Primal Management: Unraveling the Secrets of Human Nature to Drive High Performance

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As human beings, we are fascinated by what makes us tick. We know that nature gave us certain biological appetites to ensure our survival, among those the need for water, food, sex, and love, but meeting these alone is not enough to ensure happiness. Scientists, and now managers, are realizing that people have a biological need to experience social rewards like praise, the thrill of innovation, and the satisfaction of acquiring new skills. To succeed, every manager needs to realize that work must provide more than just a paycheck and that quenching these social appetites is the key to creating passionate emloyees whose productivity blows away the bottom line.

Primal Management is the first book to bring together the five impulses at the core of human motivation (innovation, competency, attaining goals, cooperation, and self-protection). It reveals that to drive employees, the workplace has to satisfy these appetites, and offers practical tips on how to do it and metrics for measuring success. Respected consultant Paul Herr explodes the myth that emotions have no place on the job and explores how this belief actually harms employee performance. Using examples of companies that have benefited from the principles of primal management, he shows how businesses can measure their emotional health, address areas where they don’t engage employees, and increase productivity by boosting the emotional paycheck. Based on groundbreaking scientific research, this book will change the way we inspire our people and show how fulfilled employees lead to incredibly profitable businesses.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"“This is a great book for any leader to read. Should be required reading for all CEOs.”


“Primal Management is an important book for managers at any level.”

Foreword This Week

Publishers Weekly

It's pure myth that human beings are fundamentally rational creatures-we are sublimely emotional at heart and work best when treated as such, argues consultant Herr, who contends that companies need to take a hard-science approach to the soft side of the business if they want to maximize their gains. He explores the human social appetites-innovation, skill mastery and deployment, goal attainment, cooperation and self-protection-maintaining that these drives are as integral to our biology as our need for food, sex and love. People want to excel at work, and companies that encourage that desire bring out the best in their employees. Arguing against a hyper-rational, bureaucratic management, Herr advocates a "tribal" connected workforce, a corporate superorganism composed of individual human beings who strive toward the same goal. Some fairly heavy theory is backed up with solid practical advice for leaders, including a methodology to create a high-performance workplace. The biological approach lends a fresh aspect to the subject of employee performance enhancement, and the well-researched, entertaining presentation should make this an appealing reference for progressive business leaders. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814413968
  • Publisher: AMACOM Books
  • Publication date: 4/15/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Herr (Madison, WI) is a consultant who provides employee engagement services. He invented The Horsepower Metric™ an innovative tool for measuring the power of a company’s motivational engine.

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Read an Excerpt



In biology, a superorganism is a group of individual organisms that act

as one—like a colony of army ants. Ant colonies, working as coordinated

units, can defeat creatures hundreds of times their size. Corporate superorganisms

are similar. They are composed of individual human beings

who think and act as one, much like a tribe. They are as formidable in

the corporate ecosystem as army ants are in their ecosystems.

I don’t mean to imply that human beings should cooperate like mindless

insects. Human beings possess a sophisticated form of social bonding

that some psychiatrists refer to as cathexis. This social bonding mechanism

underlies relationships of all types, and corporations, unfortunately,

are not aware of it. Traditional corporate hierarchies rely, instead, on

rules, regulations, bureaucratic structures, hard-fisted competition, and

fear to coordinate human beings.

A superorganism, on the other hand, is held together organically and

naturally by invested relationships and doesn’t need an artificial shell to

force cooperation and coordination. If you remove the bureaucratic shell

from a traditional hierarchy, the humans inside would mostly scatter like

marbles because there is nothing fundamental holding them together. If

you remove the shell from a superorganism, it will continue to function

because its individual members are interconnected, self-motivated, self-organizing,

and self-managing—just as nature intended.

Any company can become a superorganism if it learns how to work

harmoniously with human nature rather than against it. Superorganisms,

I predict, will someday dominate the corporate landscape because they

create maximum wealth for the corporate ecosystem. They create a winwin

scenario where everyone benefits—shareholders, managers, employees,

and customers.


The secret to aligning with human nature, and thereby creating a corporate

superorganism, lies in understanding the motivational mechanism

that powers human achievement. I’ve been researching the motivational

mechanism from a hard, biologic/engineering perspective for thirty years.

I started pondering emotions and motivation in 1977 when I was an

engineering student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I had always

been impressed by the elegant design of the human body—the

human hand, for example, is an elegant mechanism that engineers have

yet to duplicate. The same goes for the human eye or circulatory system.

Then the thought occurred to me, ‘‘What about human emotions? Where

is the elegance in a system that causes people to jump off bridges, go

postal, and experience road rage?’’ I felt, deep down, however, that our

motivational mechanism should be just as elegant as the rest of our design—

and so began my odyssey to reverse engineer nature’s motivational


This hard approach reveals emotions and feelings for what they are—

the fundamental forces that make us go. I hope to demonstrate that emotions

are involved in every decision and every move we make. This claim

may seem audacious and far-fetched now, but, by the end of the book, it

will hopefully make perfect sense. I hope you enjoy this tough, logical,

engineering approach to the soft side of business.

