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75 / Relatedness: The Catalyst for Care and Creativity

Hosted by Sean Flaherty and Paul Gebel



Scott Rigby Guest Speaker at Product Momentum Podcas

Scott Rigby, Ph.D.

Immersyve Inc.

Scott Rigby, Ph.D. is an author, behavioral scientist, and founder/CEO of Immersyve Inc., a company focusing on the application of behavioral science to organizations, products, and services. Scott and Immersyve work with both small and large companies on culture and the development of motivational best practices. He is a leading authority on predictive measurement of motivation and engagement, as well as on interventions to improve organizational culture. Clients include Prudential, Amazon, Warner Brothers, Johnson & Johnson, and Disney.

Scott has authored numerous publications including the highly rated book Glued to Games: How Video Games Draw Us In and Hold Us Spellbound. He is the creator of the “Personal Experience of Need Satisfaction” (PENS) model, a widely used engagement model in interactive design. Scott’s work on understanding engagement and motivation has been featured by Wired, ABC News, BBC, National Public Radio, National Geographic, and Scientific American, among others. He is also the co-creator of, a platform that empowers organizations to build greater employee engagement and stronger cultures using motivational science. In addition to his commercial work, he has also served as the principal investigator on multiple grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health exploring the role of behavioral science to improve engagement and wellness.

In this final episode of our 3-part series on Self-Determination Theory, Scott Rigby, Ph.D. discusses Relatedness – “the experience of belonging or connection between people.” As product leaders, we feel the power of that connection when a customer says, “Wow, it’s like the people who designed this app were thinking about me when they built it.”

Scott ties the three episodes together here, describing what happens when the fundamental human needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are simultaneously met. Quite literally, we create a psychologically safe environment where the art of caring abounds. And where the needs of the business are tended to as well.

“I understand we all have business objectives,” Scott cautions, “and that there’s a fundamental nature to how businesses and employees interact.” The good news, he adds, is that one does not stand in opposition to the other.

“The key is to demonstrate care for employees and customers for their own sake, not so we can get more out of them,” Scott offers. “As a customer or employee, we’re blown away when a person or a company has put our needs ahead of their own.” We feel the connection; it’s like we belong.

Listen in to hear more from Scott about strategies to build relatedness on your teams, how emotional metrics can be measured, and more.

Liked this episode? Check out the first two from the series with Scott Rigby on Autonomy and Competence.

Sean [00:00:19] Hello and welcome to the Product Momentum Podcast. This is a podcast intended to entertain, educate, celebrate, and give a little back to the product leadership community.

Paul [00:00:32] Hello and welcome to the pod. Today we are excited to be joined by Dr. Scott Rigby. He’s an author, behavioral scientist, and founder and CEO of Immersyve Inc, a company focusing on the application of behavioral science to organizations, products, and services. Scott, an immersive work with both big and small companies on culture and development, motivational best practices. He’s a leading authority on predictive measurement of motivation and engagement, as well as on interventions to improve organizational culture. Clients include Prudential, Amazon, Warner Brothers, Johnson and Johnson, and Disney. He’s authored numerous books. You can find him at, a platform that empowers organizations to build greater employee engagement.

Paul [00:01:12] All right, welcome back. We’re in episode three of three. If you missed the first two, make sure you go back and check them out. We are deep in the weeds in a conversation with Dr. Scott Rigby. We’re talking about the self-determination theory as it pertains to product leaders and building digital experiences that are meaningful and help people be effective. And one of the things that we’re going to get into here in our relatedness conversation is just taking care of each other and understanding the dynamics of teams, celebrating, building connectedness. Scott, I have a ton of questions that I want to get into, but maybe just to start out, what is relatedness as a general definition?

Scott [00:01:48] Well, Paul, I love that you said taking care of each other, because more and more, and having thought about this for decades now, but more and more my language, what really has been motivating me, has been the language of care and this idea of taking care of people. And I think relatedness is a big piece of that. So let me start at a high level and then let me also then zoom in a little bit to tee up what might be a more practical conversation around this on teams.

