Part 3: How to ignite your employees’ passion and purpose

“100% of customers are people. 100% of employees are people. If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business.” – Simon Sinek

This series is based on my Passion and Productivity workshop. Last week we looked at how employees could be left feeling unengaged  due to the way they were treated. This week we are going to take a look at how we can better try and understand the factors behind human motivation. For a more indepth explanation view my video.

As you may have realized, if you are following this series, my mission is to give employees their spark back. Often times I find that in business we are good at the business of business, but not at the people part of the business. In the quote above, Simon Sinek perfectly captures the importance of why business leaders need to understand their employees’ (and their customer’s) perspective on the world. The question that often is asked is “how do we know what motivates individuals in our business?”. And let’s face it, it is difficult given the diversity in organizations today. However I would like to propose that Maslow’s work on human motivation still holds water, even more than 70 years later.

The nature of human motivation

In 1943, Abraham Maslow published a paper in which he focused on the nature of human motivation. He identified five distinct human needs that follow on each other to form his now famous hierarchy of needs, as seen in the figure below:

The first and second rungs of the pyramid focus on people’s most basic needs for food and security. The third rung focuses on how people relate to each other outside of their immediate environments, while people at the fourth rung will ask: “Am I appreciated?” People who reach the fifth rung have achieved everything they could and are looking to give back to society.

Screenshot 2019-03-26 at 15.37.39

What does this mean in business?

It’s important to know where in the hierarchy your employees find themselves. When you understand where your employees fit into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you will have a better understanding of how to motivate them in the workplace. You will understand what they need from you as their employer and where they are in relation to what you can offer them.

An employee at the safety and security phase will have different needs than the employee at the self-actualisation phase. Businesses that are looking to grow and expand will have to pay particularly close attention to which employees are able to grow with them.

Motivation to Purpose and Passion

Sometimes, it will be a difficult – but necessary – to have this discussion. It’s better for an employee to be in a place where they can have more purpose and passion, than to try and fit into an organisation that’s unable to meet their needs.

Do you agree with my application of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to the workplace? Let me know via email or in the comments below. To learn more, visit

Part 2: How larger organizations detract from employee passion and purpose

I recently presented a workshop on passion and productivity (see video here) where I explored what happens to employees’ purpose when businesses scale headcount but not “heart count”.

In my previous post, I challenged business leaders to rethink how they approach human performance by creating a synergy between business objectives and productivity – and I argued that purpose should be the core driver of both. But what happens to this sense of purpose in larger and highly regulated companies?

Background: Transactional Analysis

To understand how employees respond in the workplace, one can apply Eric Berne’s theory of Transactional Analysis to the employee experience.

Dr Berne theorised that in any human interaction there are three main ego states at play in each participant: the parent, the adult, and the child. Each individual has the capacity to access any of these three states during an interaction and their choice dictates how the other person(s) will respond. So for example if someone felt they were being scolded they would respond from the child ego state. Or, if they felt they were not being listened to they would respond like a frustrated parent. For a more detailed understanding of the theory watch this video.

But what does this mean for us as in business?

Dynamic in larger companies

The responses of these ego states can explain why employees respond in different ways. When we position messages in a way that takes away people’s freedom to perform; when we take away their power and their purpose and leave them with the ‘thou shalts’ we are treating them like children. It is then that we elicit behaviour that reflects that of a rebellious child.

Imagine for a moment that you work at a company where suddenly one day, without too much notice, you are told that it is mandatory to wear a uniform. You never wore one before and the nature of your work doesn’t require you to do so. What would happen? Research suggests people will slowly start to come up with creative ways to break the rule and get out of wearing a uniform.

This parent vs child pattern is often seen in large companies which are highly regulated and where employee’s individual freedoms are curtailed without much consideration of the individuals. Normally the pattern of communication is top-down, and reminiscent of “parental”.  Passion and purpose is sacrificed in the process as employees move to child mode.

The ego states and small business

In contrast, when we look at a small business, we see a lot of the spontaneous child and adult at play. In a small business, you can do what you are good at; you can focus on your strengths and your natural talents. That’s why small businesses work so well – people are in love with what they are doing and free to perform according to their strengths. And because they are left to do what they’re good at, they automatically take responsibility for themselves and they don’t need supervision.

