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Primed to Perform: How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures Through the Science of Total Motivation

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The revolutionary book that teaches you how to use the cutting edge of human psychology to build high performing workplace cultures. Too often, great cultures feel like magic. While most leaders believe culture is critical to success, few know how to build one, or sustain it over time. What if you knew the science behind the magic—a science so predictive and powerful that you could transform your organization? What if you could use cutting edge psychology to unlock people’s innate desire to innovate, experiment, and adapt? In Primed to Perform, Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor show you how to do just that. The result: higher sales, more loyal customers, and more passionate employees. Primed to Perform explains the counter-intuitive science behind great cultures, building on over a century of academic thinking. It shares the simple, highly predictive new measurement tool—the Total Motivation (ToMo) Factor—that enables you to measure the strength of your culture, and track improvements over time. It explores the authors’ original research into how Total Motivation leads to higher performance in iconic companies, from Apple to Starbucks to Southwest Airlines. Most importantly, it teaches you to build great cultures, using a systematic and sustainable approach. High performing cultures cant be left to chance. Organizations must create systems that shape and maintain them. Whether you’re a five-person team or a startup, a school, a nonprofit or a mega-institution, Primed to Perform shows you how.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published October 6, 2015

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About the author

Neel Doshi

2 books10 followers
Neel is the cofounder of Vega Factor and co-author of the NYT bestseller Primed to Perform, published in fall 2015 by HarperBusiness. Previously, Neel was a Partner at McKinsey & Company, founding member of an award-winning tech startup, and employee of several mega-institutions. He studied engineering at MIT, and received his MBA from Wharton. In his spare time, he’s an avid yet mediocre woodworker and photographer.

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5 stars
240 (40%)
4 stars
227 (38%)
3 stars
105 (17%)
2 stars
11 (1%)
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9 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 58 reviews
Profile Image for Bjoern Rochel.
365 reviews66 followers
October 10, 2018
I really enjoyed the first third. The idea that adaptive performance is the defining trait of high performance teams resonates with me. I'm often coming back to the analogy of modern football squads that adapt to changing game situations and don't stick to fixed roles to describe my current teams setup. So reading that in a book made me pretty happy. I've also done the Tomo team survey with my team and the results indicate that we're in a pretty good state (team Tomo ended up at ~40).

The second part of the book was a rehash of books I already read. Especially McChrystals Team of Teams comes to mind. I don't know where, but I've also read about the Pygmalion and the Cobra effect before. The content is good, but if you already know these stories, there's not much new to learn in this section.

The third portion is an uncohesive set of different topics. For instance how many connections a human can sensibly make. The Dunbar number comes up again. Community of practice come up. But it's nowhere near as good as the first part.

Profile Image for John Blackman.
94 reviews14 followers
May 8, 2017
I reserve the 5 star rating for books that change the way I think or expose me to a new way of doing things I didn't know before. This is one of those books. It is applied mostly to the world of business, but it can apply to anything you do and why you do it.

Primed to Perform tries to demystify culture and put it in a measurable structure so you can take action to steer your company culture for the highest performance possible. This is typically the realm of fuzzy 'feel good' consultants where you do some team building exercises and hope that will make everyone play nice together. Primed to Perform is so much more than that. Neel Doshi has done his research, stood on the shoulders of his predecessors and made a book that can give you a real plan on how to identify what is motivating and what is demotivating by classifying motivations into one of six categories. Three are empowering, play, purpose, and potential. Three are demotivating, emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia.

Primed to Perform challenges the pay for performance paradigm that is pervasive in most companies. It's not that we don't want to pay for high performers, but when that is the only incentive it can backfire. Performance in many cases drops when money is the only thing motivating people. Examine your own motivations. If you are doing something only for the money, is your heart really in it? Do you do your best work? You might make the cash, but your actual impact is only as high as it needs to be to make the dollars.

When the reward of the work is the work itself, then you are in a state of play. How is your performance when your work is fun? What about when you help others and see them succeed? What about when your work is part of a larger purpose to make a difference in the world? Those are the real motivators of the human soul and true keys to fulfillment.

