Primed to Perform: A book review by Bob Morris

Primed to PerformPrimed to Perform: How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures Through the Science of Total Motivation
Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor
HarperBusiness/An Imprint of HarperCollins (2015)

How to make every single person in your organization solve problems 10% better, 10% faster, and with 10% more persistence

According to Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor, “We wrote Primed to Perform to reveal the science behind the magic [of building a high-performance culture]. Over the last two decades, we built upon about a century of academic study with our own original research. We analyzed tens of thousands of workers, from programmers, consultants, teachers, and investment bankers to frontline workers in legendary cultures like Southwest Airlines, the Apple Store, and Starbucks. We found that the magic behind great cultures is actually an elegantly simple science…we found that what it takes to create the highest performing cultures is actually predictable…Most importantly, we’ve developed a set of approaches and tools that help leaders build their own legendary cultures where people are primed to perform.”

I agree with Doshi and McGregor that “the best way to motivate people is not through rewards or threats, but by inspiring people to find play, purpose, and potential in their work.” That is, activate self-motivation in others by creating a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive.

The objective is to establish and then sustain total (self-) motivation (ToMo) throughout the given enterprise. How? Details of that process are best revealed within the narrative, in context, but the process consists of several interdependent steps, based on two separate but interdependent realities: (1) direct motives (e.g. play, purpose, and potential) typically increase performance and indirect motives (e.g. emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia) typically decrease it, and, (2) the more directly connected the motive is to the given activity itself, the better the performance becomes.

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Doshi and McGregor’s coverage in Chapters 1-9:

o The Science of Performance, and, Culture Matters (Pages xii-xxii)
o The Motive Spectrum (5-13)
o Betting on the Underdog (14-18)
o Total Motivation (ToMo): Predictable and Universal (20-23)
o Bird’ Eye-View of Southwest Airlines ToMo (25-28)
o Creative Destruction (34-38)
o The Great Wave (48-50)
o The Fuel of Adaptability (55-57)
o The Study of Complexity, and, Born to Adapt (60-64)
o Blame’s Immune System, The Antidote to Blame, and Deblaming Your Life (77-85)
o Fro0zen by Design (90-92)
o Diagnosing ToMo (107-120)
o Four Styles of Leadership (127-130)
o The Fire Starters (130-132)
o A Company of Fire Starters (140-144)
o It’s All in the “Why” (147-149)
o Your Objective: The “anchor of your organization’s identity” (149-154)
o Your Heritage (158-161)
o The Impact of Identity (163-167)

Doshi and McGregor provide an abundance of information, insights, and counsel as well as hundreds of real-world situations in which people with whom the reader can identify attempt to is to establish and then sustain total (self) motivation (ToMo) within a workplace culture. Special attention is devoted to companies that are annually ranked among those that are most highly admired and best to work for, notably Apple Stores, Google, Gore & Associates, Medallia, SAS, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Toyota and Whole Foods Market. It is no coincidence that most of them are also annually ranked among the companies that are most profitable and have the greatest cap value in their industry.

Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor make a key point when observing that, to create the highest levels of performance, leaders “must balance two opposing forces – tactical and adaptive performance – in every single person and process.” Where to start? They suggest five “simple ideas” to consider (on Page 285) and wish their reader great success, as do I.

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