Want to Boost Employee Motivation? All It Takes is a Little “Show and Tell”

You want a more engaged, inspired, resilient, and resourceful workforce, don’t you?

Who doesn’t?

Here’s one simple thing you can do to make this happen: Remind employees regularly about the good that they do and the impact their work has.

You do this by showing employees the impact of their work and you share stories of the great things your organization does through them.

If you want to be a talent magnet, do the same thing in your recruiting and employer branding. Show job prospects and new hires how your organization makes a difference, through the great work of your employees.

How a 5 minute meeting increased productivity 400%

In How Customers Can Rally Your Troops — a “must read” for leadership teams desiring greater employee engagement — Wharton Business School’s Dr. Adam Grant describes the impact of sharing customer stories with employees.

The article opens up with the attention-grabbing question:

How did a five-minute meeting motivate university fundraisers to increase their weekly productivity by 400 percent?’

It goes on to describe how a university fund-raising department asked Dr. Grant to help them solve a problem that had vexed management.

They were asked to help management boost employee morale and performance. All attempts to do so in the past had failed. The department also suffered from horrific turnover, a problem endemic to the fund-raising industry which averages over 400 percent turnover, which is the equivalent of having all employees turnover every three months.

Dr. Grant’s intervention?

Show employees they matter

Connect employees directly with the impact their work made in the lives of others.

He invited a recipient of the university scholarship to share their story with the beleaguered fundraisers. That five minute story motivated employees to make more calls and bring in more revenue.

More specifically, the group of employees who heard the recipient’s speech more than doubled their calls per hour and increased their weekly revenues from $411.74 to $2,083.52!

Why is connecting employees to customer stories so powerful?

Meaning and purpose are fundamental human needs

It taps into the human need for meaning and purpose. It satisfies the need to feel like we matter and that our work matters.

As Studs Terkel, in his classic Working wrote so poignantly:

Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”

Research on employee engagement reveals this critical human need in action. One of Gallup’s 12 drivers of employee engagement speaks to this core need: “The mission/purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.

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We see the role this need plays in attracting talent. Anybody involved in recruiting and hiring talent knows that the new generation of employees want to work for an employer who is doing good things in the world.

Millennials want to make a difference

A study by the Intelligence Group revealed that 64 percent of Millennials say it’s a priority for them to make the world a better place.

This quote from a recent Linkedin post that to date has over 1.3 million views and 1,400 comments titled Why Millennials Keep Dumping You: An Open Letter to Management captures this desire:

I was raised to believe I could change the world. I’m desperate for you to show me that the work we do here matters, even just a little bit. I’ll make copies, I’ll fetch coffee, I’ll do the grunt work. But I’m not doing it to help you get a new Mercedes.

I’ll give you everything I’ve got, but I need to know it makes a difference to something bigger than your bottom line.”

Seeing the impact of great work

Customer-facing employees benefit from the motivation and engagement-boosting experience of seeing the impact of their work on a regular basis. This direct contact with the fruits of their labor keeps them emotionally engaged with their work and their employer’s mission.

However, those who don’t deal directly with clients and customers can easily feel detached from their employer’s mission and the good that they do.

Amir Zonozi, Chief Strategy Officer at Zoomph, recognizes this problem: “We (the marketing team and leadership)  go to conferences and we get a lot of love from clients who are absolutely in love with our product,” says Zonozi. Developers, however, don’t typically get to go to such conferences…”

Instead, developers get to hear about bugs and improvements that need to be made to the software they toiled to create.

To give their software developers the chance to experience  firsthand the results of their hard work, Zoomph leaders bring them out in the field — literally — to see the impact they have.

Recently, after Zoomph software developers solved a customer problem that competitors told the Baltimore Orioles was impossible, Zonozi and other members of the management team took the developers to the Orioles’ home opener.

There, they got to see the Zoomph-powered monster splash screen projecting real time Oriole-related tweets from fans and the franchise in front of a 50,000 crowd. At another game, the developers who made it possible got to sit in the press box, and when the game was over, walk the field and go on a guided tour of the stadium.

Putting this into action

  1. Brainstorm opportunities to give your back office employees a chance to directly, in-person, witness the impact your product or service has on your customers’ lives.
  2. Actively solicit and curate stories from customer-facing employees and your customers that illustrate the difference your organization makes in the world. Use them on your recruitment portal, at new hire orientations, and company-wide meetings.
  3. Capture and share customer stories on video whenever possible, and use them on your recruitment portal, at new hire orientations, and company-wide meetings.
  4. Invite customers to speak at company-wide meetings and tell their story directly to employees. This is something that Medtronics, the life-saving medical device company does each year. They fly in people whose lives were saved by a Medtronics device, and invite them to tell their story to an audience of teary-eyed employees, who go away reminded of the importance of their work.

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. He's an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of "Managing Employee Stress and Safety," as well over 100 articles and book chapters. You can download more of his articles at HumanNature@work, contact him at david@humannatureatwork.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/humannaturework.

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