Instead of measuring our 'success' which is generally tied to financial metrics, let's measure our fulfillment which comes from our play, purpose to something greater than ourselves, and potential to grow and become more capable. Building an organization that can tap into those human desires is one that will flourish and drive impact. This isn't just feel good pontification either. Primed to Perform builds on case studies from GM, Toyota, Microsoft, and many others where organizations were measurably improved in terms of real economic output by shifting the culture to one that is focused on these core beliefs. Focusing on the dollars puts the emotion second and creates a red ocean culture of competition. Focusing on the play and purpose creates a blue ocean society where the actual output of dollars increases because the effectiveness of each participant is higher.

Whether you are examining your own motivations for what you do and why you do it, or you are part of a team, or building a team, this book will give you a blueprint for designing a happier more productive culture.
66 reviews
December 18, 2015
Fantastic book. One of the very best I've read on building a great workplace culture. Much to think about and implement!
March 1, 2020
For a long time, I wondered why my subordinates were not as much enthusiastic than I was.
I already knew that intrinsic motivation was a powerful source of motivation.
In fact, I also knew the different components that are needed to improve motivation, thanks to books like "Drive" by Dan Pink and the "Self-Determination Theory", coined by Deci and Ryan in 1985.
However, I had difficulties to instill this mindset to my team, and also my colleagues.
This book showed me the way.
It gave me an effective and practical tool to measure intrinsic motivation (the Total Motivation indice).
Introduced me to the concept of Organizational Complexity, which is an incredible tool to understand the organization in a more systematic way.
Made me understand the link between agility and motivation.
Also, the book is full of references to scientific research.
And the authors have done their own research, proving that Total Motivation is a precious tool to increase engagement which leads to dramatic improvements in performance.
It showed me that there are vast untapped sources of performance in organizations.
Today, I feel really grateful to having discovered this wonderful book.
It challenged my conception of effective organizations.
And even lead me to research on new models of organizations, like Teal and Holacracy.
32 reviews1 follower
November 10, 2020
Oh this book sparked so many great ideas and helpful thoughts.

I loved the first part enough to give it a 6 star rating so even though the second part, to me, was weaker it's still a slam dunk!

The best thing to me was the simplicity yet depth of the ToMo model. I love how I can look at things and go "yeah, that's why they're performing so well and they're not..." and feel like I have a tool to deal with it (save the performing group from stupid decisions and help the weaker group change).

Easily on my top 10 all time non-fiction, possibly even top 5!
Profile Image for Toni Tassani.
165 reviews11 followers
March 28, 2020
Very interesting reading tapping from different sources to study motivation at work: self-determination theory, complex-adaptive systems, transformational leadership, ...
The authors suggest their "product", ToMo, Total Motivation, and a recipe to achieve it in your organisation discussing things like job definition and careers model.
That latter part was the one disappointing to me. But a good read, in any case.
Profile Image for Keira.
12 reviews
May 17, 2021
I would give this book 6 stars if I could! A must read for any CEO or team lead who is serious about revamping the corporate’s or the team’s culture. The book explains the abstract concepts and also gives specific examples - a lot of the case studies resonated with me, as I have seen them play out in real life. Definitely came to appreciate the concepts in this book more only after working for a long time; they may not be as obvious to a fresh graduate.
3 reviews1 follower
August 15, 2019
This is my new favorite book on shaping culture. I have reread it three times in the past two months. I love the weaving of many classic business models into a theory of Total Motivation that is measurable.

In addition to great stories of high functioning teams, it offers data to correlate steps to take to amp up play, purpose and potential as motivators.

I am recommending this to anyone who is trying to create high functioning teams and organizations.

Profile Image for Clifton.
282 reviews1 follower
December 17, 2018
I have read enough business/leadership books to pretty quickly divide them into tiers. You have the ones so insightful and readable that everyone (regardless of profession) should read them; let’s call that the Heath brothers tier. Then you have the highly readable books that mostly highlight research and stories from other people’s research; let’s call that the greatest hits tier. Then you have the books that should have just stayed HBR articles because all you have to do is read the first 50 pages to get the gist; that would be the executive summary tier. This book falls pretty squarely in the middle tier. The authors divide their content into 4 parts, with the first 3 parts digging into the science of total motivation and the last part digging into “how to” case studies. The first 3 parts are a great summary of critical research - the kind of content that’s sticky and I will revisit repeatedly. The last part felt was basically a dive into various topics, and the examples were pretty stale if you were not super interested in the chapter’s focus (“Sure. Let’s talk about Starbucks AGAIN.”). But here’s the problem: the first 3 parts are only 100 pages....it is downhill from there. So it is worth reading, but I would focus on the first 100 pages. After that, pick your spots.
Profile Image for Dana Ashfield.
5 reviews2 followers
June 20, 2017
Doshi and McGregor put data and science behind something we've long known intuitively to be true...we perform at our very best when love the work we do.

