Lindsay on why boring work leads to low performance

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I recently sat down with Will Bachman on Umbrex's Unleashed podcast to discuss the challenge of leading motivated, high-performing teams. You can listen to our discussion here.

Show Notes

Lindsay McGregor discusses her firm’s focus on building high-performing organizations. She explains that the highest performing organizations motivate people in a specific way, unlocking play, purpose, and potential for the problem they’re solving. The firm trains leaders to be inspirational and consults with organizations on designing their operating models. She shares a story about how the firm explained the deeper concepts of play at work and how implementing these concepts of play was worth millions of dollars to the fund’s portfolio managers every year. Play is often seen as something we do during our hobbies, but when we feel engaged by what we’re solving, we perform at our best.

Utilizing play concepts for growth management

Lindsay talks about the tools used to facilitate the play process and shares a sample engagement with a client who was the founder of a tech company that had scaled rapidly and the former processes no longer worked. Lindsay shares examples of the challenges faced in managing a team due to the rapid growth of the organization, including issues of talent retention, burnout, and AI adoption. To address these issues, Lindsay’s firm found three simple, easy-to-implement routines: goal checks, health checks, and skill checks. She shares a story that demonstrates the benefit of problem-solving activities. She explores each routine and explains that, by focusing on these strategies, companies can ensure their teams are equipped to handle the demands of their rapidly growing environment and maintain a competitive edge.

Outcome-related goals, process-related Goals, and idea-related goals

The conversation moves to outcome-related, idea-related, and process-related goals in a company. Lindsay emphasizes the importance of tracking process metrics and idea metrics to track how many ideas or experiments are being run. Aggressive goals can lead to increased effort, but it’s crucial to manage experimentation and work smarter instead. For example, a tech company’s recruiter had to fill double the number of jobs in the coming quarter than she normally does. By breaking down her goal into six categories, AI helped her create five sub-goals that focused on working smarter, not harder. This allowed her and her leader to focus on creatively adapting their approach.

Team Alignment, Strategy, and Outcome Goals

In some organizations, having a senior leader join the goal meetings and challenges can be powerful, as it allows senior leaders to help block the team and identify blockers that are outside of their control. This creates a sense of understanding and cooperation between the team and the executive. The quarterly health process and skill check are essential for ensuring the right goals are set and the team has the necessary skills to accomplish them. Motivation in the workforce is a key factor in achieving success. A study found that people who learn valuable skills on the job and have good work-life balance are more motivated. However, many find learning new skills difficult, as it is often seen as a big training or time-consuming process. Lindsay talks about the problem of skills gaps and how to deal with this issue. Lindsay also mentions the benefits of remote work culture, which can be great but requires more intentional skill building and offers a few approaches to team skill building.

Vega Factor Certification for Consultants

The discussion revolves around the firm’s resources and tools for consultants to access, such as goal checks, health checks, and skill checks. One of their current offerings is a platform called Factor, which enables consultants to run goal checks, health checks, and skills checks. They train and certify consultants to do these checks with their organizations. The certification and training process for using the platform is a six-part learning session that goes deep into how to conduct these checks. 

The platform is designed to help consultants and leaders retain top performers by putting in place good processes, making it easier for them to problem solve with their teams. Lindsay talks about the popular training sessions, including how to solve problems cross-functionally and how to make cross-functional collaboration and problem-solving easy for high performers. One of the leaders mentioned that this way of asynchronous problem-solving brought depth, breadth, and lightness to his job. He was able to go deeper into the problems, look at the solutions, and make informed decisions. In conclusion, the firm’s platform offers valuable resources and tools for consultants and leaders to improve their work and retain top performers.

High Performers and the Play Processes

Companies need to focus on retaining high performers and fostering a culture of play, purpose, and potential. High performers are more likely to leave a company that is bureaucratic and dysfunctional, while non-high performers are more likely to stay due to the perks and benefits they receive. Millennials are more skeptical than ever about the value of work, and they tend to see it as a transactional decision. However, high performers know that work can be meaningful, important, and impactful. To help them realize this, companies should focus on fostering a culture of play, purpose, and potential.

The genesis of Vega Factor

Lindsay explains that the firm’s journey began with researching what makes a high-performing company and culture. They wanted to understand if there was a quantitative, productive way to build a high-performing culture. They measured hundreds of factors from psychology and business best practices across thousands of people and hundreds of companies. They found that employees from companies like Home Depot and Lowe’s answered questions differently and that their performance management systems and leader behavior were also different.

‍The research was conducted through market research firms, where they found that employees from companies with similar systems answered questions differently. They also found that when the survey was administered internally by the company, there was a consistent increase in positivity, which they believe occurs because people don’t trust the anonymity of their survey. The firm’s website offers screenshots, interactive tools, and tips for implementation. They also provide links to download research.‍


Time Topic
04:43 Using goal, health, and skill checks to improve company performance
09:35 Goal setting and performance, with a focus on problem-solving goals
13:04 Using AI to help teams work smarter, not harder, and improve team health through goal setting and problem-solving
17:40 Teamwork, motivation, and skill development in the workplace
23:30 Apprenticeship-based learning in consulting and remote work culture
28:50 Using AI to improve team performance and retain top performers
34:35 Motivating high performers and millennial employees through problem-solving processes

Show Notes and Timestamps originally crafted by Unleashed and published on their website.

Originally published at: Unleashed Podcast

Lindsay McGregor

Lindsay is the co-founder of Vega Factor and co-author of bestselling book, Primed to Perform: How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures Through the Science of Total Motivation. Previously, Lindsay led projects at McKinsey & Company, working with large fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, universities and school systems. She received her B.A. from Princeton and an MBA from Harvard. In her spare time she loves investigating and sharing great stories.

Read full bio.