Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An Easy Way to Start Loving Your Job a Little More

My good friend Adam Grant is one of those people that you would love to hate, if he just weren't so humble and kind. Adam is astonishingly brilliant and seemingly good at everything - especially publishing fascinating research. LOTS of it. If he had an ounce of ego, I'd resent him. But he just loves what he does, and attacks it with an exuberant, playful spirit. He always seems a tad surprised at his own success. To know Adam is to be swept up in the wake of his enthusiasm. You can't not love him.

My favorite of Adam's studies was an experiment he did with telefund employees. These are the college students who call alums to ask for donations. It's tedious, frustrating work, and employee turnover is enormous. But Adam wondered what would happen if he tweaked one little thing at the telefund. In short, he invited some of the employees to have a five-minute conversation with a student who had received scholarship money from the telefund's efforts. In other words, they actually got to interact with a person that benefited from their unpleasant work.

The result? You won't believe this. A 400% increase in donations solicited by the employees who talked with the scholarship recipient.

But the effect only lasted for a day or two, right? Wrong. Employees who had interacted with the beneficiary of their work were still performing at a much higher level two months later. (You can read about this research in Harvard Business Review here.)

In an earlier post, I mentioned Daniel Brooks' New York Times article encouraging college grads not to go out and seek their own happiness, but rather to forget themselves and focus on helping other people. That same idea was one of the huge takeaways I gained from our zookeeper study: having a calling is about devoting yourself to service in a worthy cause - not about self-gratification.

Adam's study puts a huge exclamation mark on this principle. When we orient our work around serving people, our performance shoots up remarkably. And we start having a little more fun.

So, if you are one of the many who feel perplexed about finding your professional calling, try out Adam's experiment. Seek out conversations with the people you are helping. Focus on how much fun it is to be of service. Some very solid research says that you are bound to notice a big difference.

And who knows, you might just find some new clues to your professional calling.

1 comment:

  1. This is the very core of motivation, IMO. I have a colleague who works in leper colonies in India. She takes potential board members there, and almost as soon as they step off the plane, she hands them a pocket knife. They then spend a good deal of their time right in the colony, digging out paralyzed, infected wounds for people whom their own will not touch. They talk to people hungry for human touch while they provide a life-giving service, and she says, "then I've got them forever." It is life-changing to be face-to-face with the recipient of your freely-given service, and it's the guiding principle of my own work. To try to work without the vision of what it is you truly do is to become an automaton. Perhaps the misunderstanding that the six-digit salary will bring a feeling of success is a huge distraction to our real success.