SchoolCEO: Marketing for School Leaders

Neel Doshi: Culture & Motivation in Education

Episode Summary

In this episode, author and researcher Neel Doshi discusses the importance of culture in motivating people and organizations to reach their potential and explores the concept “Why you work determines how well you work.”

Episode Notes

Neel Doshi, coauthor of Primed to Perform: How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures Through the Science of Total Motivation, calls on his decades of research understanding what is at the heart of motivation and what drives high performance at schools, companies, and other organizations. 

Culture can often feel soft, undefinable and difficult to create. Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor’s work gives a framework and a way of measuring motivation and, by extension, culture. Doshi examines direct and indirect motives and explains “why we work determines how well we work.” 

Join this conversation about how motivation and culture influence schools, teachers, and recruitment and retention. Superintendents and other school leaders should rethink motivation and see your responsibility as creating the conditions where everyone within the organization understands that you’re trying to create a motivating environment. And, it’s up to everyone to create that environment that offers an opportunity for all to do their best work together.

Follow Neel on Twitter @neelvf

To take the survey Neel Doshi mentions go to:

For more K-12 recruitment and retention resources visit:

Subscribe to SchoolCEO Newsletter at for more strategies on teacher recruitment, culture and marketing. 

Follow SchoolCEO on Twitter:

Episode Transcription

Neel Doshi (guest): “Just going through the motions, just doing what I'm doing and as a software engineer at a big company. And I remember going in excited, Bright eyed Bushy Tailed, like Ireally wanted to make a difference and have impact in this company. And within maybe three months, I hated my job. 

And the funny thing is most people would say, Oh, so you must have had bad leaders. No, totally not. My leaders are awesome people like really, really kind, generous, caring people. Now, going back to your original question about culture and motivation. If you want a high performing organization, the reason why people are doing their work needs to be play, purpose and potential—not emotional pressure, economic pressure in inertia.”

Tyler Vawser (host): Welcome to SchoolCEO Conversations. The goal of the show is to level the playing field for superintendents and other school leaders. If you're someone that's responsible for leading and taking control of how your community thinks and feels about your schools and your district, this is the show for you.

I'm your host, Tyler Vawser, and to that end, I sit down with leaders in education and in business to discuss how to better market your schools. Today I'm speaking with Neel Doshi. Neel is the co-author of a book Primed to Perform. That really digs into the science of motivation and how to build high performing cultures.

Culture is one of those things that we all know we want and we want to create it. Sometimes we just kind of know it when we see it, but creating it is really difficult and as Neel and I. There are a lot of things that leaders need to learn about culture. So Neel and I are gonna talk about how to transform metrics and measurements that normally create negative pressure, and instead turn them into something that creates positive motivation.

Get ready to think differently and transform your school community for the better.

Neel (guest): Okay, so how much of this is conversational? 

Tyler (host): Yeah, I hope it's conversational. I've heard some of your podcasts and you're very conversational.

Neel: I like it better when the hosts are conversational.

Tyler: It's just much more fun. I'll do my best. I'm learning this as we go. Well, thanks Neel for joining this conversation. Really excited to have you on. You've talked a lot with SchoolCEO and with Apptegy. In fact, when we release this, you'll have just come off the stage at SchoolCEO Conference. So to just kind of jump into the questions, what do you think most leaders misunderstand about culture?

Neel: There's a few things I think that I would boil it down to two. Two big misunderstandings. The first is culture is mission critical to performance, that ultimately an organization has a weak culture will underperform versus its potential. 

And the second misunderstanding is that culture is about motivation.It's essentially the driving force of motivation in an organization. And so you have to think about that. Think about it that way. You have to engineer it that way, like the way an organization builds and and operationalizes its culture should be specifically for the intent of improving motivation. 

Tyler: And how are you defining motivation? What does that mean? 

Neel: It's a really great question, and it's not an easy question because motivation boils down to a fairly simple principle. Why we work determines how we work. A person's reason for doing something is the source of their motivation. In fact, the word that means a person's need for doing something is their motive.

Motive is their root of motivation. We forget that often. Like we forget that the root of motivation is motive. But to understand motivation, yet to understand those reasons, and there are fundamentally six reasons why people do anything. The first motive is called, Play. Play is when you do something simply because you enjoy doing it.

