The Five-minute Morale and Productivity Booster

We love to hear from our customers at Gemba Academy. Sometimes it’s about things we can do better. Customer requests for new topics for our learning library are an important input to our plans. Perhaps the best is hearing about our customers’ success. Stories of customers using our online learning platform to start or to expand their continuous improvement efforts always gives us a boost. The day seems brighter and to go by faster whenever colleague shares appreciative customer feedback.

How to Boost Employee Motivation and Productivity in Five Minutes

It was interesting to find an article this week which supported this personal experience of being boosted by customer stories. A Knowledge@Wharton article supported this with research and introduced a “nano tool”

“A way to increase motivation and productivity by showing your employees the positive difference their work makes on the lives of others.”

Research showed that people significantly improved productivity after one five-minute interaction with people who benefit from the work they were doing, or through the organization’s products and services. People developed stronger belief in the significance of their work When they customers and end users expressed appreciation. These benefits held up even when this interaction is virtual rather than face to face.

Putting a Face on Task Significance in Radiology

One would think that healthcare workers would be people who are some of the most aware of task significance. And yet there are stories of doctors with poor bedside manner and low empathy. Some ancillary services may not interact with patients. Among the examples, the article included some surprising results from research with radiologists who had no patient interaction

“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% improvement in diagnostic findings”

With results like these, it would seem that national health services, healthcare regulators and outcomes-conscious health systems would mandate adding patient photos to every consequential healthcare task. From a purely profit-driven point of view, why wouldn’t insurance companies mandate this? Better diagnostic findings are bound to lead to reduced errors, complications and cost.

How to Show Task Significance in Thankless Jobs

Related studies found that people in jobs where they see the impact of their work on other people, such as engineers, salespeople, customer service representatives, nurses, medical technicians, police officers and firefighters, all achieve higher job performance with quick reminders of task significance.

People who are prosocial and have a strong desire to serve others naturally gain a bigger boost from customer appreciation. In contrast, the study found people who work hard whether or not their work benefited others received a much smaller boost. Presumably these people are motivated by other factors.

But what about jobs where the impact one has on others isn’t as clear? Or jobs where customer appreciation is distant and indirect at best? The authors of the study suggest that employers can use corporate charity or community service efforts. These also create this human connection and enable people to experience task significance.

Tasking Customers with Showing Task Significance

The article outlines four steps for this nano tool. First, identify the beneficiaries of your team’s work who haven’t yet given their feedback. Second, invite them in virtually or in person to share their positive stories. Third, keep finding stories to make this routine. Fourth, ask team members to share stories of making a difference.

Step zero is missing. This is to explain to customers why it’s important to for employees to hear stories of their success with the company’s products or services. Some customers might be enthusiastic fans who are eager to share. But the benefits from showing task significance to employees should ultimately return to the customer. Proud, motivated, productive and customer-minded employees are bound to provide better service to them.

And let’s add step five. Complete the feedback loop. Have employees share stories with customers of how hearing from customers improved their life and work.

Reminding Lean Leaders of Task Significance

Lean leaders empower, support and coach their people. In a way, they serve their internal customers as servant leaders. If so, perhaps leaders can use reminders of task significance to motivate lean leadership behaviors.

In some ways, this reminder of task significance is already part of many daily lean leadership practices. A team’s huddle board often includes a section on customer feedback or team member recognition. It could be a set time in the agenda to express appreciation. But perhaps lean leaders at all levels could make it part of their standard work to bring stories from internal customers.

An area manager (tier 3) could invite a team leader (tier 1) to spend five minutes sharing their experience as a customer. They would tell how their group leader (tier 2) or other support staff helped them do their job better. This would fit easily into a tier meeting agenda. However, unlike most daily management system practices, I recommend trying this top down from the CEO.

1 Comment

  1. Chris Goglia

    September 23, 2020 - 4:29 pm
    Reply

    This is a really interesting post and makes a lot of sense. I feel I am the same way. I used to go on mission trips to rebuild houses that were ravished by natural disaster. When the work started dragging on and became a pain to do during the middle of the week, the home owner would swing by and admire how we were helping them. That was definitely a morale booster for me just seeing someone appreciate the work we were doing for them. It gave myself and the rest of the group that energy to finish what ever else needed to be done. Receiving a “thank you” is always nice but to physically see the appreciation and progress does wonders for morale.

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