Chapter 3: People, How to!

Here’s the second extract from Chapter 3. Thank you so much for the useful comments and emails people 🙂


How to unlock the potential in your people

To help you unlock more of these benefits in your team and organisation, we’re going to look at a set of five People levers that you can positively pull to jolt your organisation into the vanguard:

1.    Motivation
2.    Happiness
3.    Rewards
4.    Environment
5.    Management

1. Motivation

It might help if we take a step back and think about what really motivates people. It can be hard to connect with why on earth team members or customers might be motivated to go beyond their work being ‘just a job’ when people-centricity is not normal in the culture of your organisation.

From that cynical mindset, it can sound or feel a bit like this: ‘Why on earth would our employee want to do that – surely they just want to come in to work, go home and have an easy life, right?’. For some people that may be true, but wouldn’t you say that most people want to enjoy their work and achieve things that they can be proud of?

We have trouble in the business community remembering that there are broader motivations than money alone. Real trouble.

So perhaps it is useful to think about the possible motivations for a unpaid volunteer – someone who does what they do just because they do. Let’s imagine a fervent Wikipedian who has helped write several thousand entries in Wikipedia, has contributed hundreds of hours of her time unpaid, has worked almost entirely without management in the conventional sense, to unpick why people contribute to initiatives.

What would we say are her motivators? Perhaps she is motivated:

•    To help other people?
•    To share what she knows and cares about?
•    To express a passion?
•    To be part of something bigger?
•    To gain kudos and respect from others?
•    Because she simply enjoys it!?

Whichever of those it is, you know intuitively that in yourself these motivators are much more powerful than money alone. Consequently, tens of millions of hours of volunteer time has gone into the production of Wikipedia, a marvellous testament to what we can achieve when we work together, while many of us sat on the sofa watching TV.

And in writing this list it occurred to me that it was very likely that someone clever has studied this. A quick Google and I found The 16 basic desires theory – ta da!

Motivation: The 16 basic desires theory

Having studied some 6,000 people a certain Professor Steven Reiss proposed a theory that found 16 basic desires that guide nearly all human behavior:

•        Acceptance, the need for approval
•        Curiosity, the need to learn
•        Eating, the need for food
•        Family, the need to raise children
•        Honor, the need to be loyal to the traditional values of one’s clan/ethnic group
•        Idealism, the need for social justice
•        Independence, the need for individuality
•        Order, the need for organized, stable, predictable environments
•        Physical activity, the need for exercise
•        Power, the need for influence of will
•        Romance, the need for sex
•        Saving, the need to collect
•        Social contact, the need for friends (peer relationships)
•        Status, the need for social standing/importance
•        Tranquility, the need to be safe
•        Vengeance, the need to strike back/to win

With this in mind, what we need to ask ourselves in business is which basic desires am I calling upon in our people – which powerful underlying motivations can be harnessed to achieve of Purpose of Significance so that we can put a dent in the world?

Perhaps it also worth us pondering on this: which motivators have been poorly tapped in our organisation and more broadly in business in the past century? Which can we realistically address and call on?

2. Happiness

Perhaps the most radical change in how businesses manage people that is coming down the line is that borne out of the growing Happiness movement. Top tip: if you want to get a smile out of a 20th century business man, tell him that happiness is more important than profitability.

But this is no laughing matter. As referenced earlier in this book, whole nation states are suggesting that measures of happiness will succeed measures of financial productivity. We have outgrown the idea that money alone is the metric and the reason.

This rebalancing to take into account happiness and broader wellbeing is happening across society, and will eventually – and perhaps sooner than we expect – reach the shores of business. As it is we remain in a fairly sad and turgid state of affairs when it comes to happiness at work, with the annual (or in the more dynamic organisation, not once but twice a year! Let me hear you say ‘real time’). The HR community tot up the answers behind closed doors and then send back results to senior management, line managers, and sometimes, to the team’s themselves.

As Nic Marks puts it in his readable and very well-referenced ebook The Happiness Manifesto “The time is ripe for our measurement system to shift emphasis from measuring economic production to measuring people’s well-being. And measures of well-being should be put in a context of sustainability.”.

This absolutely applies in a contemporary business. Later in this chapter will look at how other companies pull this lever and how you can too.

3. Rewards

All of the academic research says that money is a hygiene factor. It is terribly demotivating to not be earning ‘enough’, but when the vast majority of people reach an acceptable base level, increases in earnings are exponentially less effective in increasing personal satisfaction.

With this in mind, a powerful people lever we have in 21st century business is to reimagine the whole area of rewards – including but going beyond financial rewards and traditional ‘benefits’ alone.

Here the possibilities are endless, but to remind you of some of them, some organisations include non-financial rewards like:

•    Flexible working hours
•    Sabbaticals
•    Innovation time (Google’s famous TK%)
•    Duvet days
•    Free books (the Zappos library)

4. Environment

Something that smaller businesses and creative services businesses have tended to do much better than large and non-creative services businesses is recognise the impact and value of a positive work environment.

Positive role models feel alive, are comfortable, have a look of being lived in, and clearly value and prioritise the people working in them. People in these offices feel comfortable at work. It doesn’t have to be colourful beanbags, but you can generally tell when you walk around a place whether it is people-friendly or not, can’t you?

But, these working environments aside, the trend has been heading in the opposite direction.

CNN covered some research from the International Facility Management Association which indicates that the amount of physical space we give our people is drastically shrinking: “In 1994, the average office worker had 90 square feet of office space, down to 75 square feet in 2010”.