So for example, imagine a school teacher. A school teacher at play, is one that simply enjoys the work of teaching or tending to a classroom. They might enjoy coming up with curricula. They might enjoy coming up with assignments. They might enjoy the day to day moments of working with the kids in their classroom.

That's play. A lot of companies are getting this wrong by the way They think play means ping pong tables or kombucha on tap or parties, that's not what it's about. The play motive has to come from the activity, the thing that you are doing. 

The second motive is called purpose. Purpose is when you do something because you value its outcome, its immediate outcome. This is another area where people are getting things wrong. They think that purpose is some big, grandiose mission statement. That's not what it is. It's, you feel like what you're doing right now matters. At that moment, in that moment in time, it's not about what eventually matters.  It's not about something that builds up to something that matters. It matters now. 

One example of purpose is, that's interesting is as we get into remote education, teachers teaching remotely, it has an effect on their purpose motive. The reason why is because it's harder to see that moment that occurs when you teach someone something and they have that “aha” moment. When you can't see their face, it's harder to realize that you just had an impact right there on them.

So there's pros and cons. Like I'll tell you, doing talks like this a lot, working with lots and lots of organizations. When I am doing a remote interaction where I can't see people's faces, it affects my purpose. Because I can never see those “aha” moments. Just a simple aspect of a participant turning their video on, and I can see do they understand? Are they listening, are they engaging, and do they have those light bulb moments? That's purpose right there. 

The next motive is called potential. If purpose is what you value as the immediate outcome of your work, potential is when you value some eventual outcome. It might be something that happens later. So for example, imagine a teacher that's doing this job because they eventually want to be an administrator.

They might not feel play for that work. They might not feel purpose for that work, but they're working towards something eventual that matters to them. That's the potential motive. These three motives are called direct motives because they're directly related to the work itself. Again, play is the work, purpose is immediate outcome, potential is eventual outcome. 

There are motives that are not connected to the work. So for example, have you ever tried to get a loved one to do something using guilt? 

Tyler: Sure, of course. Yeah, of course. 

Neel: Of course. We all do. Well, guilt is an example of the first of the indirect motives called emotional pressure.

So emotional pressure is defined as when some kind of external force is acting on your identity to get you to do something. So guilt is an example. So for example, if I guilted my wife into doing something, I am the external force. My wife's identity, she cares about her husband, she cares.

If I'm applying that pressure to her, that's emotional pressure. An example that often happens at school is peer pressure. So peer pressure at school is an example of emotional pressure. You're worried about what your children will do under peer pressure, where the child's peers are the external force acting on the child's.

At workplaces, emotional pressure often looks like I have to impress my boss. I have to impress my colleagues. My reputation is what I'm solving for, or people's image of me is what I'm solving for. All of that are forms, emotional pressure. 

The next motive is called economic pressure. Economic pressure is really best understood as a form of extreme coercion where you're doing something because you are trying to get a reward or avoid a punishment. It's the carrot and stick. You're jumping through a hoop, but if you really understand what that means, it's manipulation. You feel like someone's yanking your chain to get you to do something in some way or another. That's economic pressure. 

And lastly is inertia. So when you ask somebody why you're doing what you're doing, and they say, I have no idea. Just going through the motions, just doing what I'm doing and as a software engineer at a big company, and I remember going in excited, bright eyed, bushy tailed. I really wanted to make a difference and have an impact in this company.

And within maybe three months, I hated my job. And the funny thing is most people would say, Oh, so you must have had bad leaders. Actually, no. My leaders are awesome people like really, really kind, generous, caring people. 

Now, going back to your original question about culture and motivation. If you want a high performing organization, the reason why people are doing their work needs to be play, purpose and potential, not emotional pressure, economic pressure in inertia, it is culture. That is the machine that creates that. 

A world where the reason why you're doing your work is play, purpose, and potential, not emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia.

Tyler: It's really interesting. I know from your research, the measurement piece is really key. Can you talk just a little bit more for those that haven't read the book or haven't heard you go more in depth about that research? Both where it started and where you and your co-author Lindsay have taken it. 

Neel: Yeah, absolutely. The book Primed to Perform is a summary of the research on the science of performance and motivation. We've been doing our own primary research on this topic for now, maybe 30 years, something like that.

My journey on this started about 30 years ago when my first job was as a software engineer actually, and at that point, as an engineer, I realized I tried to build something. I tried to build a motivating environment, I studied the best practices. I mean, this was the late nineties. And so you're studying GE as the ultimate best practice.