Scott [00:02:15] You know, at a high level, relatedness is this experience of belonging or connection between people. The shorthand way that I use to describe it is, I want to feel like I matter to you, I matter to you. And I also, by the way, want you to matter to me. This is sort of a bi-directional thing. This is why it’s called relatedness. It’s not sort of a one way street. I want to be able to feel like I’m respected, that I’m heard, that you care about my opinions, like all the things that come into that feeling that I matter. And you know, I want to feel that same thing when I think about you and people on the team.

Scott [00:02:52] And I think when we reflect on teams, you know, we’ve all been doing this long enough to have been on teams that were fun to be on and some that weren’t so fun. When we think about the ones that are really inspiring, I think this is a key dimension of it. If we reflect, we’re like, “Boy, I’m really glad that Paul is on this team and that Sean’s on this team. I’m really looking forward to getting their input. I enjoy working with them. I can trust them. They make my work better.” And this goes to some of the more practical elements, which is when you think about what constitutes that you matter to me or I matter to you, what’s interesting is it gets you right into stuff we’ve already talked about, which is if I feel like you’re supporting my growth, my competence, my autonomy, guess what? Then I feel like I matter to you. We matter to each other. And so, you know, these three needs were never meant to be independent from one another. They’re a virtuous cycle, but this is where relatedness really ties into what we’ve been talking about so far.

Sean [00:03:52] Yeah. So I do want to bring it into the context of goals because I think if you have goals that are somewhat, to use the word that you’re using here, related in nature, when you can see the impact of the work you’re doing on the well-being of others, it gives you a tool to be able to communicate this well-being, this improvement to the world that you’re making with your product, whatever it may be, it just makes for a more valuable conversation. You used the word trust. That’s a big word in our organization. I think trust is at the foundation of all relationships, and if you’re going to build a software product, one of the first things you need to do is earn the trust of the consumer.

Scott [00:04:30] Yeah.

Sean [00:04:30] Is this going to be worth my time? Is this worthy of my investment because I have to build some level of competence and are the people that are building this thing, do they actually care about me? And that’ll be evident if you see certain things in the application that cause that feeling to occur, you know?

Scott [00:04:46] Yeah, and that goes right to the point, Sean, I absolutely agree with that. And I think this goes to the point of OK, so the challenge is always… All right, I think a lot of teams know aspirationally what you said, which is, “OK, well how do we do that? How do I get somebody to trust me?” And on teams too, we see, you know, “how do I build trust or how do I build these connections where people are going to trust one another?” And, you know, we were joking a little bit about kind of missed attempts at gamification in software, where it’s just like trying to slap some sort of fun game mechanics onto, you know, a business process and think that’s going to engage people.

Scott [00:05:21] And there’s a similar thing people do in person. It’s like, “Well, let’s have more pizza nights,” or something like that. It’s not to say that socializing isn’t fun, but that’s not what’s going to build relatedness on teams, or it’s not going to also build relatedness with customers or trust in customers. What’s going to build it is the support for people’s autonomy, for people’s mastering growth. Like the things you talked about, this is worth your time and worth your effort. How do you communicate that?

Scott [00:05:49] Well, we talked in the first session we did on autonomy about the need to provide, you know, rationales and really respect. If you think about respecting people, it’s like, I’m not going to control you, I’m going to convince you. I’m going to convince you by giving rationales for why this is worth your time. You know, here’s our goal and what we’re trying to achieve here, but not just in what we’re trying to achieve, what we’re trying to achieve in a way that sort of benefits you, in a way that you will personally value and care about. So there’s that autonomy support built right into that. And when you couple that also, depending on what the goal of the application is, with the chance for people to develop skill and ability and mastery and all those things, then you’re essentially, in supporting those needs, there’s nothing more powerful, in my opinion, than those things that are going to make somebody feel like, “Wow, this application cares about me and these developers care about me,” and that builds that relatedness.

