Want Motivated Employees? Put Them In Contact With The People They Help

Motivational talk from higher-ups is just that—talk. If you want better sales and revenue, make sure your employees know who it is their work benefits.

Your CEO might hit all the right notes of transformational leadership. But if you want to impact sales and revenue, that's not enough. You also should consider bringing employees into contact with those who benefit from their work.

That's the finding of Adam Grant, a Wharton professor who studied the training given to 71 new call center employees of a Midwestern software firm. One group of trainees was chosen to meet an "internal customer"—an employee of another department whose salary depends on the sales that the new hires make—during their initial training. In combination with some inspirational words from the CEO, this contact with a real live beneficiary significantly improved both sales and revenue during the employees' first seven weeks.

The difference? A not-insignificant 20% improvement in revenue per shift. Leadership messages from the CEO about purpose, vision, mission, and meaning, however, had no such effect on their own.

In the paper, to appear in a forthcoming special issue of the Academy of Management Journal, Grant pairs the results of this field study with a survey of government employees that also found a correlation between regular contact with the public, transformational messages from up top, and improved job performance. Seeing that you're doing good, in other words, and having do-gooding reinforced by leaders, is related in important ways to doing well.

In the special issue, the Journal notes a growing research interest in the pro-social, cooperative, caring, and compassionate aspects of businesses. Behavioral economic models are being updated to reflect better research in psychology that supports reasons for human behavior beyond pure self-interest, and new experiments are being designed and run to provide evidence for how these more fully human motivations can drive higher profits and performance.

[Image: Flickr user Daniele Nicolucci]

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  • Guest

    I really dislike how people comment and include a link back to their own blog. It's really bad netiquette.

  • Cedricj

    Employee motivation is a combination of "what's in it for me?"
    Plus "What can I do for you?"

    Unless all of your employees are the Dalai Lama

    Inspiring leaders to inspire others

  • denysedd

    Rob, agree theres nothing new, but in that case why are the vast majority of companies - including the Forbes 100 - NOT doing it? 
    Well done on being one of the exceptions.

  • denysedd

    I believe passionately in connecting all employees with their customers; it is a must not just to be considered. When people understand the role they play in satisfying customers, they take pride and more attention in their work and are highly motivated.
    Connection should be on everyone's annual objectives, including the Board's

  • Rob

    Nothing surprising here...at Advanced Bionics...we bring in our patients to tell their stories 2-4 times per quarter.  Has made a huge difference in retention, productivity and quality.