I studied those best practices. I tried to live by them. I tried to apply them, and I could not get past mediocre as an outcome. And what that led me to believe was I engineered something that did not perform to spec, which means fundamentally I didn't understand the science behind what I was engineering.

And I tried to find, did somebody answer that question? And I realized that no one had actually answered that question. There was no science of performance as it would apply to an organization or work. So at that point, I spent the next 20, 25 years studying, researching, experimenting, collecting data, collecting measurements.

And it was probably about 10 years ago where we felt like we fully cracked the code, a science based deductive, quantifiable model of motivation and performance at work that was so accurate that we could predict performance easily. We could predict the outcomes of experiments pretty easily, which means that we can now engineer high performing cultures pretty easily. That was my journey. 

My co-author Lindsay, she actually came from education like she was a teacher in her first work and she was feeling something very. And so from different vantage points, different walks of life, we both came to the same realization that despite not wanting to build demotivating environments, that is what we were doing.

But when you look at the outcomes, they're not great and they're getting worse. Especially today. This is all a manifestation of organizations do not fully understand the science of it.  Ultimately, when you really look at performance, Performance really isn't measurable. Actually, you can measure an aspect of near term performance outcomes, but you can't really measure performance in its totality.

This is, by the way, one of the problems. Because what you measure as an organization is one of the strongest signals of what you value. It's actually worth saying that again, what you measure is one of the strongest signals of what you. And you set that signal into your organization very deeply. So you could be saying all sorts of things as a leader about what you value, but then you have this measurement system in front of all your people that's telling them what you actually value, and that's what they're taking away from it.

And so, because you can't fully measure performance, what's fascinating about our research is while you can't fully measure performance. You can measure motivation. And it's an incredibly predictive measure of future performance. Measurement is relatively easy. We have some really amazing tools to do it, so if anyone really wants to, um, check this out, they can come to or just look me up on LinkedIn. You can get all the links to this if you need to. 

Tyler: We can add it to the show notes as well.

Neel: I appreciate that. We have some really simple, really awesome tools to measure motivation, but it really boils down to this, go back to those six motives. Our tools in some way or another, get at understanding a person's work: How much play is there, How much purpose is there, how much potential is there? How much emotional pressure is there, how much economic pressure there is there, and how much inertia is there? 

We take those three, those six factors, and we combine them into a single motivation factor where we add the three direct motives and we subtract the three indirect.

This metric is called the Total Motivation Factor. We shorten it to ToMo when we're conversational about it, but this metric Tomo is incredibly predictive of burnout, performance, growth, learning or growth mindset. It's quite predictive of psychological safety and so is the input of these outputs that you really care about.

Tyler: I want to dive in on a couple of things you said there. So one is Measuring things really shows what you value. And I think in education, that shows up a lot in testing. And this is actually something you talk about in the book is where educators are expected to teach to the test. 

They probably did not get into education because they really wanted to have students succeed at standardized tests. They wanted to see kids “get it”, to see their life change a little bit, right? So curious to get your thoughts on that and. When you were here in January, you and I were talking about how total motivation fits into the teacher crisis.

So my follow up question to measurement is really around the indirect motives. Economic, emotional pressure, inertia have really shifted during COVID, both because of a pandemic, there's more involvement from a pressure perspective than probably there's ever been in US education before. 

Neel: Yeah, I'm, I'm totally with you.

I think even predating the pandemic since the early eighties, what we're seeing as the motivation that we're creating for educators, we've been systemically adding emotional pressure and economic pressure to the mix and decreasing play and purpose, and the pandemic has just accelerated that tr. A lot, but I'd argue it's actually been happening for a while.

And the problem with that is, of course, this is going to reduce performance motivation, and will eventually lead to stress and then burnout. Think about even the phrase high pressure testing, and then ask yourself, is this likely going to be a good motivational construct? Probably not. For anybody for that matter.

And, and you are right, you called it, “Do we really want kids to learn the skill of test taking or do we want them to learn?” And so you do see a real risk that societally we're shifting the motivation for teaching to the wrong side of total motivation, not the right side. That's why partial measuring is helpful because knowing where this is happening in say a school or a district starting to problem solve with everybody. This is not the motivational profile we should be creating.

There are certainly lots of exogenous factors that are adding to it, but how do we, as a community, a community of practice, how do we combat that and actually get back to.  the right motivation for teaching. It's probably one of the most critical questions we should be asking right now. 

