Human beings all deeply want to believe in something. It’s in our basic human nature. If you want to motivate your employees and attract customers and investors with ease, one of the most vital things you can do is give them a “why” to believe in.
There is a fascinating study done by Dr. Adam Grant and his colleagues who worked with call center employees at the University of Michigan. These employees had the unenviable task of cold calling alums to ask for money. One of the groups in this study was able to meet a scholarship recipient and talk to him first hand. The scholarship recipient talked about how much the scholarship had changed his life, and he thanked the people in the call center for their hard work. Once the call center workers realized how their work had an impact, they became motivated to work harder and the group’s weekly revenue increased an amazing 400%.
In another study, when nurses assembling surgical kits met the health-care practitioners who would use their kits, the nurses worked 64% more minutes and made 15% fewer errors than those nurses who did not meet the “end user ” (Belle, 2013).
In national surveys over the past three decades, the vast majority of Americans have identified meaningful work as the single most important feature that they seek in a job. One of the easiest and most powerful ways to imbue a sense of meaning in work is to put employees in touch with the end user.
For example, Deere & Company invites farmers who are buying tractors to visit the factories with their families. Assembly line employees get to meet the farmers, hand them a gold key, and watch them start their tractors for the first time.
At Olive Garden, managers share with the staff letters from customers describing how they chose to celebrate meaningful events at the company’s restaurants.
Great leaders know that people are intrinsically motivated when they understand why they are doing something, and the best leaders put the correct conditions in place to ensure people gain this deeper connection.
According to Dr. Grant, a face-to-face meeting has the strongest emotional impact on an employee, particularly when the employee does not normally interact with the end user.
A Microsoft lab manager interviewed by researchers Michael Cusumano and Richard Selby explains that after seeing an end user, developers “immediately empathize with the person. The usual nonsense answer; ‘Well, they can just look in the manual if they don’t know how to use it,’ or ‘My idea is brilliant; you just found ten stupid people’ just goes out the door.” Grant adds that “a face-to-face connection with end users appears to elicit empathy among the developers, motivating them to design software with users in mind.”
As a leader, ask yourself “What are the ways I can engage end users with our employees?” One start up in Silicon Valley invites current and potential clients to a monthly happy hour event with employees.
Another solution is to harness some of the information you may already have. If you have letters from satisfied customers, positive feedback, gratitude, or even data showing the impact of your products and services, share this information broadly in your organization. As Bonobos CEO Andy Dunn shared with me in an interview, “There are no diminishing returns to specific positive feedback .” It’s a free, unlimited resource that many leaders are not leveraging as well as they could.
Another option is to turn employees into end users. Encouraging employees to try the product for themselves is the easiest way to create this conversion. Not only does the company receive additional feedback on its products, but the employees have a better understanding of the user experience.
Sending employees out into the field is another way to connect them with end users. Chris Hendriksen, the CEO of healthcare company VRI, says he spent his first few months at the company riding in the truck, visiting end users, and participating in the actual customer experience.
Regardless of the specific approach you take, the research clearly demonstrates that a simple yet powerful way to decrease burnout and greatly increase the motivation and satisfaction level of your team is to give them a “why” to believe in. And one of the easiest ways to do this is to connect your employees with your end users.
By Vanessa Loder
McKinsey senior partner Mary Meaney joins IBM CEO Arvind Krishna and Unilever CHRO Leena Nair to discuss how companies can organize for the next normal.
One of the most important skills in the modern world is the ability to speak to an increasingly diverse set of people. One of the most powerful, and often overlooked, tools in accomplishing this is cultural intelligence.
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