The Wikipedia Way Of Motivating Your Employees

As a business owner, if you can tap into the passion of your workforce the same way that Wikipedia taps into its army of unpaid volunteers, you can accomplish things that no amount of money can buy.

Have you ever stopped to consider how remarkable Wikipedia is?

The online encyclopedia represents arguably the greatest collection of knowledge and information ever assembled—and the overwhelming majority of the work in creating and maintaining it has been done by unpaid volunteers

On the surface, the success of Wikipedia makes no sense—how could (and why would) a team of volunteers possibly complete such a massive undertaking?

The answer has repercussions for leaders and business owners in every industry: Money isn’t everything. In fact, a sense of purpose is more important than the size of a salary when it comes to inspiring top performance from employees and team members.

That doesn’t mean that money isn’t important, and it doesn’t mean that you can slash paychecks without fear of consequences. But it does mean that money alone is not enough to inspire the type of passion, dedication, and peak performance that every business owner wants from their team. 

To bring out the best in your people, you need to create a fulfilling workplace environment and a sense of purpose for your employees.

Below are suggested first steps in this process:

1) Define your purpose. And no, "make lots of money" doesn’t count. Ultimately, what is the goal of your business? At Apple, Steve Jobs's goal was literally to change the world. sought to completely redefine the way books are bought and sold. Your sense of purpose may not be as grandiose...but it should include some type of value which you create for your customers or your community. What is the purpose of your business beyond generating income? 

2) Integrate this purpose into your company culture. It’s easy to come up with a formulaic sense of purpose that looks great on your company website—but integrating it into the everyday environment in your office is a totally different challenge. A corny motivational speech isn’t going to get the job done. Start by practicing what you preach and by taking steps to acknowledge, encourage, and reward employees who are dedicating themselves to the company vision. Above all, this purpose must be authentic and transparent to employees and your customers!  

3) Learn to listen. Ideally, you should engage your employees into this discovery process from the beginning. You may be surprised to hear what they think the purpose of your business is. Your employees desire fulfillment, whether they explicitly recognize it or not. So ask for their input. Solicit suggestions for creating a more productive and fulfilling atmosphere. Empower employees to pursue fulfillment whenever and however you can. Be aware that some employees may not personally align with the purpose of the company and that can come to light as part of this process.  

The next time you visit Wikipedia, take a moment to soak in the enormity of the project—and reflect on the fact that it was created by individuals motivated by nothing other than their own passion and sense of purpose. As a business owner, if you can tap in to the passion of your workforce, you can accomplish things that no amount of money can buy. 

[Image: Flickr user Michael E Clark]

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  • William Seidman

    Purpose is so important – I’ve been preaching it for years. Without it you have, essentially, nothing. And yes,  money isn’t everything. Not at all!

    There’s some great  research being done on motivation  (and a large and growing body of neuroscience research on the impact of purpose on brain chemistry). But how do you engrain “purpose” in each member of an organization? Wikipedians usually never meet one another.  And Wikipedia has contributors who do it for less than noble reasons, and thousands of contributors (“editors”) whose volunteer work is far less than excellent. The result (an online, worldwide encyclopedia) might be terrific but the organization (thousands of individual “editors” scattered around the globe) isn’t one we can necessarily extrapolate much from for other organizations.

    I work with “positive deviants” who are the consistent top performers in a job function. Positive deviants are profoundly motivated by purpose, but in a way that is very integrated with the core of the organization. If guided properly they can articulate an organization’s purpose far better than the usual executive bromides. Furthermore, when the positive deviant purpose is articulated in a particular way and presented to others following our current understanding of the neuroscience of learning, their purpose statement creates a neural response that directly drives intense motivation. Finally, the positive deviants can also lay out a path to mastery that can be used to guide everyone not just to become intensely motivated but also to be operationally excellent, quickly and efficiently converting that motivation into tangible innovations and productivity improvements. We have done this process in hundreds of companies with thousands of people and it works every time.

  • Kendol Mason

    This is a great article at defining the first steps that
    need to take place in order to create a great workspace environment. The
    finding your purpose is but one of the most underestimated first actions that
    need to take place when sitting in the type of goal as to why you are doing
    something is more important than what or how. By giving reasons why you do
    something is to make it a part of you and cause it to last longer when things
    become tough or skewed.


