How Company Culture Shapes Employee Motivation

05th March 2020

As this Harvard Business Review article discusses, business leaders understand a strong corporate culture is crucial to success, yet how do they transform it from some kind of uncontrollable magic force, managed only intuitively, to a science which executives can engineer and ensure impacts positively on their bottom line? Well - the good news is - Harvard Business Review has deduced three questions that can help transform culture from a mystery to a science.


Firstly, how does culture drive performance?

The bottom line is:  Why we work determines how well we work.  And why do people work? Research has shown the six main reasons people work to be: play, purpose, potential, emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia. Click here (hyperlink to HBR article) to read more about these motivators.  Importantly, high performance cultures maximise the first three motivators, play, purpose and potential, and minimises the second three, emotional pressure, economic pressure and inertia. This is known as creating total motivation (ToMo). 


Secondly, what is culture worth?

Whilst it can be difficult to measure creativity, proactiveness or resilience in the moment, this article (hyperlink) gives a simple tool to calculate total motivation.  Six questions, one for each motive, allow executives to work out their company’s ToMo (total motivation) and then determine its impact on performance. Cultures scoring highly for staff being motivated by play, purpose and potential produce better customer satisfaction, higher sales revenues and other bottom-line-impacting key indicators.


Thirdly, what processes in an organization affect culture?

HBR defines culture as the set of processes in an organization that affect the total motivation of its people. When measuring how different processes affect employees’ total motivation, it’s clear that there’s no one simple solution to a complicated problem. Whilst many might think leadership matters most to motivation, other processes can have an even bigger impact. How a role is designed is a significant determinant of total motivation. Another big factor when it comes to motivation is the identity of an organization, which includes its mission and behavioural code. Read more here for examples of workplaces that let employees and management actually see how their work is used, has a purpose and makes a difference. The career ladder and how performance is reviewed is also crucial in ensuring the employee motivation is not motivated by emotional and economic pressure, thus reducing total motivation and overall performance. 


So what can leaders do to build and maintain a high-performing culture? They can teach managers to lead in highly motivating ways (always focusing on play, purpose and potential.)  They can make a budget-driven business case for culture and ensure elements that affect culture (from role design to performance review) are improved. They can explain the ‘why’ behind the work of their team by emphasising the three performance-enhancing motivators to why people work.  They can make sure everyone has the space to play and be free to experiment, the opportunity to witness the impact of their work and the potential to learn and grow. As HBR points out, culture can’t be left to chance. Leaders have to treat culture building as an engineering discipline, not a magical one.


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