Catalysts And Inhibitors Affect Inner Work Life

October 30, 2011

Thoughts, feelings, and motivations comprise an individual’s inner work life. Inner work life manifests in behaviors that matter at work – performance, citizenship, and withdrawal. Inner work life is driven by events at work – events that signify progress, events that support the work itself, and events that support the person doing the work.

Events that support the work itself are second only to the progress principle in their ability to affect the inner work life of folks in your organization. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer use the term catalyst to describe things that facilitate the completion of work and the term inhibitor to describe the absence or negative form of a catalyst.  It’s very important to keep in mind that “catalysts and inhibitors can have an immediate impact on inner work life, even before they could possibly affect the work itself.” (p. 102).

Catalysts and inhibitors are a direct product of an organization’s culture, which “is created largely by the words and actions of leaders, beginning with the organization’s founders.” (p. 108). The three main aspects of culture that shape specific catalyst and inhibitor events at work are (p. 109):

  • Consideration for people and their ideas. Do managers at all levels honor the dignity of employees, value their ideas, and serve as examples of civil discourse?
  • Coordination. Are systems and procedures (e.g. performance evaluation) designed to facilitate coordination or competition between individuals and groups?
  • Communication. Open, honest, and respectful communication is perhaps the most powerful force for sustaining progress, coordinating work, establishing trust, and helping people understand that what they think and do matters.

One of my favorite sayings from Bob Sutton is “the law of crappy systems trumps the law of crappy people.” The most effective way to change the culture of any organization is to change its systems, the way it works. The first and most important change must occur between your ears – a discontinuous change in thinking about your role as a leader and your relationships with your constituents.

Change the way you think, and you will change the way you behave. Change the way you behave, and you will change the way others think and feel about you and ultimately how they behave toward you. Change the way you and your people relate with each other, and you can partner with each other to fix the crappy systems. Continually fix the crappy systems, and you can begin to affect positive change in the culture of your organization.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Related Posts:

Leaders Invest In Their Employees

Even The Best Policies Can Have Unintended Consequences

A Culture Of Communications, Not Complaints

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  1. M.D. Moore says:

    Seems like it always comes back to “communication.” The close working relationship with employees and co-workers that fuel productivity and team building. I think many managers and executives take this for granted. This Post points out the value of pursuing a higher level of communication.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Concur. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Bret

  2. Great post! Every manager should read it. I should translate that for the German audience or will at least start writing about these things myself. Thanks!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Gilbert. Translate away! Bret

  3. Gilbert says:

    Thanks, Bret! I publishhed a (German) post inspired by yours (see here:

    You probably heard about the Self Determination Theorie? It is describing a few more individualistic aspects of motivation at work. I wrote about it earlier and referenced it in my post as well.

    I’ll keep following your blog for more inspiration.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Well I can’t read German, Gilbert, but it looks mighty fine to me! Thanks, Bret