online surveys where you can measure your own ToMo, your leadership style and how high ToMo it is, or even send out a survey to a team and get them to fill it out. It will anonymously compile the results and sends back the results with the discussion guide for the team so they can begin to explore where are we finding ToMo, where am I maybe struggling with it, and grow from there.
Lindsay: Our goal and our mission is really that this research becomes really common knowledge. So there’s lots of stuff on there for people to start thinking about, even if you’re an independent consultant, how do I manage my own ToMo and how do I work with my clients in a high ToMo way.
Will: Yeah, I’ve spent a lot of time on your website. I’ve taken the individual survey myself and it’s a great short survey, really to the point, and it’s really cool. You can see your results immediately of how you compare to maybe the average or so forth, so that’s really nice. And also you have a whole series of articles that you published in Harvard Business Review. Could you talk a little bit about that, is that a monthly column that you and Neil have or how does that work? And what is your focus with those articles?
Lindsay: Yeah, so we love sharing case studies of how to bring this to life, so we share a lot of our work with the Harvard Business Review, for example on how to apply ToMo to a frontline sales team. One of our most recent was how do you fix agile. There’s lots of talk out there about agile adaptive companies, but so many companies that you talk to the implementation just didn’t work and it felt like a tactical, miserable system of micromanagement. So what does ToMo teach you about how to implement that more effectively.
Lindsay: One of the most fun parts about publishing the work though is all the stories we get back from it. We’ll hear from tons of leaders, and organizations, and consultants around the stories and the transformations that they’re running, and then get to incorporate that into our future case studies and future publishing. Because this stuff is intuitively true and there’s tons of people in the world that are working on this, and it feels like a moment in time where the world is starting to understand this research, really testing many ways of implementing it, and starting to create real breakthroughs. So I don’t feel like we’re on this journey independently. It’s a whole movement of people that are working towards this. The more we share that knowledge, the faster we’ll get to the destination.
Will: Yeah, you mentioned people sharing stories with you, for any listener that wants to learn more about your work, maybe share a story, get in touch with you, what’s the best place for them to go?
Lindsay: On our website PrimedToPerform.com, which is the name of our book, there’s a contact form on there. Feel free, that goes to all of our team. We’ll be emailing you back, happy to hop on the phone and share more resources. We love connecting with people, so please feel free to reach out.
Will: Given all of your research and learning in this area, talk to me about any personal routines that you have adopted that make you more motivated, more satisfied, more effective, either a daily routine, a morning routine, a weekly routine. Any things that you’ve changed in your own life that you maybe implemented as a result of your research in this space.
Lindsay: This research has completely changed how I live my life. I was a perfectionist from age two. If you took me to the beach and I got sand on my feet I would scream. So as a result, when I’m in a really low ToMo state, I used to find this all the time where I would see my day as a series of opportunities to not be perfect. There’s a meeting at 9:00 AM I could screw up, there’s a document I’m supposed to write at 10:00 AM that might not be perfect, it’s just a whole hurdle of obstacles. The way I used to get myself through it was through emotional pressure, like come on, you can do it, you’ve got all the resources at your disposal, if you can’t do it that would be a total shame. Or through purpose, this is an important thing to do. But I never thought about play.
Lindsay: So now when I’m in a low ToMo spot, I will just think about what do I want to learn from every moment in my day. What’s the experiment I’m gonna run? And it really shifts me from thinking that I have to be perfect or I can’t screw up, to ending the call saying if I didn’t learn anything from that, than that’s the failure, not messing up. The constant learning is where the fun comes from. I’ve had to be really intentional in thinking through what do I want to learn from this, where do I want to grow.
Lindsay: The second thing that’s really changed for me is I’ve always really deeply cared about purpose and working on something with a mission. And it really shocked me to learn that playing was twice as powerful as purpose. And I kind of felt that. In my past life I had worked on some amazing consulting projects for big nonprofits where my job was to spend three months analyzing financial spreadsheets of funding flows. Sure I did a good job, but I wasn’t walking home from work thinking, you know what other analysis I could run that would be really fun?
Lindsay: Then when I got to teach others the results of those financial analyses, that’s when I would be suddenly going for a walk and a new idea for how to do something innovative would pop into my head. So I’ve had to spend a lot more time thinking through where am I finding play in my work and how do I make more and more of my work that, as opposed to just the things that are purposeful.
Will: So experiments and what can I learn. So it’s really for you a lot about learning and the play involved in that, that’s awesome. Any books that have had a particularly significant impact on you or that maybe you’ve gifted often?
Lindsay: Great question. All of the work and the research that we do is really built off of this field of psychology called Self-Determination Theory, which was founded by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci at the University of Rochester. So it’s a really deep treasure trove of knowledge that goes back 50 years. That I would gift maybe to people who really love reading academic papers, which might not be very many people in your network.
Lindsay: Some of the easier and more accessible ways to approach this are things like Liz Wiseman’s book Multipliers, really about how do you work with your colleagues in a way that’s gonna really unlock play and purpose for them. Or Reimagining Organizations by Frederic Laloux, that’s about how to apply this ecosystem in organization level. Those are two of my favorites at the moment, but almost any … there’s so much research and so much knowledge that’s being published these days where if you read it with the lens of how is this recommendation inspiring play and purpose in the audience, it helps you gather so much more and really extrapolate from a particular case study to how you would apply it to tons of different scenarios.
Will: Lindsay, this has been an awesome conversation. It’s really so much fun speaking with you because on so many of these things the conventional wisdom and the thinking, it’s really amazing to see how you’re helping to change that and make work more fun. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Lindsay: Thank you for having me, Will. It’s really great to be here and to be part of a community of people that are all learning from each other, so thanks for having me.