New research indicates that financial rewards do not drive performance in cognitive and creative skill environments. So what does? According to Hubert Joly, former Chairman and CEO of the US based company Best Buy and Lecturer at Harvard Business School‑ the secret ingredient to thriving companies is human magic.

According to Joly’s latest article published in the Harvard Business Review1, it is about creating an environment that unleashes the kind of human magic necessary for a company purpose to take root and flourish. These are the environments where, “everyone can become the best, biggest, more beautiful version of themselves.”

Here are Hubert Joly’s six main ingredients to help build those environments:

  1. Meaning

Meaning is the link to individual drive that gives a company purpose, soul and legs. Encouraging every employee to reflect on and share what drives them, as well as cultivating and constantly feeding the connection between the personal purpose and the company’s is therefor one of the most crucial roles of any leader.

  1. Authentic Human Connections

Authentic human connections start with treating and valuing everyone as an individual and making sure everyone feels they belong. With more and more people working remotely or in hybrid environments, away from their colleagues, creating authentic human connections has become even more important. It is however not easy. Leaders need to learn to genuinely connect remotely. This also apply to new employees and their onboarding to make them feel they belong.

  1. Psychological Safety

No one will risk being themselves and being vulnerable unless they trust that they won’t be penalized or ridiculed for showing their true selves, speaking up or making mistakes. Joly quotes Edmonson’s work on creating a Psychological Safe Environment: “Setting the stage (framing the work, emphasizing purpose), inviting participation (practicing inquiry, setting up structure and process), and responding productively (expressing appreciation, destigmatizing failure, sanctioning conduct violations).

  1. Autonomy

Few people enjoy being told what to do. The next ingredient that contributes to unleashing human magic is giving people the freedom and ability to shape what they do and how they do their work. Amongst others it means pushing decision making as far down as possible in the organisation and adopting more agile ways of working. This also has implications in allowing employees whether they prefer a hybrid / remote or office working environment.

Joly makes the point that autonomy is not a free for all. It must exist within the frame of the company’s purpose and values and account for what each team and job need. Autonomy also requires strong accountability and clarity about who is responsible for making which decisions.

  1. Learning Environment

Creating a culture of lifelong learning, fostering mastery through amongst others individualized coaching is an important ingredient to creating “Human Magic”.

At the same time, Joly is also of the opinion that traditional performance reviews are not conducive to creating such a climate. He rather suggests a process of conversations based or self-assessment (informed by feedback from colleagues) that focus on developing strengths are much more likely to yield mastery and improve performance.

  1. Growth

Companies must grow – growth creates space for promotions, improving productivity without causing job loses, taking risks and attracts investors. Business growth fosters individual growth and drive too, which in turn feeds innovation and further business expansion. What happens when economic conditions make it different to grow or the industry is maturing for example? Hubert Joy believes that organisations should then revisit their purpose. In reframing the purpose, everyone buying into it, new opportunities will emerge that could lead to further growth. Human magic provides the oxygen that allows the company purpose to come alive. It is however up to each company and team to develop their best formula, including the choice of ingredients.

The need for updated engagement and motivation strategies are clear— and human magic is certainly an approach many organisations can take. KR will be facilitating a number of discussions and presentations that deal with this strategy and more, allowing organisations to connect and engage with their employees in the new age. For more content like this, don’t hesitate to save your seat at the upcoming Organisational Development Conference and HR Directors Conference‑ where more ingredients of thriving companies will be discussed.


Review, H. B., & Joly, H. (2022, January 10). Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from