Additionally, I find their work to be very insightful in highlighting the deep, potentially unconscious, blame bias we have towards others. In life - whether that be in a social, religious or work setting - our tendency is to blame people rather than external factors. This book identifies the myriad of external factors that impact people's behavior and performance and shows the criticality of aligning those things towards a positively impactful outcome.

Very enlightening!
Profile Image for Andrew.
69 reviews10 followers
January 9, 2020
Solid book and ideas...

I really liked this book and the ideas presented. However, like most hooks in this vein, they are overly redundant, name dropping, and could be about 1/3 the length they are without losing anything

Still, I would recommend this to anyone in a corporate setting... Especially if culture is something your organization struggles with or is missing altogether.
Profile Image for Delta.
1,242 reviews18 followers
May 8, 2017
I honestly didn't know if I would enjoy this book, but I found it fascinating. So many things you might consider "intuitive" are often not correct at all! There are plenty of examples and case studies to back up their assertions and everything is laid out to provide any company with the tools they need to perform and motivate better. Very interesting book!
Profile Image for AJ.
39 reviews8 followers
October 17, 2018
This was a great 100 page book disguised as a mediocre 300 page book. I heard Lindsay give a talk on this book at the Slack Conference (the talk was great), and that basically covered the important points.
Profile Image for Shelley Cooper-White.
26 reviews3 followers
July 13, 2020
So many DUDES. Almost every single person they mention or quote is a man. Hundreds of them! Dudes managing teams. Dudes being managed by dudes. Dudes who own companies made up of dudes. Honestly did you even try to find any women?
Otherwise real good booko.
3 reviews1 follower
March 7, 2021
What can a book written by two McKinsey MBAs focused on "employee performance" and “total motivation” can bring other than a Tony Robbins wannabe infomercial? I was quite skeptical about this book but was well recommended so I gave it a go.

I was wrong to assume! I now like to imagine that these two folks are deep down two hippies that figured out how to increase the level of happiness in the world. Their approach is convincing the high-ranking MBAs, the high achievers of the corporate world that making work suck less for their people will directly translate to more $$$ at the end of the fiscal year.

It's a good case for that, a compelling story that the data-driven intellects can work with and my confirmation bias greatly enjoys– my favourite word in the dictionary and the rough answer to all existential crises is ‘play’...

Book’s hypothesis is that adaptive performance (ability to diverge from the plan) is as important as tactical performance (ability to follow the plan) in most of our work – the yin to the yang. There’s no shortcut or company policy to increase this thing called adaptive performance, it needs to come from the right motivation and a people-oriented culture.

To sum up: play, purpose and potential increase adaptive performance while emotional pressure, economic pressure and inertia decrease it. First part is straightforward, the more non-intuitive takeaway is that emotional pressure, economic pressure and inertia do not add less to performance but actually decrease it. You will get basically worse results with pavlovian bonuses and pressure inducing goals than not having them at all.

This simplified framework, few other great concepts and the key metric defined as ‘total motivation’ (total in this context is more like composite, not ultimate) makes the whole thing more approachable, a feasible path to make work engaging and playful.

Read it, try this framework with your team and find a way to make your manager read it as well – your new level of adaptive performance will help with that.
Profile Image for Mike Morano.
37 reviews1 follower
March 5, 2022
Play, Purpose, Potential vs Emotional, Economic, & Inertial motivators. How to inspire organizations to perform in the top percentile of their competitors. The authors touch on Flow, Grit, Mindset and so many more in their own words. An excellent read. So much of what's in here speaks to the heart of what business psychology had been preaching for years. The keys to the castle written out, complete with checklists, resources, and questionnaires. I especially appreciated "The Scientist's Toothbrush" at the end of the book crediting all the previous researchers who had published findings on the same science by different titles. Absolutely phenomenal scientific lit review too. I absolutely loved this one.
41 reviews2 followers
March 7, 2022
Some interesting ideas. Working with agile/scrum in software industry, I recognized a lot of the ideas. Autonomy, democratic decision-making, experimentation and play are second-nature on well-managed team. This book was sent to me by a director for whom they might be more novel concepts. The problem: I don't think they ever read the book. Either that, or they read it and thought, "Oh yeah, we totally do that." Which is I suppose a major problem with books like this. They are hand-wavey enough to make executives and managers think they can pull this off. What you end up with is a new rhetoric for the old top-down status quo.

