Meaning and Significance

The Small Big.  The title caught my interest a few months back as I was reading a business magazine.  So I read this book through the holidays, finishing it a few weeks ago.  It’s an easy read, focusing on small things we can do that will make a big difference in how effectively we persuade and motivate people.  I liked a couple things about the book.  First, it contains 52 really short (3-6 pages each) chapters, which makes it easy to read in “bite size” pieces.  Second, it is eminently practical, dealing with topics like how a company can make its sales people more effective, developing simple strategies for negotiating more successfully, making small changes in the work environment to encourage creative thinking, and how fundraisers can convince donors to give more to non-profits.

There was one chapter, however, that I found the most helpful by far.  It provided some fascinating advice from University of Pennsylvania economist Adam Grant on how to improve employee productivity.  Grant argues that if employees are reminded why their job is “significant,” why it has “meaning,” they become more highly motivated and ultimately more productive. To test this hypothesis, Grant conducted a study of employees whose job was to contact alumni of a university and persuade them to make donations to the school’s scholarship fund.  Prior to contacting the alumni, one group of employees read stories about the financial benefits of their job and the opportunity their job gave them to develop their personal skills.  The other group read stories from students who had received scholarships which described the hugely positive impact the scholarship had had on their lives.

The results were nothing short of amazing.  After hearing the stories, the employees who read about the financial benefits of their job raised the same amount of money as they had raised before hearing the stories.  In other words, no change.  However, the employees who heard stories about the impact the scholarships had on students’ lives raised more than twice as much money after hearing the stories!  The power of making sure employees understand and don’t lose sight of the significance of their job at work!  Understanding the meaning and significance of their work surely energized these employees, and elevated the results of their work to new heights.

For those of us in business, how can we follow this advice and get these results?  One way is to collect and prominently display stories of how customers have been helped by our products and services.  Maybe post them on a bulletin board.  Maybe read them aloud.  Or even have team members pick out their favorite stories and read them aloud to their colleagues.  Regardless of how you do it, not letting employees forget the real significance of what they do will lead to better results for your business.  I’m confident it will also result in more fulfilled employees.  This is just one example of how making a small change can have a big result.

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