By Charndré Emma Kippie


Dr. Mariheca Otto has been the owner and manager of Motto Business Consulting for more than 15 years, and is dedicated to her work in the field of organisation development and internal marketing for various clients, in different industries. Dr. Mariheca Otto also works in association with credible consultants and HR related service providers on a daily basis.

She completed a B.Com Honours degree in Industrial Psychology and Sociology, HED, M.Com, and a PhD in Business Management at the North-West University (previously known as the Potchefstroom University). Dr. Otto has delivered papers at both national and international academic and business conferences. She has almost 20 years of lecturing, training and facilitation experience, and is seen as a leader in the field of internal marketing, as a result of her phenomenal work.

Through her PhD research Dr. Mariheca Otto has developed the Motto Model and subsequently the Motto Survey™ and Motto Individual Assessment™ tools. The climate and culture measurement tool focuses on all the internal business elements related to HR and organisation development strategies. Tallying all survey results, Dr. Otto designs and guides implementation of strategies to elevate the capacity and culture of the organisation, this includes individuals, teams and leadership figures.


What are your main career objectives? How do you hope to make a difference?

My main career objectives have always been to co-create organisational health. A requirement for organisational health is to ensure that the individuals, the leaders, and the teams within an organisation function optimally. I hope to make a difference by creating awareness. We know that creating awareness is the first step for any transformation journey or change process, and the moment people become aware of what is going on for them right now (what is working and what isn’t working) transformation can immediately start, because perception drives behaviour. It is through doing this that individuals and organisations start to show growth and become “better”.


Please could you tell us a bit about your background – how did you get to this point?

I started with a BCom degree in Industrial Psychology and I ended up doing my PhD through the creation of the Internal Marketing model, which is all about how to create buy-in into vision. It is based on the Marketing Relationship theories, which by their nature draw from the fields of Industrial Psychology, Sociology, and Business Management. I owned businesses prior to starting my career in consulting about 20 years ago, including an educational publishing business (which I sold when I became a mother) and after that, I started consulting full-time from around the age of 30. 

Since then, I have been very privileged to be able to use the Motto measurement instruments to measure the perceptions within organisations, implement change processes, and then remeasure to track progress. The feedback on the measurements identify pain points or areas of discomfort, which then inform the way forward and enable us to customise interventions that we implement to the specific organisation’s needs. We facilitate these interventions by means of both individual and group processes, whether they take the form of meaningful group conversations, leadership workshops, or individual processes such as Personal Development Plan conversations, coaching and mentorship processes. We have been able to do these things and see how organisations get through difficult times, move through change successfully, and emerge as much stronger and thriving businesses on the other side, in a climate in which most change processes fail. 

Over the years, more and more consultants that we have collaborated and worked with have expressed interest in using the Motto Tools in their processes, so we have gradually moved towards a point where 90% of our focus is now on empowering and certifying organisations and other consultants to use our tools independently.


What excites you the most about the work that you do?

What excites me most and gives me energy is seeing the measurable transformations that take place within organisations, and how the people within those organisations start to become self-empowered enough to take the positive shifts further. It excites me to see organisations thriving, really finding their niche, finding the best possible work culture and ways to function, and seeing leadership truly own the vision-casting responsibility and learning to inspire their subordinates. I love being part of that enabling process that creates a space in which organisations and individuals can thrive.


What 3 tips do you have for businesses trying to improve their organisational strategies?

I think that now more than ever, it is incredibly hard not to get distracted. My first tip is to focus on what really matters, because what an organisation focuses on is what people will put their energy into and where you will see growth. If too much focus is constantly put on negative internal issues, that is where all the energy will be directed, and organisations run the risk of making things worse. 

The second tip is to make sure that your strategy is clear and that it inspires. This needs to be incredibly clear in order for businesses to get through difficult times such as this past year with Covid and all the financial challenges that were held. 

