• 01.11.13

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.

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

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]

About the author

She’s the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her next book, The Test, about standardized testing, will be published by Public Affairs in 2015.