Top 9 TED Talks on Human Resources

“Workplace culture” is a buzzword frequently thrown around as an indicator of company success, yet remains an elusive concept. What distinguishes a great workplace from mediocrity? How do we retain and cultivate talent?

Some of the keys to culture include fostering motivation, offering non-financial rewards and building feedback and recognition as a workplace norm. It’s a great time to be thinking about culture as research is just beginning to show the ROI of these efforts.

Watch these HR experts delve into the forces behind performance. Click To Tweet

Watch these 9 inspiring HR experts delve into the driving forces behind strong performance.

1. Forget the Pecking Order at Work

Don’t be a “superchicken,” warns Margaret Heffernan, former CEO of five businesses and author of Willful Blindness.

Pointing to an experiment in which the selectively-bred flock of highly productive chickens pecked each other to death, Margaret argues that success cannot be built on suppressing others. She stresses the importance of social cohesion and communication, emphasizing that strong performance is driven not by textbook intelligence, but emotional sensitivity. She says, “Companies don’t have ideas, only people do.”

2. Build a Tower, Build a Team

Dry spaghetti, one yard of tape, one marshmallow. Autodesk fellow Tom Wujec reveals how a simple “marshmallow problem” delivers surprising insights into team dynamics. He explains that success is achieved through continual feedback, collaboration and improvement.

3. The Puzzle of Motivation

In this wildly popular TED talk, career analyst and author Dan Pink examines the puzzling failure of traditional incentives. Pointing to a robust body of evidence, he explains that for work involving even basic cognitive skill, financial rewards actually lead to worse performance. Instead, he argues that workers are driven by “autonomy, mastery and purpose” – the building blocks of a healthy workplace culture.

4. What Makes Work Satisfying

Why do we work? Psychologist Barry Schwartz proposes that we rethink the factory system of work that reduces employees to “cogs on a wheel,” and focus on the intangible values that make work satisfying.

5. The Workforce Crisis of 2030

In a glimpse to the future, BCG’s Rainer Strack urges companies to adapt to a global workforce that increasingly values workplace culture over monetary rewards. When millennials ranked a list of 20 desirable job qualities, “appreciation for your work” came out top, whereas “attractive salary” was only #8.

The top 4 qualities were all related to workplace culture


Perhaps surprisingly, the top 4 qualities were all related to workplace culture. Rainer concludes, “People are people, not headcounts or machines.”

6. The Happy Secret to Better Work

Should we work to be happy? Psychologist Shawn Achor says it’s the other way around. In this humorous take on positive psychology, Shawn debunks the myth that objective factors predict our happiness, pointing to evidence that 90 percent of our long term happiness comes from how we process the world. Studies show that only 25 percent of job successes are predicted by IQ, with the other 75 percent predicted by your optimism levels, social support and stress management. Cultivating a culture of optimism in the workplace is thus key to productivity.

7. What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work?

Managers should recognize employees’ contributions so that they feel valued and purposeful

We already know that people want to do meaningful work, but according to behavioral economist Dan Ariely, we underestimate its importance. In two fascinating experiments, people were given Lego pieces and asked to build bionicles for $3 each. The group that saw their bionicles repeatedly broken apart made far fewer bionicles than the other, demonstrating that people are motivated by a sense of purpose. In large companies where workers easily feel alienated, managers should recognize employees’ contributions so that they feel valued and purposeful.

8. Laura Trice: Remember to Say Thank You

Counselor Laura Trice noticed that in rehabilitation, many of her patients want to give praise and say “thank you,” but don’t know how. In this 3-minute TED Talk, she reminds us to give and ask for praise, because a simple “thank you” can make a big difference.

9. Why Good Leaders Make Us Feel Safe

Good leaders trust their workers, says Simon Sinek, management theorist and author of Leaders Eat Last. A good workplace culture must foster a deep sense of trust and cooperation. Like Dan Ariely, Simon believes that employees need to feel valued in order to be productive. Giving several high-profile examples, Simon argues that great leaders always put their people first.

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