    If you take the time to integrate it with in the company
    culture and expand it outward toward your products and services it will then
    resonate within your customers causing them to really understand, and more
    importantly, sets the values as being true and not some falsified grandiose
    gesture to make yourself look good on paper. Another good way to integrate this
    into your culture is to have a meeting, brainstorming session or play a quick
    game specific toward accomplishing a certain agenda and being clear on action
    steps that take place to motivate your employees.

    I once learned about a
    company that actually used a rubber chicken as a message mediator and the only person
    that was allowed to speak was the one who was holding the chicken. Not only
    does this create a time restraint and physical engagement but it allows for
    people to focus and not get jumbled up long periods of useless debates.
    Consider taking a break every two hours or so to get them away from becoming
    sluggish at the desk and this also may present them with new solutions to
    problems when they return.


    Now I've never personally used Wikipedia as the only source
    to find inspiration and information for creating an exciting personal work
    environment but it's a good place to start. And by at least investigating the
    most contributed information source could easily cause you to stumble upon additional
    directions toward achieving the goals mentioned in this article. Creating an engaging
    environment isn’t rocket science, have you taken the time to look at how you’ve
    done it in your own home?


    Great job Julie!



    Dear Johan Smith,


    If you believe that creating a great place to work is skewed
    horribly to “White” American Males then do you believe that any other race or
    nation creates bad working conditions?

    (By the way I’m a “Black” American Male)

  • Skip Weisman

    Great article. I love the concept of purpose. I actually prefer it over "mission" and have written a number of articles encouraging business leaders to throw out their Mission Statements and construct a more powerful statement around "Purpose."

    When it comes to employee motivation it is vital for people to believe in the "why" of what they are showing up to work for.

    Last year I created a model for this called "The Employee Motivation Equation." You can read more about it and download an assessment here, http://www.EmployeeMotivationE... . 

  • Jann Wong

    Great article on how purpose of an organization motivates and drives employees productivity. I think it is important to look at how purpose of an organization is translated to different people from different generations. The Y generation that has entered the workforce in the last few years typically yearns to know how their day to day work serves the purpose of the organization and it is important for them to see the connection and feel that they are contributing. This differs significantly to the generations before them where the Generation X workforce wants to know how the purpose of the organization affect their day to day work.

    When it comes to employee motivation, it is essential to look at different demographics and different behaviours of people. Nonetheless, defining the purpose and integrating it into the organizations culture is one of the key levers to pull in employee motivation.

  • Xavier Romero-Frias

    It is remarkable, yes, but there is something disquieting about Wikipedia. It is an organization that does not pay its workers and unpaid work is a form of slavery isn't it?

  • Suchitra Mishra

    Hello Julie,
    Great reminders and context- thanks. While most companies are able to come up with the first point - Definition, where we falter is at your points 2 and 3 in my view - Execution i.e ingraining the purpose into the culture and Sustainability i.e ensuring the purpose remains ingrained through continuous engagement and empowerment.  


  • Suchitra Mishra

    Hello Julie,

    Great reminders and context- thanks. While most companies are able to come up with the first point - Definition, where we falter is at your points 2 and 3 in my view - Execution i.e ingraining the purpose into the culture and Sustainability i.e ensuring the purpose remains ingrained through continuous engagement and empowerment.  

    P.S : I touched upon the same points in one of my posts - Five Secret Killers of company growth : http://blogbysuchitra.wordpres...

  • Gregory Kohs

    The author says, "The next time you visit Wikipedia, take a moment to soak in the enormity of the project..."

    Believe me, I recognize the enormity of the project every day.

  • Johan Smith

    This sounds great until you realise that (and I'm talking about EN, other language projects might differ quite a lot):

    1) Long-term *registered* Volunteers at Wikipedia are tailing off at a dramatic rate and the replacement rate is low, so motivation is a problem

    2) It's skews horribly to white american males

    3) Large areas of Wikipedia are basically no-go areas or information ghettos because of ethnic, religious or social-political conflicts that means it is impossible for uninvolved editors to get anything do

    4) The 'management' (Administrators) are out of control and largely uncontrollable once are elected. 

    Sure wikipedia is a great boon but organisationally it's a bit of a mess.