Executive Education Wharton at Work
Wharton@Work September 2010
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Employee Engagement: Making a Difference

employee engagementNano Tools for Leaders® 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: Adam M. Grant, PhD, Associate Professor of Management, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania


The Goal:

Increase employee engagement and productivity despite current economic challenges.

Nano Tool:

Show your team the positive effects their work creates in other people's lives. Research by Professor 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% improvements in diagnostic findings.

How It Works:

  • 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.
  • At Medtronic, patients who have benefited from the company’s medical devices are invited 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.
  • Best Buy builds connections between their technology pros and customers through twelpforce, where the pros offer tech advice in Tweet form.
  • See the Additional Resources links below for more examples and research findings.

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 speak to employees; or share their stories in emails or on the intranet; or create short video or electronic messages where people express their appreciation to your team.
  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.

Share Your Best Practices:

Do you have a best practice for showing a team how they've made a difference? If so, please share it on our blog at Wharton's Center for Leadership and Change Management.

Additional Resources:

About Nano Tools:

Nano Tools for Leaders® was conceived and developed by Deb Giffen, MCC, Director of Innovative Learning Solutions at Wharton Executive Education. It is jointly sponsored by Wharton Executive Education and Wharton's Center for Leadership and Change Management, Wharton Professor of Management Michael Useem, Director. Nano Tools Academic Director, Professor Adam Grant.


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