Tyler: I think in the May SchoolCEO Conference, a superintendent actually made a comment about this. He said, “We don't have anything against testing, but if that's the only measurement, there's something wrong there.” And so, like you said, you can measure different things, but there is no one measurement for all things. And I think that's what we're trying to do too often, is find one simple solution that captures everything well.

Neel: I think there's two problems there. Problem one is only testing what you just said, and therefore it's the only measurement. And there are other outcomes and other ways of looking at this that really matter. But the second problem is the pressure we then attach to testing. Fundamentally, metrics aren't a bad thing, like measurements aren't a bad thing.

Measurements can increase motivation. Think about a game. A game is often more fun because of the scoreboard. A game is often more fun because of the measurement. Like if you ever are riding a Peloton and you're chasing your best practice number, that's a measurement and it's actually causing a positive motivation: a play, purpose, potential motivation.

So metrics are not inherently a demotivating construct. The problem is when we weaponize metrics to create pressure, now it has become a demotivating construct. And so two problems, the narrowness of it and the weaponization of it.

Tyler: Well, and that fits into like the external force, right? If I'm measuring my own Peloton score, that motivation coming internally, right? There's some play there. There's some purpose there. Whereas if someone else is forcing my best time on me, that's an external force, which is going to be the opposite. 

Neel: Absolutely. You could imagine, for example, a teacher saying, I want to do standardized testing because I want to understand on a per student basis, where are they in their learning process?

And by understanding that I can be adaptive and I can problem solve, I can, I can be creative, like think about educational platforms like Zearn, where they are actually providing measurements, but not to create pressure, but measurements to help you see the scoreboard of the game so that you can. At halftime, change your gameplay, like think differently about your strategy.

None of that has to be de-motivating, but now when you say your budget's gonna depend on this, your career progression is gonna depend on this. You'll be shamed based on this. Now we've taken something that could have been high play, high purpose, and we've made it the worst version of itself. 

The CEO or senior executive, or say like a, a school administrator or a district administrator, they have levers, that's for sure. Like they don't have, they have no, they have an effect on culture, but take the play motive, for example, this motive that is, I'm doing my work because I enjoy that work.  Play is incredibly close to the work itself. And so what you often find is, at least half, if not more than half of the levers of culture and motivation are actually at the lower altitudes of the organization.

It's at the team altitude. And so, but most organizations don't manage this this way. They don't actually realize that helping teams manage those levers is the most important critical aspect of motivation. They try to do everything from the executive team. What in fact, what the executive team should be doing is trying to create the conditions and the tools where a team can own its own motivation. That's, that's the real name of the game. 

Tyler: The ownership piece I think is, is really on point. Obviously education and educators talk a lot about growth mindset. Carol Dweck's work is very popular and it's kind of almost become vernacular in U.S. education. And I'm curious from what you know of Carol Dweck's work, do you see overlap with total motivation and the concept that you and your co-author have put together through your own research and like where is there a difference between growth mindset and total motivation?

Neel: That's a great question. There's growth mindset as it really pertains to education, and there's this other version of growth mindset that kind of has become popular in literature or kind of popular knowledge. That's how people try to apply that term towards organizational cultures. And what's interesting is that same term, when you really look at it, it means two totally different things.

So, I'll try to answer that question, both of those domains. So in domain one, is Carol Dweck’s incredible, amazing work and growth mindset. I don't wanna overly simplify it. I encourage you to read a book if anyone really wants to go deeper and has it already gone deeper. But one of the central tenets of it is this perspective that if you believe that you have a plastic mind, like a mind that can be sculpted, you're more likely to sculpt it, you're more likely to learn. 

In early childhood education growth mindset is a central tenet. But it was really around essentially belief in brain plasticity. You could have imagined that another way of thinking about it is it's really about learning confidence. Like if you believe you can learn, you're more likely to learn. In organizations, it's kind of become more like you believe you can grow. Performance, I think is kind of the more common way I think. I see people use the term in organizations.

Because organizations aren't really talking about brain plasticity as an example. Sure. Um, now, Childhood education, motivation. There's tons and tons of data around motive and motivation as a significant driver of learning outcomes, and it's pretty simple. If a student feels like they're being coerced into learning, like if you don't learn to get a punishment, they're not gonna learn.