Paul [00:06:45] Yeah. The team dynamic has changed fundamentally over the past 18 months. The things that matter to people now are, I think, not different in a fundamental way, but the way that we’re expressing and attaching value to them is new. The things that we’re seeing we thought were important, pizza nights or whatever, aren’t the things that matter. It’s, “do I get to spend time with my kids? Do I have enough bandwidth in my life to be mindful and centered on the things that are important to me and make me feel like I’m growing as a person?” And I think in both the products that we’re building and the teams that we’re leading, it’s important to recognize that the transactional, superficial outcomes aren’t the things that matter. And understanding that people want, as a fundamental need, to be related. And this might be where Deci and Ryan really started to really emerge as sort of separating from conventional motivational theory. When they started to put pen to paper originally, this is sort of the thing that people didn’t realize was as important as it is, but it’s really the virtuous cycle. It’s what keeps the whole engine moving.

Scott [00:07:49] Yeah. I think one of the key ideas you touched on there, Paul, is this idea of the transactional. And, you know, caring is non-transactional. I did a couple of webinars on this over the last year, this idea of taking a non-transactional approach, even with your employees. And this can seem, I think, at first blush, to be a little Pollyanna, a little unrealistic. I always feel the urge at this point to say, like, “Hey, I run my own business, I’ve done it for 25 years. I get it. I get that people have to make money. I get there ate business objectives.” No one, I think, would argue with that. And there is a fundamental transaction nature to employees and businesses. Everybody comes to work and we can talk all day about creating great need, supportive experiences. But people are there to get paid, to support their families, and there are these realities.

Scott [00:08:38] All of that said, that doesn’t stand in opposition to this idea that if you take a non-transactional approach to caring about employees, in other words, care about the employees for their own sake, don’t care about the employees so that you can get more out of them so that productivity will go up, all of the things that you think about as a business leader or a manager. And this requires some mindfulness and it requires some soul searching. But the reality is, this is the argument I would make, that if you think, just on the other side of that equation, you think about the times you’ve been an employee, you think about your managers, you think about when you were a customer of a product. There is no story more powerful than when that person or that company has put you ahead of their economic interests or has put your needs in a position that it was clearly like their economic interest was not the most important thing.

Scott [00:09:32] You want to talk about trust, you want to talk about loyalty. I mean, my dad had this story. It’s like, alright, everybody needs a good mechanic. Well, tell me, “Well, why do you trust them?” “Well, I trust my mechanic.” Why do you trust the mechanic? I guarantee you the story you will hear is, “well, I brought it in thinking I needed a new one of these,” but he said, “no, all I had to do was turn this screw,” and I was fine and let me drive away. Even though he could have made money off me. Some version of that story is at the heart of all of it. Right? That’s just a practical example of how these two things are aligned.

Scott [00:10:02] So now we have the freedom as leaders to care, and particularly as we’ve gone through the pandemic and everything else, it’s not that now these things are important. These things have always been important, but the pandemic and everything has brought into sharp relief that care should be at the heart of what we’re doing. Just one other quick point. Early on in the pandemic, when everyone was in a state of shock and people were running around going, “we have to take care of each other.” Everyone was shocked into caring. Maybe not everyone, but a lot more people were shocked into this position of caring for each other. You know what happened is there was this kind of spike in a lot of organizations’ employee engagement, despite everything that’s going on. And it was because they were feeling cared for. Now, unfortunately, that spike went down because people didn’t learn a lesson. We fell back into old patterns. That’s kind of my worry. It’s like, if we could just hold on to that, I think it could be really transformative. Anyway, I got a little bit of a soapbox there, but I really believe this around caring and transactions.

