Employee Engagement: Making a Difference

Nano Tools for Leaders®a collaboration between Wharton Executive Education and Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management — are fast, effective leadership tools that you can learn and start using in less than 15 minutes, with the potential to significantly impact your success as a leader and the engagement and productivity of the people you lead.

Contributor: Wharton management professor Adam Grant.

The Goal:

Increase motivation and productivity by showing your employees the positive difference their work makes on the lives of others.

Nano Tool:

Show your team the positive effects their work creates in other people’s lives. Research by Wharton’s Adam Grant shows that one five-minute interaction with those who benefit from the organization’s products and services can produce up to a 500% increase in employee productivity. When clients, customers and other end users express feedback and appreciation, employees develop stronger beliefs in the impact and value of their work.

Interaction also increases empathy for customers, even when the interaction is virtual. Research with radiologists who have no patient interaction has shown that attaching a photo of the patient to an X-ray enhances their effort and accuracy, yielding 12% increases in the length of their reports and 46% improvement in diagnostic findings.

How Companies Use It:

  • Volvo collects stories from drivers and passengers about how the company’s safety designs have saved their lives.
  • Wells Fargo managers show videotapes of customers describing how bankers’ loans have made it possible for them to purchase homes and pay for college.
  • Medtronic invites patients who have benefited from the company’s medical devices to tell their life-changing stories at an annual holiday party. Engineers and technicians also attend approximately 70% of all operations where Medtronic devices are inserted.
  • A large global accounting firm regularly gives their back-office accountants a chance to attend client presentations and meet with customers to hear direct feedback.

Action Steps: 

1. Identify groups of people who benefit from your team’s work but have never shared their feedback, such as clients, customers, suppliers, or coworkers and managers from different divisions and departments.

2. Arrange short interactions with your team: Invite the beneficiaries to share their stories and express their appreciation to your team via emails; short videos; or live, in person or via video conferencing.

“When clients, customers and other end users express feedback and appreciation, employees develop stronger beliefs in the impact and value of their work.”

3. Find new stories to share on a regular basis to keep engagement alive.

4. Ask team members to share their own stories about how their work has made a difference.

Additional Resources:

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, by Adam Grant (Penguin, 2014)

The Adaptable Leader: Leading in a Virtual World (Wharton Executive Education)

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