It's not really going to drive learning outcomes. If they enjoy learning, if they feel like it's creating value for them immediately, play and purpose, they're more likely. So motivation and growth mindset are very tightly coupled in education. And, if you are a teacher and you're thinking about it that way, it's, it's very true.

Most teachers kind of get this already, by the way, like you even think about the Montessori method, it's about play-based education. And more and more teachers are experimenting on interesting ways to decrease the pressure that students feel and create more play and purpose based education. 

It is worth noting. Student pressure is increasing quite a lot. Like you're seeing a lot of evidence that particularly later, later year, students are feeling extraordinary amounts of pressure, which is just not great for the learning outcomes. But going back to the workplace, workplace growth mindset, like I believe we can grow, I believe our team can improve.

I believe our organization can improve. And I have, I have, I'm taking an improvement orientation in my. That is fundamentally driven by these, by the three direct motives. If one is driven by emotional pressure, you can have pressure in inertia. You're not growing, you're checking the box. I saw this article this morning actually, where a survey from the Gallup organization found that something like 50% of Americans at work are just checking the box, like doing the bare minimum to get by, and this is not their fault.

This is the motivational construct around them, and so, if you wanna drive a kind of organizational growth mindset, it is a hundred percent, well, I don't wanna exaggerate it is strongly related to the motivation that those teams and organizations create. 

Tyler: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So culture is something that's really hard to get right. And I think if we want to kind of stretch growth mindset CEOs and executives and school leaders that see culture as something they can control are gonna be better off than those that see cultures as something that just is. And one thing that stood out to me from your book, Primed to Perform is a lot of times people kind of go look for some other culture out there.

They look at, you know, maybe GE 20 or 30 years ago, they look at Google in 2010. They look at companies like Zappos, which do have good cultures, right? And they're known for it, but they kind of just look at the surface level, kind of like you mention. Kombucha on tap or the ping pong tables. And they think that's culture, and I think one of the dangers of that is you, one, it may not work for you, but two, it's probably not true to your own organization, right?

You're just kind of trying to copy what someone else is doing. So I'm curious, how does someone kind of take lessons from these companies that have figured out motivation, they have figured out what their culture is, take those lessons while still building something that's authentic to your own organization's values and identity.

Neel: That's a great question. The dangers you're citing from this so-called best practice copycat based approach to culture are very real. The funny thing is, I actually add a third danger to your list, which is that culture was likely not good for the organization that you're copying to begin with.

Because when you look at organizations, especially these days, but it's been like this, I think, since really the mid eighties, when an organization publicly talks about its culture, it's like you're looking at someone's Instagram, you're seeing only the best snapshot of their life. You're not seeing the 99% of their life.

And so when an organization goes out and they get their PR teams to write an article that you look at about, oh, the amazing things that company A, B, and C do with their culture, you should remember it: You're looking at their Instagram. That's not their life. That is a heavily manicured, curated version of their culture.

That they're putting out there for you to see. And it is unlikely the reality of their actual culture. Really important messages, because I think what I often see is organizations really struggling, especially today, burnout, all time high, burnout in education through the roof. Uh, this whole concept of disengagement; quit quitting.

We're looking at a wave of. Really difficult work environments that we've really haven't seen in a long time. The Great Resignation as an example of that. So I very much commiserate the organizations. It's a real problem, but this, let me just go look at company's Instagrams and copy what they do and see if that solves my problem.

It will not in the same way that looking at some couple's Instagram to solve your marriage will. The thing you have to get back down to is the science of it and the science of it at its simplest level is you gotta motivate your people the right way. You motivate people the right way. If you just start with that basic kernel of truth and just build around that basic kernel kernel truth, you'll get this right now.

If this one, one tip I would start with is don’t make this a you problem. Like if you're a leader listening to this or if you're a CEO or a school administrator, it's not the way you should think about. Motivation is not, “it’s on me to motivate everybody”. The way you should think about this is how do I create the conditions where everyone understands collectively that we're trying to create a motivating environment and it's up to everybody to participate in creating that.

That's the better way to get this done. And so usually I recommend two. Two starting points: one, it helps to get your whole organization to learn about motivation and how it works and how it drives performance, especially for schools and school systems, that that knowledge will help in just about every aspect of their work, not just their own environments.

But then the second thing I'd recommend is measure it. You measure motivation, especially you measure it the right way at the team level, not at the org level. You measure it the right way. It will start to get people to change in the same way that the one, a very interesting motivational construct is Weight Watchers.