This brings me to my third tip, which is to make sure your strategy is inclusive and participative so as to get everyone’s buy-in. As it is, people are feeling isolated and uncertain, and are primarily focusing on meeting basic needs, so it is crucial to get those people involved and to pull them into the hope and healing side of where the organisation is going in terms of its change journey. You need to constantly sell that story, and in that, the internal turmoil will subside and start to ease out, as people will be able to see that there’s a joint vision.


In your line of work, why is coaching and mentorship so important?

Coaching and mentoring are so important in my line of work, because no organisational development can occur optimally without individual development journeys, in addition to the group processes. Coaching processes help individuals to align what they think and what they feel, and move them into action, which is why we use the TEA coaching model. Mentorship processes help both the mentors and the mentees to align their personal and organisational visions and purpose, create fantastic learning opportunities for both parties, and ensure that an organisation’s succession strategy, as well as its retention strategy works. This is why individual processes are absolutely vital for successful growth.


What tips do you have for increasing productivity?

If you want to increase productivity, you cannot stand behind people with a whip. It is an archaic and ineffectual style of management. We have moved past the phase where we just tell people what to do during periods of panic. We are now moving into a space where we have to recover and become creative, and trying to motivate through fear has been shown to completely kill creativity and innovation. This is why a participative leadership style including lots of supportive behaviour is so crucial, as well as giving guidance in the form of questions that unlock the skills and knowledge of the individuals within the workforce. Essentially, a supportive leadership style that invites participation is what drastically increases productivity.


Have you read any books or listened to any podcasts that have inspired you and your career thus far?

I am a huge fan of the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast from a leadership and management point of view, and I often share his podcast links with many people. I find that the level of research done prior to recording the podcast is phenomenally thorough and up to date, and the podcasts are concise and practical (no longer than 20 minutes). A book that I find to be incredibly underrated is The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz. The book empowers leaders to adopt a calm, but energised and focused way of looking at the world and approaching situations. In my opinion, if we just stick to those “four agreements” mentioned in the book, it will result in much better decision-making and leadership in general.


What is your ‘why’ i.e. Bottom line? And how do you stay motivated?

Ultimately my “why” is to find out how I can help and serve by creating organisational health, and through that, mental health. I stay motivated through the positive feedback that we receive on a regular basis about the value-add of our products for individuals, leaders, other consultants and organisations. The growth is measurable, so we can clearly see when there are positive shifts in the data and in an individual’s perceptions. This is a huge motivator too, because we have hard data which proves the creation of greater awareness within people and our value-add. The reason we are able to obtain this data in the first place, is because people allow us to ask the difficult questions, and they actively participate and show up authentically. It is highly motivating to me that people are brave enough to be real and open in how they participate and to own their growth.


What inspires your work ethic on a daily basis?

I have always been incredibly driven, simply because there is so much that needs to be done, as well as so many opportunities out there. This is what drives my work ethic. However, my challenge now is to make sure that I have balance, that I’m calm, and that I have to focus on a daily basis. Part of what I do to achieve this is to do yoga and meditate before starting my day, to set clear boundaries in terms of what I can and can’t do, to ask for help when I need it, and to surround myself with incredibly supportive people. These are all things that enable me to have a healthy work ethic.


What advice do you have for young women/future generations who aspire to work in your industry?

In terms of advice that I would give to young women in my industry, I think of a lesson that hit home for me years ago during a conference I was attending. There was an organisational development (OD) guru present, who we could ask questions, and one of the participants in the session asked what would hold people back from development, growth and learning. The guru answered that there are two things, namely: arrogance and fear. Both of these things play out because of our egos kicking in. Especially as a woman operating in what is a man’s world 90% of the time, the risk is that we are surrounded by matters of egos and status, and we need to avoid falling into patterns of fear or arrogance ourselves.

When insecurity causes you to feel the need to throw around your credentials, qualifications and expertise when interacting with people, you immediately lose the battle. The trick is to pause, to centre yourself, and to find the inner strength and courage that will allow you to do what you’re meant to be doing. When you deal with others who operate from within their egos, it’s important to avoid taking it personally and to rather just be aware and mindful of where it’s coming from.