Emotions, as the word implies, put us into motion. They are the

forces that move us from the moment we wake up in the morning to the

moment we go to bed. As forces, they obey laws similar to the laws of

physics. Newton’s first law of motion states that an object at rest will

remain at rest unless acted upon by a force. I will prove something simi-

lar—a human being at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an

emotional force—a feeling! Taken as a group, these forces are responsible

for essentially everything going on inside corporations everywhere. In

other words, they are fundamental. Primal Management proposes a methodology

to measure, manage, and harness these vital forces to create a

high-performance workplace.

I aim to shake the business community out of its wrong-headed approach

to emotion. It has pretended that emotions and feelings are irrational

and unimportant. This is simply wrong. I intend to turn this kind

of thinking on its head by proving that subtle emotional incentives lie at

the core of economic decision making, the core of economic utility, the

core of employee satisfaction and engagement, and the core of organizational

excellence. Emotions lie at the vital core of the human condition

because we are universally motivated to seek emotional pleasure and to

avoid emotional pain. We will discover that making a few deep changes

at an emotional level will radiate organically throughout an organization

and empower it—somewhat like turning on a light switch.

How many times have you heard someone say something like, ‘‘I

don’t care how they feel. I just want them to get their work done.’’ I

intend to demonstrate, in Primal Management, that this macho ‘‘Who

cares about feelings?’’ attitude may work in the short term to get a project

out the door, but it is downright unbusinesslike and harmful in the long

term. Ignoring the intrinsic rewards that power human performance is

equivalent to a race car driver ignoring his engine—it’s not a good idea if

you want to win races.


During my thirty years of exploring the murky subject of emotion, the

deep architecture of the human motivational mechanism gradually came

into focus for me. This mechanism is easy to understand once you understand

nature’s design theme—survival. This is the main idea throughout

this book—that nature does not leave the necessities of life to chance.

Rather, it evolves circuits to make sure the necessities get done. The main

behaviors that ensure our physical survival, and the feelings of pleasure

and pain that encourage them, are as follows:

1. Acquiring nutrition: enforced with feelings of hunger, thirst, and satiation

2. Energy conservation (rest): enforced with feelings of fatigue and relaxation

3. Protection of one’s physical body: enforced with sensory pain and


4. Oxygen intake: enforced with the pain of holding one’s breath

5. Reproduction: enforced through romantic pleasure and sexual pleasure

These biologic appetites, and the feelings associated with them, are

simple and straightforward. Nobody would question their existence because

they are self-evident. What is less self-evident, however, are the

feelings that regulate our social needs. I will argue throughout Primal

Management that our social needs are just as tightly regulated as our

biologic needs—and with similar appetite-like circuits that generate pleasurable

and painful feelings.

Here are the social appetites that complement the biologic appetites

to create a comprehensive bio/social survival system:

1. Cooperation: enforced by the warm feelings we experience when we

are with the persons, places, and things that are important to us and

painful feelings of alienation when we are excluded from the tribe

2. Skill mastery or competency: enforced with feelings of high and low


3. Skill deployment and goal attainment: enforced with the euphoria of

a win and the dysphoria (pain) of a loss

4. Innovation: enforced with curiosity and the eureka pleasure when we

get an idea

5. Self-protection: enforced with pleasant feelings when we achieve security

and fearful and anxious feelings when our survival is at risk

Once nature chose to traverse the slippery slope of using feelings of

pleasure and pain to regulate biologic needs like reproduction, energy

conservation, and nutrition, there was no turning back. Once one behavior

was rewarded in this way, then, logically, every other survival behavior

needed to be similarly rewarded or human beings would have overindulged

in the rewarding behaviors at the expense of the ones without


I propose that positive feelings emanating from the motivational

mechanism, taken as a group, constitute the emotional paycheck (intrinsic

rewards) that drives human achievement. We will learn how to measure

and track this important paycheck in Chapter 2.

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Table of Contents


Introduction 1

CHAPTER 1 The Five Social Appetites That Drive High Performance 18

CHAPTER 2 Monitoring the State of Repair of Your Human Capital 40

CHAPTER 3 Emotions: Soft or Hard? 57

CHAPTER 4 Social Appetite #1: The Cooperation Appetite—How to Merge Individual Employees into a Coordinated Superorganism 73

CHAPTER 5 Social Appetite #2: The Competency Appetite—How to Develop a Workplace Populated with Confident Experts 122

CHAPTER 6 Social Appetite #3: The Skill-Deployment Appetite—How to Design a Rewarding Workplace That Resonates with the Joy of Achievement 144

CHAPTER 7 Social Appetite #4: The Innovation Appetite—How to Foster Innovation by Encouraging Employees to Explore the Edge of the Known World 163

CHAPTER 8 Social Appetite #5: The Self-Protection Appetite—How to Avoid Triggering Defensive Behaviors in the Workplace 197

CHAPTER 9 Is It Time to Flip the Hierarchy Upside Down? 227

Afterword 248

Acknowledgments 249

For More Information and Help 251

Notes 253

Index 269

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