The Three Questions that PayPal’s CEO Should Be Asking Himself

David Marcus of PayPal speaking at LeWeb Paris 2013PayPal President David Marcus recently issued an email to his employees that has touched a nerve in the social media world and with the employees of his company. In his email, Marcus speaks of passion for the products of the company, and chastises employees who don’t actively use those products.

He notes that San Jose colleagues lag behind other offices’ in terms of the number of leads and product usage of PayPal (they didn’t download the app or forgot their passwords). He ends the email by addressing two groups.

The first group (“passionate PayPals”):

 I’m turning to you passionate PayPals who are here for purpose more than paycheck. We need your help. I need you to make it clear to colleagues, who display these types of behaviors that we won’t tolerate these anymore. My intention is to make San Jose (and every location) a place that retains, and attracts talent that’s passionate, and engaged. We can do it together. By demanding more of each other.

The second group (the others?):

In closing, if you are one of the folks who refused to install the PayPal app or if you can’t remember your PayPal password, do yourself a favor, go find something that will connect with your heart and mind elsewhere. A life devoid of purpose, and passion in what you do everyday is a waste of the precious time you have on this earth to make it better.

Onward with passion, purpose, and gusto!


Good leaders take a break to pause and reflect on their leadership. These are the questions that David Marcus should be asking himself after sending that memo for self-reflection. 

1. Is passion more of an immutable trait, or a function of context?

Marcus essentially said: If you are not passionate about PayPal, leave and do something you are more passionate about. He is assuming that one either has or does not have passion for PayPal, as if it is something that one is just born with, and he wants to “clean house” by getting rid of those who lack passion. And this may very well be a worthwhile initiative. But what if passion is also something that is more of a function of context? A micro-managing boss can suppress and deaden employees’ passion by squashing any new idea that is not his, and conversely, a boss that trusts others to take innovative risks can unlock and fuel greater passion (here are some statistics that show the link between trust and innovation).

2. Why are colleagues in San Jose less passionate and motivated (in terms of generating leads and using PayPal products than other offices’), given that San Jose is the headquarters where Marcus himself is directly staffed?

If there is truly something awry in the culture of the San Jose office, then Marcus should be using the poor performance of San Jose colleagues to conduct a “culture audit” to assess what is driving the poor behaviors.

3. What is the best way to elicit desired behaviors?

There are three ways to get the behaviors you want: coercion (power), basic motivation (money) and inspiration (through values and a mission). Marcus can certainly get his employees to start downloading the PayPal app through thinly veiled threats. If he wants them to start coming in earlier and leaving later, he can disseminate time-sheets and give out bonuses to those who stay longest.  But these moves only shift behavior. If Marcus wants his employees to be collaborating and innovating in new ways, so much so that they are willing to hack into the company’s Coke machine so that it accepts PayPal (as some PayPal colleagues did), then he is looking for elevated behaviors that can’t be nudged or shifted for through carrots-and-sticks. Elevated behaviors arise when people sense that they are working on a significant mission and that they are working with people with whom they share a set of values that bind them together–we suspect that that is what gets Marcus out of bed and into work. So shouldn’t the same work for the rest of his employees? We need a rethink of what employee engagement means and how to get it.

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