Weight Watchers as a motivational construct to help people get healthier. It's really quite impressive what they've built. But one of those rituals is the. . You can think of this as your motivation or culture weigh in. You want everyone to weigh in every now and then because it'll help them self reflect.

And as long as you couple that with, Okay, what are we gonna do about it? Now you've activated everyone to improve culture, not just you as a leader. Hmm. And you, there's no ceo, there's no executive. If you say to them, “Hey Tyler, do you wanna build a motivating environment or de-motivating?” There's no CEO on the planet that's picking demotivating, not a single one.

And so I often run into executives who are starting companies. There are like 20 people, 50 people, and they say, “Oh, Neel, I have a great culture, like super motivated, high performing.” And what they, what they accidentally believe is that they've cracked the code on scaling and they haven’t.  And I often hear back from them when they're at 150 or 300 and all of a sudden their culture just fell through the roof, fell through the floor, and people aren't happy.

People are miserable. People are tired and you'll see these founders and they're just influx because they're like, I thought I had it. So, so under lock and when it's not just a function of it being smaller, but when you're, when you're new also, and you're young. You don't really have a lot of systems and controls or processes in place, but as you're scaling a company, you put in place systems, controls, processes, but those elements, so systems, controls, processes, another word for all of those things are habits.

And so those are examples of things that become habit, that are actually demotivating habits. And so what they didn't realize is the way you put in systems, controls and processes. Really matters. It's not that we're suggesting don't have systems, controls and processes. In fact, quite the opposite. Systems, controls and processes can actually frame a game and make them a lot more fun. But when you put 'em in the wrong way, they become like high pressure testing. 

Tyler: Yeah. And is that, I mean, I think I've seen that in my own work, right? Where. Becomes a process, and now there's a process instead of a person. Whereas before you were communicating more, there was more context. There's a little bit more play and purpose because you're, you're maybe tuning the process, but you're doing that with someone else, and you see the outcome of that eventually.

But once it's, you know, automated, it just kind of runs. And so you don't feel that day to day you're maybe onto something else entirely, but you lose that over time because all those processes or systems are coming at you from different directions. But, Really know why or who is behind that or what the ultimate purpose is.

Neel: There's another way to put it, which is typically when organizations get this wrong, these processes are making people task oriented versus impact oriented. And when you're small, it's very easy to be impact oriented. But as you scale and you, you incorrectly put these processes into place, I think this is, this is another way of looking at the issue of education today: that we incorrectly put process into place that start to make teachers task oriented, not outcome or impact oriented. Yeah. You know what I mean? 

Tyler: Yeah. Well, we didn't cover this earlier in the conversation, but the book talks a lot about adaptive versus tactical performance. Right. And adaptive is just one side of the coin.

But I think most people lean towards tactical because what they can see, they can measure it more easily. And the adaptive side, Often lost or the thing that people are actually trying to decrease because they can't quite get their hands around it, especially at scale. 

Neel: And the unfortunate things that's role play and purpose was.

And so when you start to lose all that adaptability, you start to lose play and purpose. The true verse, the trues of virtuous cycle. Like if I were to get a bit more technical about it, it's the vitreous and virtuous cycle between adaptability and.  that you lose adaptability, you lose Tomo, which causes you to lose adaptability, which causes you to lose Tomo, and it starts to become a pretty bad downward spiral.

You see this in many aspects of people's lives, not just workplace. Like you'll see people that are, that are demotivated about their life and you start to see they become less adaptive in their life. And so it's a basic truism, but that's, um, that's one of the problems. Incorrect application of process.

But there's plenty of examples of correct application of process where you are solving for the tactical performance, but you are not extinguishing the adaptive performance. Hmm. And that is the real key. And I, if every leader learned what we just went through, the world of work today would just not be so.

Tyler: Yeah. So much of it to me is culture, motivation. It's like you know it when you see it, but nobody, like you said, has really dug into why. Right? They just know that it's missing or that it's there, but they don't have any plans for how to continue it at scale or in other ways. 

Neel: Well, this is our mission. Like right now, we believe the world of work is quite deeply broken. The metrics will tell you that, like how many people are not fulfilled. Like the majority of people are spending the majority of their adult lives feeling completely unfulfilled. And I can kind of go deeper on the societal impact of that.

What we're seeing is this is taking society to the precipice of a cliff right now. And so our mission, what we're trying to solve is that problem and the irony of this problem. It is immediately high ROI for the organization to solve it. That's the crazy irony of this. Like organizations are making people demotivate at work because they think it's performance improving.

