In Work Rules, Laszlo Bock, the SVP, People Operations at Google, talks about the powerful impact of seeing how your work affects your customers, and how greatly this ties into intrinsic motivation.
Bock references Adam Grant's book, Give and Take, which explores the psychological phenomenon that when we feel a sense of purpose, it not only makes us happier, but more productive. That's because we're actually bought into the mission of our work. We care about the results from an emotional level, and feel a sense of social responsibility and impact.
In studies involving a fundraising call centre, a group of lifeguards, and editors, Grant recognized that when these individuals connected with the people who were impacted by their work—through reading emotional letters from scholarship recipients, reading stories about rescued swimmers, and meeting the authors—their engagement increased exponentially. They fundraised more, rescued more swimmers, and invested more time editing papers.
Bock tested the same theory at Google. He wanted to know if meeting real customers would make an impact on the motivation of Google's employees. If the AdWords sales team met a business owner they were selling to, would the Googlers feel more invested in his success? And if they saw that a skill set (setting up ad campaigns) that came easily to them, but was difficult for the customer—yet critical to his success—would it fuel their motivation to serve him better?
The answer was a resounding yes.
Seeing the human impact of our work profoundly influences how, and why, we work
In Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux explores a similar phenomenon. The book is centred on self-organizing companies and Teal organizations, which are strongly driven by a sense of purpose. One of Laloux's case studies is on Buurtzorg, a neighborhood nursing company in the Netherlands. Whereas many traditional nurses are treated like machines on tightly times schedules with "efficient" systems like frequent rotations, Buurtzorg values a high-touch, high-care environment.
Instead of going through impersonal, timed-to-the-minute rotations, nurses at Buurtzorg actually sit with patients and make an effort to get to them beyond their medical charts. They take time to have coffee with them, to learn about their life stories, interests, preferences, and even get to know their family members.
Beyond providing medical care, Buurtzorg aims to make patients' lives meaningful, and to help return them to autonomous living. Essentially, Buurtzorg strives to recognize the humanity of their patients, and in doing so, their nurses feel a deeper sense of purpose, leading to greater fulfillment, happiness, and astounding productivity.
"Clients and nurses love Buurtzorg. Only eight years after its founding, its market share has reached 60 percent. Financially, the results are stellar, too. One 2009 study found that Buurtzorg requires, on average, only 40 percent of the care hours needed by a more conventional approach, because patients become self-sufficient much faster. Emergency hospital admissions have been cut by a third, and the average hospital stay of a Buurtzorg patient is shorter. It’s estimated that the Dutch social security system would save $2 billion per year if the entire home-care industry adopted Buurtzorg’s operations model." - strategy + business
While Buurtzorg models many remarkable approaches to management and culture, it's the values of human care and connection that act as the common thread. Not only are their patients and nurses more emotionally fulfilled, but they're also reaching their joint goal of empowerment more quickly and cost-effectively than the more soul-less, systemized models we're used to.
Essentially any company can implement the high-touch, humane theories of work that Bock, Grant and Laloux have proven effective.
How could your company connect your team with your customers to help them experience the humanity of their work efforts?
Your solution could range from having your team read customer letters, to interviewing customers on the phone, to sitting down with them in their day-to-day environments and experiencing how your product or service enhances their lives.
It might sound like a time investment, but if Bock, Grant and Laloux are right, it should result in a strong qualitative and quantitative ROI.