How to develop a culture of quiet thrivers

Forget 'quiet quitting'; HRDs should be creating working practices where staff want to be 'quiet thrivers'. Here's how...

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May 8, 2023

We all know that ‘quiet quitting’ has become something of a workplace buzzword.

But what about the more optimistic trend of quiet thriving – the phrase first coined by psychotherapist Lesley Alderman – which means staff actively making changes to their work day to shift their mental state feel more engaged in their job.

This sounds like a far better objective to pursue – but how do HRDs develop a culture of quiet thrivers?

Tapping into passion and flow

One of the organizations I regularly work with is the professional services company, Deloitte.

At the company’s Center for the Edge, co-founder John Hagel famously undertook a global study of the world’s most innovative, high-performing business teams. What he found was that the teams and organizations that went the furthest were always the ones tapping into ‘passion’ and finding ‘flow’.

Moreover, he also found that they all had one thing in common when it came to goal setting – that they purposefully created what we can call mission-critical goals.

Not only this, but it was the challenging nature of these goals that was the main secret to success.

It turns out that if HRDs really want the biggest increases in motivation and productivity from their workforce, then it’s the existence of challenging goals that lead to the best outcomes.

Tapping into flow

But here’s a question – exactly how challenging do people’s gaols need to be?

According to flow theory, flow experience occurs when skills are neither overmatched nor underutilised to meet a given challenge.

The balance between challenge and skill is delicate.

The goal should be significant. It should be inspirational and aggressive yet realistic.

Here’s another question – how inspirational should goals be?

I would say not so much that people can’t sleep at night, but enough so that people can’t wait to get up in the morning.

Making all this stuff happen

But what does inspirational and exciting truly mean, and how can we make it happen in our work culture?

Does the probability of achieving a goal go up or down if the goal is easy, moderate, or impossible?

In my experience, when people set goals – whether it’s nutritional ones, fitness-related goals, or whether they’re learning-, relationship-, or business-related – if it’s too in reach it doesn’t recruit enough of the autonomic nervous system to make pursuit likely.

In other words, if it’s too easy, people lose interest.

By contrast, if it’s too lofty and too intangible, the dopamine doesn’t kick in either.

It turns out that the likelihood of being engaged doubles if our goals are realistic but truly challenging.

The beauty of mission-critical goals

Psychologists believe mission-critical goals impact two things: persistence and focus, two important factors in determining performance.

However, for these mission-critical goals to really work their magic, there is one other key factor that needs to be in place: and this is total commitment.

The point is that when people choose a goal they need to commit to that goal.

When employees frame their thinking in such a way that they wilfully decide what their desired outcome is, a sense of purpose kicks up a gear, driving more attention and more focus on achieving the result and therefore more flow.

So, my message to HRDs is this: get your team(s) thinking about their mission-critical goals. It only needs to be just one or two objectives that are going to fire them up from the inside out over the next six-to-twelve months.

I say one or two because it’s key to avoid goal distraction. One or two major goals a year should be the optimum number.


Let’s now turn our attention to perhaps the single most important factor that will determine whether a company’s vision turns into results: passion.

Why is it important to build passion into your team culture? Simply put, it’s a profound focusing mechanism.

We pay more attention to those things we believe in, and when we are focussed the flow state follows (which in turns makes our teams thrive and be more productive).

Passion drives us and directs our efforts. Moreover, since flow is among the most motivating states on earth, any experience that consistently generates that state is an experience employees will go out of their way to get more of.

It’s why surfers will get up at four in the morning and drive for three hours to catch a wave. Or why video gamers will play games for 10 hours straight.

In other words, the pursuit of flow produces extreme levels of internal self-motivation.

Help staff reframe how they think about goals

So, how should HRDs help their teams discover their passion and amp up their focus?

They need to help them reframe how they think about their tasks and goals.

Let me explain what I mean.

What comes to mind when you think of an adventure? Maybe it’s the unknown, or the risk, or the fear, or fun. Or maybe it’s a challenge or adventure?

Not all of these words are positive but the choice of words we use to describe a situation or at task at hand, impacts greatly how we experience it.

So, are goals a problem or a challenge? Are they a challenge; an adventure?

We also attach value to what we do. And anything we value, anything that is important to us, creates a dotted line to passion.

Science tells us this too

If this sounds a bit too much like personal development speak, let’s look at the science.

Having goals that are realistic yet stretching boost dopamine in the body. Dopamine positively affects motivation and for cultivating passion, this is important.

First, dopamine is a focusing chemical. It helps us pay more attention to the task at hand. This enhances learning and drives progress, and both are key to cultivating passion.

Second, dopamine tunes into what is called “signal to noise ratios” in the brain, which is a fancy way of saying it affects how we see challenging situations, and it helps us to find solutions, seeing patterns.

That’s creativity.

That is why creative ideas tend to spiral. One good idea leads to the next and the next. Right?

Lastly, dopamine is a feel-good drug. It’s one of the brain’s principal reward chemicals and, is extremely addictive.

This addiction is key to passion. The more dopamine you get, the more addictive the experience, and the more addictive the experience, the more people can’t wait to do it again.

If HRDs are able to harness that feeling of adventure and moving ahead, one thing’s for sure, it’s only going to help.