How are we primed to perform? The self-awareness guide to performance


Performance management is the business development buzzword. Every organization wants to be on top of their employee performance but very few take the correct steps to manage it. Performance is the outcome of motivation. Without understanding what motivates employees, (or even ourselves) we cannot hope to influence work performance. This was the impetus behind authors, Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor's best seller, Primed to Perform; How to Build The Highest Performing Cultures Through the Science of Total Motivation. This dynamic duo takes a look at research and case studies of successful companies and successful leadership that have created the most effective, motivational environments for their employees.

The six human motives

This blog will take a look at the six motives, for why people perform work activities. These motives form the skeleton of motivation and if understood, and utilized correctly by organizations, could define the difference between a business and a successful business.

Direct motives

The first thee motives are directly linked to the activity and positively drive performance.

1. Play

You're most likely to lose weight when the motive driving you is "play". This means that the task you are performing doesn't seem like work to you but instead a hobby or fun. The activity in itself feels rewarding to you. This motive is described in the science world as intrinsic.

  • Because the play motive is solely influenced by the work/activity itself, as opposed to the outcome reward, it is considered as the most powerful driver of high performance.
  • Experimentation and learning are at the heart of this motive. People enjoy seeking out new information and having new experiences.

2. Purpose 

Unlike the play motive, the purpose motive is solely concerned with the outcome of the work. You may or may not enjoy the work but you complete the work because you value its impact.

  • The purpose motive is a powerful motive for employes. However, it's less powerful than the play motive, because it's not attached to the work in itself but instead the outcome.

3. Potential 

This is where you believe the work will take you closer to your long-term goals or overriding objectives. You may or may not enjoy the work but you see it as a stepping stone to your dreams and that motivates you to complete the work.

  • Out of the three motives, this is the least influential - however, it has and does motivate employees all over the world to complete work.

According to researchers in this area, when the three p's; play, purpose, and potential are in place, they create the most performance inducing work environments.

Indirect motives

These three motives for work have been found to negatively impact performance.

1. Emotional pressure 

When emotions such as guilt, pleasing others or disappointment are influencing you to work, they have nothing to do with the work itself but everything to do with your insecurities/fears.

  • When you are motivated to work by negative emotions it has been shown to greatly hinder performance and create poor mental health.

2. Economic pressure 

This is when you do an activity, solely to win a reward. The motive is separate from the work and from your own identity or values. It is an unhealthy motivation and reduces work performance

  • Economic pressure doesn't only relate to finance but also includes societal expectations and the avoidance of punishment.
  • The research shows that people at any income level can feel economic pressure at work.

3. Inertia 

This is the worst motive for work and not only hinders performance but moral and mental health in employees. This motive exists when you have either forgotten or cannot see any good reason for why you are doing the work apart, from the fact that you did it yesterday. This motive leads to the worst performance overall in employees.


As we can see direct motives increase performance and the three P's can be found in every thriving organization. The indirect motives decrease performance and should be prevented by managers. Organizations should be considering how they presently incentivize employees and how they could make it better to produce the best employee performance.


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