Book report: Primed to Perform – The Playground

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Book by Neel Doshi & Lindsay McGregor

Reading notes by Yan Tougas

The most powerful source of total motivation is the design of a person’s role within an organization.

Unfortunately, most jobs are designed around tactical performance.  We start with a goal, we create a process to reach this goal, and we write a job description to execute that process – with no room for adaptive performance.  While this may work well for a computer program, people aren’t machines.

Designing a job around tactical performance plays into the blame bias, i.e. it assumes that people are the problem.  While this may be true in some cases, we can’t know for sure until we have made an effort to increase the positive motivators and decrease the negative ones within the job.

Designing a role that supports adaptive performance is not easy but the process is the same for all roles:

Impact.  Your job must (1) enable you to understand how your work creates an impact and (2) give you the ability to continuously improve.  You should see, clearly, what part of your job requires tactical performance and where adaptive performance is required.  It’s in the adaptive part that you can play, address VUCA, and find purpose and potential.

Inspiration.  Your role must be designed to inspire curiosity, to encourage you to come up with ideas to improve performance.

Prioritization and planning.  This is not simply about what must be done now versus later.  It’s also about identifying what ideas can be tested quickly (hares) versus the ones that require broad consensus before they are tried (tortoises).  Good role design identifies the hare pen and seeks to increase its population.

Performing.  Well-crafted roles should have a place where it is OK to experiment and learn (read “play”).  Organizations spend far too much time telling employees what they can’t do.  The best place to build a playground is where VUCA is greatest.

Reflection.  To see your impact you must have time to reflect on your work and its outcomes.  Every job cycle must include reflection time, and the cycle should be as short as practical.

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