Now, I am not saying that there should be neither rules nor structure in business. I am saying though that if we could understand how we as individuals relate to each other and drive the behaviour of others, we can learn how to get the best out of every communication. We can learn to bring about adult-to-adult conversations. Once you understand how and why people respond to the same communication in different ways, you can start to play with your modes of communication to get the most out of your workforce. Understanding behaviour is of the utmost importance when it comes to building a company based on passion and purpose.

Have you had a similar experience in your workplace? Let me know via email or in the comments below. To learn more, visit

Sign up for the Passion to Productivity workshop.

Learn More about Transactional Analysis with this article.

Feedback Under Pressure: A Great Example of how it is Not Done

The whole Bosasa flame was fanned further last week when News24 posted a video, and matching article, of Gavin Watson CEO of Bosasa. During the video he was energetically deriding his employees for poor performance in what was almost the loss of an R800m tender. This took place during an off-site “imbizo” held in March 2016.

Now I know that the Bosasa story has become a major talking point in our lives, and justly so, but for a moment I would like to look past the scandal itself and focus on the video and lessons that can be learned around providing tough feedback to employees. Admittedly the loss of R800m is likely to get most CEO’s a little hot under the collar.

These are the lessons I believe we can learn from this video.

1. Keep negative feedback private

Unless poor performance has been briefed in private it should never become public. There are two very good reasons for this. Firstly, to save your own reputation. Leaders who discuss such situations where they do not have all the facts can come across as playing favourites or being reactionary. And yes, the employee in question may also have relevant information. Secondly, besides saving your own bacon, it is respectful to first discuss this with the employee and provide them with an opportunity and support to improve their performance.

2. Do not name and shame publicly

Only once feedback has been debriefed in private can lessons learned be shared. Even then it should only be done with the employee’s knowledge and in a way that does not place that employee in a poor light. Creativity and innovation in business cannot thrive without employees being permitted to take risks. Risks are, well, risky and therefore clever companies find positive ways of debriefing learning points to reduce further risk. Never in the entire process is it acceptable to point out particular individuals and interrogate them on their poor performance in public.
There are two inherent risks for leaders who behave in this manner. The first is that they are seen as abdicating responsibility. The moment there is a culture of blame in an organization, there is also a matching lack of ownership and this will spread across all levels of the business. The second risk is that you are seen as a bully, and bullying is not seen as a strength in leadership. Not even the most glaring crisis in business could justify bullying. It also does little to inspire trust and loyalty in employees, suppliers or clients.

3. Do not play favourites

When providing someone with feedback, it is not appropriate to create comparisons or play favourites. The sentence “Why can’t you be more like [fill in the name]?” does not work on children and will not work on adults. By comparing employees with each other you rob both employees of their unique talents. Speak to the employee’s performance and find out what the employee can do to improve and how you can assist in the process. Set measureable expectations then move on.

4. Individual versus team feedback

I often find that in companies there is the need to place blame for poor performance with one individual or one team. That seems ironic when organizations are built from separate but interdependent units that all form part of the same workflow. It is actually impossible for one unit to fail entirely unless they work 100% in isolation. Surely, if the business unit does not perform well then other units who feed work into or receive output from this unit will notice any problems. Such problems, if raised through appropriate processes, enable organizations to take corrective action.

5. Human beings not human doings

We hire employees because they add value to our organizations, that value is a product of everything they are. An employee is more than their skillset. They add value by being of a certain mindset, culture, having certain life experiences and so on. If we are happy to make money mining that potential, then we also need to be prepared to support the whole individual. One way to do this is by not dismissing employees’ emotions, to do so is to also deprive them of their humanity. Invalidating someone’s emotions, or even asking them to not exhibit them is in no way going to increase their need to perform well.

A final thought

As we only have access to a few minutes of video footage and therefore do not have the full context of what had, and was, happening this piece is not meant as a judgement or a commentary of the larger Bosasa storyline. Furthermore I think that we should acknowledge the impact of the video and that not every leader in business would have this same energetic approach, but it does provide a powerful reflection point. It does provide all individuals in leadership positions an opportunity to look in the mirror and ask how do I deal with feedback under pressure?

Have you had a similar experience in your workplace? Is this example reflective of South African leadership? Let me know via email or in the comments below. To learn more, visit or follow me on Linkedin.