Like the extreme process orientation that tries to get people to act like automatons or cogs in a machine, they deep down inside believe this is performance accretive. That's why they're doing it. They're not doing it for any other reason. . But the irony of all of this is it is not the optimal performance approach.

And when you kind of just think about the logic of it, you think that the optimal performance approach for your organization is mass de-motivation.

Tyler: Right? They're not feeling things, They're not literally looking, they're just kind of standing in from one perspective, and they never actually ask like, what?

What's below the surface? What's actually happening here? You can see. You know, but you can't see someone's motivation or the experimentation that they're kind of playing in their work in that day. 

Neel: Yeah, that's a hundred percent it. Like what we have to solve for, for teachers is their play purpose and potential, and actually reduce the pressure.

If we can do that, then we will increase our educational outcomes, but right now, too many forces in society think that, well, there's people that can work without pressure and people who cannot.  and the mass majority of people need to be, they need to have a, someone behind them with the stick or dangling the carrot.

This is just simply untrue and the irony of this problem is it is immediately high ROI for the organization to solve it. That's the crazy irony of this, like organizations are making people demotivate at work because they think it's performance. But most people haven't connected those dots like that, so that basic question isn't even presented to them.

Yeah. Very few teams have habits around prioritization. And, what you often see is teams don't really prioritize. They just build a pile and they build a pile of work, and you just kind of work this pile, like this endless pile of work that's not prioritization, that’s piling. And so when you really look at teams, you would be shocked by the habits that are missing.

And so the challenge with missing habits is it was blind spot to teams, Team members, team leaders. And so you can't ask them how your habits are going or what's working, what's not, because they just won't know. It's a blind spot. So what we often have to do when we're helping an organization diagnose habits is we actually put the comprehensive menu of habits in front of them, and then we ask them, which of these habits do you need to maintain, improve, or improve?

And it starts to get people to realize, we don't even have that. And we don't even have that. And we don't even have that. And that one's going well. Like let's keep doing that. But this one, yeah. It's not going so well and we're missing four. That's really how you need to do this. 

Tyler: Yeah. That's really interesting.

There's a lot of discussion about habits, right? Part of that is Atomic Habits by James Clear, and this idea that, you know, habits form identity, but also identity forms your habits. So I'm curious how you think about that. Right? I, it is a little bit of a chicken and egg in which comes first, isn't always clear, and they do inform each other. But how do you think about total motivation and how do you think about that given what you just said?

Neel: There's no doubt a virtuous cycle, there's a virtuous cycle between these elements of an organization's culture, including its habits. It's habits by the way, aren't the only thing, like it's, it's the place I would start.

You mention identity, which is another lever. Another lever is the talent system, how you pay people, how you structure their roles, how you promote, like all of those are other elements of motivation and culture in an organization. So I don't want to mistakenly leave people with the impression that habit is the only thing.

Even interestingly enough, org structure, like the structure of teams and work has a profound effect on motivation. So if you want to get a comprehensive list or view of those levers, you'll find it in Primed to Perform. We do go through all the levers comprehensively, but speaking specifically, so speak about all the levers for a.

Your point about what's the chicken and what's the egg of causality here? Does motivation cause good culture? Does good culture cause motivation? And what I mean by good culture, is all those levers being pulled effectively or well. It's a cyclical causality. So if I pull those levers, well, I'll create a higher level of motivation, which will make me more likely to pull those levers well, which will create a higher level of motivation.

And so it's a virtuous cycle. But it's also a vicious cycle when it goes the other way. So this is the thing that's really the, the most brutal catch of this whole thing. If an organization's culture is demotivating, the people of that organization are less likely to pull the levers to make it motivating. So one of the things I found is when organizations are on that downward spiral of motivation, it is a difficult change management process because people are resisting the very thing that will increase their motivation.

And so that's the vicious cycle. The same, essentially the same virtuous cycle just flipped around. And so the causality of course is cyclical, but then you ask the question of where would you start? I would start with the levers, not motivation, like essentially, I'm not gonna say to my colleagues who are feeling demotivated, motivate yourself so we can fix our.

I'm not gonna say that as a leader, I'm going to take the first step by solving for these levers myself. Starting to get a vicious cycle to become a virtuous one. 

Tyler: That's a great place to end it. Thank you so much, Neel.

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