What motivates people?

With a global talent shortage, and as we get “back to school” for the autumn, after the summer holidays, it is important to unpick, and then refresh, motivation at work. 

Season 2 of The Bear is streaming now on Disney+.  Spoiler alert, the season leaves many unanswered questions (including will Carmy ever get out of the walk in fridge).  During the course of the show we see the process whereby the Chicago sandwich café The Beef, which protagonist and Michelin starred chef Carmy inherited from his brother, is rebuilt and reopened as fine dining restaurant The Bear.

It’s clear that fine dining is Carmy’s passion.  In fact, he concludes at one point that it is the only thing he cares about or that makes him happy, stating: “I didn’t have any of this fuckin’ bullshit” – by which he means “amusement or enjoyment” of any other aspect of his life.

It will be just as well if he is driven by the satisfaction of making customers swoon over his food, because the chances are that The Beef will have had been able to generate better profit than The Bear.  Restaurateur Russell Norman of Polpo points out that “if you own a restaurant with a Michelin star, you will lose money.  If you own a restaurant with two Michelin stars, you will lose even more money.”  As MoneyWeek recently pointed out, Domino’s Pizza on the other hand generates a ROCE of close to 30% and an EBIT margin of 20%.

People are driven by a passion to be the best and to give back as well as by making money.   

In a fairy tale moment in long running reality TV show “Say Yes to the dress”, about Bridal Store Kleinfield in NYC, star designer Pnina Tornei allows the sale of one gown at less than half price, because she says she is not only working to make money (the average Pnina gown goes for more than $4000) but also in the business of “making beautiful gowns for brides and of making their dreams come true”.   Of course, this is a reality TV set up, which sees Pnina’s dresses highly promoted, but it kind of works because we Say Yes fans all recognise some truth in the story we are told. 

This is important because it is relevant to how we create a strong culture at work.  If the only motivation of the ExCo and company planning is financial, then the culture is unlikely to stay robust during difficult economic times. 

A 40 year research study, from the American Psychological Association, has proved in fact that “extrinsic” (bonuses etc) and “intrinsic” (being motivated about the work) operate jointly to produce the best work performance. 

And as EssenceMediacomX ceo Ryan Storrar recently wrote: “Fundamentally, people need to be able to look at themselves in the mirror and feel good about going to work”.  Ensuring that there’s satisfaction from doing excellent work and from fulfilling purpose is the job of every leader and manager. 

The latest Edelman trust survey reveals that more than two thirds of employees believe that “having societal impact is a deal breaker when it comes to considering a job”.

CEOs are expected to take a position on climate change, discrimination, wealth gap, immigration as well as on how their employees are treated.  Businesses are now more trusted than any other institution, and with this trust comes high expectations that business should “advocate for the truth”.

Fulfilling commitments to wider stakeholders in terms of people, communities and planet is now on most UK companies’ radar.  But we must not ignore the drive to excellence and mastery too.  Carmy’s partner in The Bear, Sydney, makes a simple omelette for Carmy’s sister, and The Bear’s exhausted and pregnant project manager, Sugar.  We follow it closely, eggs, sieved through a mesh are beaten by fork; the omelette is cooked fast, and then filled with Boursin and sprinkled with some crushed sour cream and onion crisps.  Sugar thinks it is divine.  Sydney states that making that omelette and taking care of Sugar is absolutely the best part of her day.  After all, as she states in series one all her motivation is about the work: “I wanna cook for people and make them happy and give them the best bacon on earth.”

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