Sean [00:10:58] You know, when Dan Pink sat down with Ed Deci and Richard Ryan and interviewed them for the book Drive, you know, his three words were autonomy, mastery, and purpose. And I think the relationship between purpose and relatedness is tight. Like, what are we all here for? But at the end of the day, it’s all about people. It’s all about purpose and purpose is all about relatedness. It’s about how we’re connecting, how I feel cared for, and how I care for you. So I think this is a powerful way for us to sharpen our tool even as a product leader, because if we don’t understand all the different perspectives in our human ecosystems and tune up the way in which we’re talking about our success, we always default back to the transactional, to your point.

Scott [00:11:37] Yeah.

Sean [00:11:38] So if we can keep the focus on the caring, and one of the ways in which to do that is with the right goals, with human-oriented goals.

Scott [00:11:45] Yeah, no, I agree with that. You know, the last few years, I guess it’s been longer than that. But I don’t know, guys, it feels like it’s been the last few years I’ve been hearing a lot about OKR processes, objectives and key results. And we’ve been pulled into some pretty big, you know, Silicon Valley companies and other things like helping them understand the OKR process and, you know, align these things. And what’s interesting about it is that I see it slipping into that tactical role.

Sean [00:12:11] It’s tailoristic, right.

Scott [00:12:12] Yeah. A lot of times I see it as just another version of the command and control, like we’re going to create a cascading goal sheet that’s going to keep everybody marching in the same direction. But you know, the way you guys are bringing up goals, I really like that a lot better. I think that’s the right way to think about is the goals are ways that we kind of create a currency for our connections and our relationships and we’re all kind of moving together towards things that are clear that we can help each other, that we can kind of gauge the success as we’re kind of marching along together, that we can create a language and reference points day-to-day for the conversations about, you know, how we’re doing, you know, organizationally in our successes, organizationally as we’re growing.

Scott [00:12:52] Paul, I think in the last session you talked about individual competence versus organizational competence. And you know, we do as leaders have to think on both those levels. We need to care about people as people, but we also are looking at, you know, how are we doing as an organization? And we can’t anthropomorphize the organization. The organization is going to be the result of how we care about the people. But there is that sense of, well, how organizationally are we, you know, the health of our culture, the success of us getting our projects done, having happy clients happy customers, is very important, not just to the economic survival of our businesses, but that helps the people in our organization be taken care of. Right. The success of the organization is one of the ways we care about our people.

Paul [00:13:34] Yeah.

Scott [00:13:35] And I did a webinar recently where I talked about the fact that you can’t really take care of your people until you can define what you’re doing as a business or your structures are. Because how else are people in the organization going to feel a sense of psychological safety or purpose, or where the rungs on the ladder are for their growth, not just in terms of career advancement, but skills. Like, taking care of your business, if you see it in the context of, “this is how I take care of my people,” then it’s going to be a lot more powerful than just, again, being in the weeds with the pizza parties and the share-outs or whatever it might be.

Paul [00:14:09] Yeah, exactly. You can’t anthropomorphize the business, but leaders do cast a long shadow.

Scott [00:14:15] Yeah.

Paul [00:14:15] The degree to which leaders care is reflected in the values that the people understand the organization through. I want to go back to something you said a few moments ago because it’s got me curious ever since you mentioned it. You said after the pandemic started, we saw a spike in engagement as if it was something we can measure quantitatively. And I know this is a bit of a set-up question, but I’m just curious to know, you know, relatedness is fundamentally something we feel. It’s an emotional metric. It’s something that’s not necessarily a percent or a yes, no answer when you ask, “are you, you know, related or not?” How do you quantify this thing we call relatedness and how do you know if you’re moving up or down the scale?

Scott [00:14:56] Oh, Paul, you just softballed to a behavioral scientist that you can’t measure people’s feelings. How could you measure people’s feelings?

Paul [00:15:05] Tell me more.

Scott [00:15:06] Well… No, no, I understand. Actually, there’s some version of this question that we get asked all the time, and it ranges from the really hostile version of, “surveys suck; you can’t measure anything with a survey,” you know, to, “well, these things don’t matter anyway, I’m here to get something done.” But you know, the answer is, first have clear constructs, right? And go through the process. I do want to say that this is why I’ve been excited about applying self-determination theory myself over the last 25 years is that there’s a lot of evidence clarifying the constructs.

