If a company wants to improve its employees' effectiveness, it should not encourage a climate of competition but rather an atmosphere that builds self-confidence, based on mastering tasks, learning and cooperation.


In order to improve company performance, it is important to understand how to improve the performance of the employees. If it wants to increase their motivation and performance a company should not force them to compete with each other but instead create a 'mastery' climate, based on commitment, self-development, learning, mastering tasks and, not least, cooperation. By concentrating on fostering job-satisfaction, motivation and perseverance in the face of failure, this type of climate will ultimately tend to improve performance and results. This is the conclusion of a doctoral thesis submitted by Christina Nerstad of the BI Norwegian Business School. The Norwegian researcher conducted a questionnaire survey among some 9,000 employees in private and public Norwegian organisations on the motivational climate at work and how it affects the individual’s commitment, attitudes, well-being and job achievements. The results show the 'mastery climate' contrasting sharply with a 'performance' climate in which success is defined on the basis of comparison with others and the best-performing and most talented people take centre stage, overshadowing other employees. Ms Nerstad found that "a 'mastery climate' contributes to a great extent in creating enhanced job commitment over time, whereas a ‘performance climate’ rather contributes to creating a feeling of burnout over time."

 Six ways to create a mastery climate

Christina Nerstad has put forward six principles for creating a mastery climate. First, set meaningful tasks with sufficient variation. Second, provide creative challenges and opportunities for employees to participate in decision-making. Third, focus on encouraging inner motivation by emphasising development of expertise, self-determination and 'belonging'. Fourth, avoid favouritism and only calling attention to the best if you want others to preserve their dignity. Fifth, employee appraisals should place more emphasis on commitment and self-development. And lastly, set aside time to develop the talent inherent in each individual employee. By fostering a mastery climate, these principles should help to "create a positive performance culture and enhanced success and job satisfaction."

Fine-tuning the company climate helps influence employees

In contrasting the two main motivational climates - mastery climate and performance climate - Ms Nerstad points out that "we all have a tendency to be mastery-oriented and/or performance-oriented," which will affect the motivation for each employee’s actions and behaviour. It is, moreover, easier to do something about the motivational climate in the workplace than to change employees’ personalities. Putting in place a mastery climate should contribute to a culture of positive performance, success and job satisfaction, which in turn should help to influence each employee’s personal disposition. The study underlines that, in order to do this, support from supervisors, good training experiences, development and career-related opportunities are crucial factors.