Motivate Your Employees: Let Them Meet the People They Help

Last Updated Apr 8, 2010 9:05 AM EDT

What if Peter, the disgruntled cubicle-dweller in the movie Office Space, had been able to see that his hated TPS reports were read and appreciated by a real live person, someone he had met? New research from Wharton management professor Adam Grant suggests that his motivation and productivity would have soared. So just imagine what some face-to-face contact could do for a more committed member of your team.

While it's largely understood that employees want to do meaningful work, Grant was surprised by the dramatic, positive impact that resulted from even a brief meeting with the beneficiary of an employee's efforts. In the study that led to his findings, Grant and his team of researchers arranged for one group of university call center workers to interact with a scholarship student who benefited from their fundraising efforts. The meeting, during which the workers asked the student about his or her studies, lasted just five minutes -- but it had a huge effect: Callers who had met with a student spent more than two times as long on the phone and reeled in a weekly donation average of about $503, up from just under $186.

This type of personal contact can yield results even if your firm's core mission isn't philanthropic. "Everybody has an end user," says Grant. "In some cases, they may be your team members' coworkers or colleagues in other departments."

Executive coach Thomasina Tafur witnessed firsthand the benefits of strengthening intra-company relationships with face-to-face meetings. Tafur spent 20 years climbing the corporate ladder at FedEx. During her time as a manager for the mega-courier, occasional friction erupted between her sales staff and billing department workers. For example, billing department staffers became frustrated when salespeople failed to immediately return their calls.

As part of the solution, Tafur often arranged meetings between the two workers, either flying the salesperson to the Memphis call center or sending the billing department staffer to accompany a salesperson on calls. After a day spent in the field, the billing workers understood why their calls were not immediately returned. In some cases, they made arrangements to take calls from salespeople after hours. "When you meet a person," Tafur says, "you build a relationship and can more easily get the results you want."

Handshake image courtesy of Flickr user Aidan Jones, CC 2.0