Scott [00:15:38] You know, when we talked about autonomy, we talked about it as well: “it’s this, but it’s not independence, it’s more this.” And that wasn’t just something that Rich Ryan and Ed Deci drank a lot of coffee one day and had a bright idea. This is the work of hundreds, even thousands of studies, right, that really are clarifying what this is and coming up with specific questions about people’s experiences that you can, to come back to your main question, you can ask people questions about their experiences that measure these constructs, including relatedness. And some really great things emerged. One of my favorites is that when you look at relatedness in education or in the classroom, one of the most important predictors of this sense of relatedness or connection and then even success in the classroom is not, “do I like my teacher?” It’s, “does my teacher like me?” Right?

Scott [00:16:29] And so, you know, again, that comes back to this point of mattering. And I think the same is true. When we do work through our motivationWorks platform and we are measuring how people are experiencing their coworkers and their relationships with coworkers and their relationship with their managers. We’re asking these very kinds of finely tuned and precise questions around experiences that we know are connected to the ideas we’ve talked about. And those measures do go up and down. And so, you know, the idea of relatedness, even though it is a felt construct, in some ways, it’s not any different from a lot of other felt constructs that, you know, luckily, happily for my career, social science has been successful at being able to quantifiably measure. And by the way, that also is a big help, you know, we’ve talked a little bit about scaling organizations because it’s quantifiable, it’s scalable. So we can get, you know, again, some of the systems we’ve set up are different in that employee engagement surveys oftentimes are just giving a managerial level report or a leadership level report. Sometimes managerial level report, but we can generate at-scale measures down to the individual to try to support people more. And I think that’s not just possible in our system, it’s possible in lots of systems if they would just be constructed in that way.

Sean [00:17:46] Fascinating. Just a brief discussion about the whole point of this. I think talking about autonomy, competence, relatedness, these are the fundamental needs that need to be met if you want people to be intrinsically motivated and leading in any context. Like, we’re leading software products, we’re leading our users, reading our teams, right? So if we do this right, we become better leaders.

Scott [00:18:10] Oh yeah. I think that when we create the space when people feel, you know, I referenced that a couple of times, we haven’t talked a lot about psychological safety and some of these other ideas or used that term. But I’m sure your audience is already connecting the dots, right? If we support people’s needs, if we have the sense that they matter, we have the sense that we want to win their endorsement and their ownership of what they’re doing in their rationale and help them create experiences of growth, this can be connected to things like inclusion, right? Are people going to feel included in the culture? Are people going to feel psychological safety? Absolutely. These are at the heart of so many of the things we’re trying to build in a culture.

Scott [00:18:47] And once those things are there, once I feel that sense of safety, I have a sense of structure and everything else, I then have that freedom. It’s like, I can do some narrative building, I can be contributing, I can be leaning forward into all this work in a way that’s safe. And that creates that space, that holding environment, I think I refer to it in a previous session here, where I can be creative and express myself. And so that’s really the connection between these needs. People are fulfilled, they feel safe, they feel excited about the goals and the purpose in the work ahead. And that energy can then be channeled into that innovative work and that creativity.

Sean [00:19:25] Love it. Well, thank you, Scott. This has been a great series and we’re excited to wrap it up and get it published and out there for the community. Thanks for giving us the time.

Scott [00:19:36] This is great. Thanks so much for having me on again.

Paul [00:19:38] It’s been a pleasure. Cheers.

Scott [00:19:40] Take care.

Paul [00:19:43] Well, that’s it for today. In line with our goals of transparency and listening, we really want to hear from you. Sean and I are committed to reading every piece of feedback that we get, so please leave a comment or a rating wherever you’re listening to this podcast. Not only does it help us continue to improve, but it also helps the show climb up the rankings so that we can help other listeners move, touch, and inspire the world just like you’re doing. Thanks, everyone. We’ll see you next episode.

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