How many corporations out there have "fire watchers"? How many, if they do, end up turning that position into "clock watcher"?
182 reviews
October 24, 2021
Not sure how to assess this book. In the beginning, I was so excited, but then I was thinking that I heard all this before. Most companies aren't practicing these principles, so according to the book, we socialize these ideas with our confidantes and then all the way to the village? This happened in the Gore company? Don't know if it's true, but Starbucks is mentioned quite a bit and Starbucks employees don't care about the customer. Lines are always busy, employees don't seem to be happy, the reward system seems antiquated. The book left me questioning. The ideas sounded good, but how do we make that change? Don't tell me we need to pay the consultants to help us!
Profile Image for Andrea Carlevato.
81 reviews7 followers
December 25, 2020
Not as good as I expected, and overall I rate this book a bit below average in the (crowded) space of self-help titles on leadership and team culture. The first section about direct vs indirect motivators is actually solid and sets the ballpark effectively, yet I felt that the following chapters failed in following that up with depth and substance as they were set to provide insights and learned lessons on how to practically drive change from an indirect motivators-dominant organization to a direct motivators dominant one.
Profile Image for Lukasi ATG.
15 reviews
December 4, 2021
This is a very informative book, no doubt, and is useful for any business or cultural studies student. I, although the first few and 11 and 12 were great reads, the middle and end of the book became a bit of a drag to read. I must admit I do not enjoy business studies so that is most likely the reason, however, some points could have been synthesised into smaller bites. Regardless, good read overall.
Profile Image for Darren Chuah.
31 reviews1 follower
May 13, 2018
Primed to perform totally crushed my imaginary leadership capabilities I thought I had and many pieces comes together over the last 10 years in corporate life understanding why I’m unhappy in some but ecstatic in other. It changed my mindset in dealing with management of people within 300 pages with complex scientific findings broken down into terms that people like me can understand.
Profile Image for Alexandra.
658 reviews32 followers
September 12, 2018
Really liked this..aside from the missing pointers in the right direction.

It was a lot of "this thing doesn't work! watch out for it!...but we're not sure what exactly does. different strokes for different folks kinda thing"

cobra farms
weight regain from gold
indirect/ direct motivation
December 18, 2019
I liked the mental model of motivation this book gives in the first few chapters. It's a slightly different angle than what's given in Dan Pink's Drive. The book does a good job of delivering the material breadth-first: if it starts to get boring, you can stop reading it without any fear of missing something later on.
Profile Image for Hoang Tran.
13 reviews1 follower
April 20, 2021
Good insights but quite repititive in the second half of the book

Good framework to think about motivation. This TOMO concept applies to work, life and anything we do on a daily basis.

The second half of the book was repititive with examples, but overall it was a decent read with practical insights
Profile Image for Ed Barton.
1,300 reviews
May 28, 2022
I Wanted To Love It

The premise of the book is great, the research well done, and the insights useful…if you can get past the academic writing style. It’s a tough read, which is unfortunate because the message of Total Motivation and the impacts on performance and leadership are important things to hear. If you can get past the dry style, the substance is well done.
42 reviews5 followers
February 15, 2020
First part was amazing. I think this book single-handedly changed my view on how to optimize one's motivation. Good mix of research and legitimized anecdotes

Once it got through the framework, I became bored rapidly though. Didn't finish
Profile Image for Avishek Das.
13 reviews
June 8, 2020
A must read. Highly recommend to anyone looking to understand how to build a strong adaptive team and the culture to support them. That said, it’s not a very easy read - lots of concepts introduced at breakneck speed and writing style is tedious at times - but more good than bad hence 4/5.
Profile Image for Julie.
26 reviews
November 22, 2017
Perhaps a great book if this topic/concept is completely new to you.
18 reviews1 follower
March 27, 2018
Love the idea of TOMO, think theres a lot of good to learn from this book. It gets a little repetitive towards the end but overall a quick read work picking up.
Profile Image for Doug.
107 reviews3 followers
May 22, 2018
Outstanding business book. Walks the reader thru a very complex issue of improving employee performance but it has simplified the terminology. Highly recommend this book.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 58 reviews

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