Primed to Perform

(This is the first of a series of posts on Primed to Perform.)

Authors Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor have a theory about high performance: why people work affects how well they work. Their 2015 release Primed to Perform, studies how top-performing companies achieve results. Doshi and McGregor believe that great organizations inspire the three most powerful motives for work—play, purpose, and potential—and eliminate the three most destructive—emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia. They understand how these factors create total motivation (or ToMo, for short).

I’ve written about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation before. You may believe that most people work for extrinsic (external) factors like pay, praise, or awards. But in the introduction to Primed to Perform, Doshi and McGregor write, “Money is weak glue.” When members of a group don’t share values and purpose, the group tends to fall apart. Unfortunately, most of what managers and Human Resources staff practice is based on these external factors.

Instead, Doshi and McGregor write, we should be focused on what makes every human being tick (and perform at work): intrinsic or internal motivation. They identify the three most important of these: play, purpose and potential.

Play is just what it sound like: a sense of enjoyment in the work itself. You may think the term play only applies to jobs that are, well, fun, like working in the arts or working with kids.  But most people who are deeply engaged with their work consider it fun. I once had a CPA tell me that she “loved finding the last of the errors in an account; I get a thrill when I finally balance things out.” I’ve heard the same thing form editors and writers who love finding just the right word or headline, from engineers and scientists who solve problems, and from military members who enjoy the rigorous and deadly serious training they do every day.

When you enjoy the work for its own sake, solving problems, getting it right, or doing something for the first time can feel like play. This kind of intrinsic enjoyment gives you a sense of curiosity: “I wonder how this works.” “I wonder what would happen if I tried it this way?” People who don’t enjoy their work never experiment; their curiosity is deadened and they don’t enjoy much about their job beyond punching out for the day.

Purpose is the sense that the work you do matters. Great companies help workers connect with the big picture, with what their work does for other people. We’ve all seen disastrous results from  bloated bureaucracies whose workers forget the real people, patients or families, behind the paperwork they’re processing.  Connecting workers with the sense of making a difference in the world is one of the most powerful motivators a manager can tap into. Mission and vision statements have received a bad rap over the past decade, but when done well, the results can be transformational.  Take for example, Southwest Airlines: “When you deliver the highest quality of customer service, and make darn sure people have fun flying with us, they will choose us as often as possible.”

Potential  is the idea that we all work for our own goals. Potential is what the authors define as a second order outcome; the work may not be inherently interesting, but it contributes to a personal goal you have. Most of us has are working toward what we define as success, whether it’s financial achievement, acclaim, obtaining a promotion or finishing a degree. You’re working hard now for a reward in the future. This is what helps you change bad habits and start better ones, as well.

Doshi and McGregor studied dozens of companies and found that when these three factors were high, the company’s value and worker satisfaction soared.

In a later post, we’ll talk about factors that can kill performance.

3 thoughts on “Primed to Perform

  1. Hey, love your 3 P’s, they definitely make a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing and all the best!


  2. […] Primed to Perform, Doshi and McGregor make the case that any company can improve performance by increasing workers’ sense of play, purpose and potential. Unfortunately, most companies focus on extrinsic factors when they try to increase performance. […]


  3. […] the barrier that prevents the concept from being adopted.) Managers can reward workers with Play, Purpose and Potential. Motivated workers will value the opportunity to build skills, attend conferences and training and […]


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