Inevitable in today’s climate? Perhaps, but does environment matter to business success? Absolutely. There is lots of research showing that everything from the colour of the walls to the number of likely interruptions massively affect morale, stress, engagement and as a result, the bottom line. Take for example research cited in a Wall Street Journal blog that was carried out by Joan Meyers-Levy from the University of Minnesota: Meyers-Levy looked at the relationship between ceiling height and thinking style and found that “when people are in a high-ceilinged room, they’re significantly better at seeing the connections between seemingly unrelated subjects”.

5. Management

The role of line management in actually delivering a contemporary approach to people management is crucial. It is in the nitty gritty of recruitment, day-to-day management and coaching and in performance reviews that many of the available benefits of a new approach to people management are either gained or lost.

The case studies we look at shortly provide many practical examples and bring the whole ethos of progressive management to life, but at this stage we can break out the three specific

•    Recruitment > Management
•    Coaching > Management
•    Feedback > Reviews

    •    Recruitment > Management

In the best run progressive businesses, more emphasis is put on the recruitment of team members than on their subsequent management. There is a belief in these businesses that if – in the words of Jim Collins in Good to Great – if you get ‘the right people on the bus’ everything else will sort itself out. So there is a big emphasis on multiple people being involved in hiring, in hiring being as much about values as about skills and experiences and in taking the whole processes of hiring patiently and thoroughly. Great recruitment lessens the burden of ongoing management.

    •    Coaching > Management

Secondly, once people are on board the approach of these pioneering organisations tends to be on coaching rather than formal management. That is to say, a style of working together which empowers, an approach which helps the individual to find their place, their role, their hidden talents, much more than telling them or placing restrictions or highly defined envelopes to work within. In a coaching culture, the logic in play is something like ‘most people want to be great at what they do, we spent good time finding them, now let’s work on unlocking their full potential’.

    •    Feedback > Reviews

Thirdly, the approach is to prioritise ongoing and very honest feedback over occassional and scheduled formal reviews. That is not to say that the two are mutually exclusive, but that these cultures tend to prefer the feedback to be continuous, to be in the context of every day work, and to be unusually honest and real. Remember some of HCL’s practices? And at Namasté Solar one of their main culture beliefs is in the importance of ‘FOH’ – Frank Open Honest communication.

Combined, these three elements make for a powerful new formula in people management.


The next section will look at ‘Who does this well’, which I think you’re going to like.

Please provide feedback: via comments on this post, via email to, tweets @willmcinnes #cltrshck (no vowels, we’re crazy like that).

Thank you!

4 thoughts on “Chapter 3: People, How to!

  1. Hi Will,

    Just read Chapter 3, really like your thought processes and the way Cultureshock is developing.(its refreshing to hear from an expert rather than an ego).

    I’m Brighton based and in the process of setting up a new ethical PR/Comms agency; so I am keen to learn more about how to turn this kind of theory into practice from a start-up’s perspective.

    I wondered, can I buy you a coffee, have a chat and share some ideas with you sometime soon if that’s cool?

    Look forward to Chapter 4.



  2. Hey Will, loving this Chapter…. 4.Environment being the most relevant to me/us/what we’re doing at @triflecreative. In reality it isn’t about how much space or ceiling height even – although these are real and important factors in work-life happiness. What most ’employees’ (dislike that term) want out of their workspace is that it is designed for them to their job to the best of their ability, that might mean un-sexy things like bloody good storage. Making it a workstation rather than a desk. What they want from their office is a different thing, they want to feel a sense of pride as they walk through the door, that they have different spaces for different kinds of working, that their organisation has created a physical environment that enables rather than hinders. In our experience these are the things that mater and in turn deeply affect motivation, happiness and therefore efficiency and creativity. There are quite a lot of disconnects between external face of a company or brand and the internal reality, there are also disconnects between the learning environments you grow up with and strive to be part of and then the reality of going into workplace environments. I know I’m touching upon the surface of quite a few different things here, my point being environment matters and it doesn’t mean ‘funky’ or expensive it means creating something for the people who work there or you want to work there, creating a space that embodies who you are and what you stand for.
    Hope this is interesting/helpful in someway!

  3. Willbo, really like how you’ve broken this down – particularly the management bit with coaching etc in there. I would add something in the rewards section when you talk about increased rewards having an exponentially decreasing effect about how rewards can actually have the opposite effect and decrease performance, especially when rewards are conditional (i.e. get X done and you will get Y reward) – remember that awesome RSA animation which covers some adademic studies of this which suggest that most rewards systems are completely counter-productive.

    Also wonder if it sounds a bit trite to say you’ve just googled the motivation stuff 🙂 Underplays the fact that you do really know your onions!
    Keep going!

  4. Yes, agree with Tom on the Google bit. Not to mention dear old Ray pointed me to the Stephen Reiss stuff decades ago and you and Tom and I have definitely talked about it before. Your memory is fading dear boy. 🙂

    You’re forgetting what you have forgotten, which, as Tom says, is a sure sign of knowing your onions.

    Interesting that you don’t mention Dan Pink as well. There is just so much good stuff out there on this. Maslow?

    But my major point about this section is deeper – it is that I personally think that the very language you are using – motivation, rewards etc – is part of the problem.

    These terms imply – for me at least – that someone is motivating and someone is rewarding. I think you need to make it much clearer where you stand on this. I think what you are saying is something about intrinsic motivation – ie motivation that comes from the “employee” themselves, rewards that they give themselves etc.

    Maybe this is here but it didn’t come across clearly to me.

    Hope that helps

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