This is an excerpt from Empower: How to Co-Create the Future. The full 200+ page book is available by donation!
“It’s hard to succeed without having effective
interactions and meaningful relationships”
excerpt from book
David Passiak: I love “a-ha” moments where something unexpected leads to profound insights. One of my favorite stories of yours is from a call center experience, where a five-minute speech by a very quiet woman led to a 400% increase in results from the entire team. Can you tell us about that experience and how it helped you to understand the importance of giving in the workplace?
Adam Grant: I was in this call center working on a research project for my Ph.D. University fundraisers were calling alumni for donations. We had a massive amount of turnover. A lot of the callers described the job as repetitive and demotivating. They complained that they were yelled at all the time or rejected very frequently. My thought was if the callers knew how their work was making a difference, it might make it more meaningful and motivating.
We had a couple of managers tell their best stories about how the money was being used, and we saw no impact whatsoever. We realized it was the right message, but the wrong story. Instead of being motivated secondhand by managers who had an ulterior motive of getting you to work harder, we should invite people who were being served and helped by the work that the callers were doing.
We brought in a scholarship student who talked about how the money raised by callers enabled him to go to school, and how much he appreciated the work that the callers were doing. The average caller spiked 142% in weekly phone minutes and 171% in weekly revenue. The student was really charismatic. He had been named Most Likely to Become President out of his college class.
I was like, “Ok, is this the Scholarship Student Effect or is this the Charisma Effect?” I tried to find the opposite of the charismatic student, and that was Emily. She was an extremely quiet, shy student who basically looked at her feet the entire time. I was worried that none of the callers were going to be inspired by her, but the Emily Effect ended up being about two and a half times as strong. The average caller spiked at more than 400% in weekly revenue.
I think it was easier to empathize with someone who believed so deeply in the work you were doing that she was willing to overcome her natural introversion and tell her story. Her authenticity helped the callers see that their hard work opened the doors for a lot of students who are hardworking, passionate, and motivated but cannot afford to go to school.
A lot of people are doing work that makes a difference, but they don’t get to see for whom or how. Once you get to see that, you’re much more willing to give your time, energy, and creativity to this cause that might have previously mattered to you but seemed too abstract to understand.