Service In Practice

A business professor’s study shows the benefits of illustrating cause and effect.

Yun Ma

By Yun Ma


The New York Times Magazine recently profiled Adam Grant, a business professor at The Wharton School who’s credited with reviving the field of job management. The article, “Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?,” is a fascinating portrait of an academic thinker and his studies, many of which examine the practice of giving and helping others in the workplace.

The piece chronicles Grant’s breakthrough study, an experiment he conducted at the fundraising call-center for the University of Michigan. As many in the credit union industry may understand, call centers can be difficult places to work. In this case, employees were often subjected to verbal abuse and the rejection rate clocked in at a bruising 93%. Morale among the staffers was low, yet what they did served an important need as much of the money raised was used to fund student scholarships.

As a grad student at the school, Grant proposed a new approach that seemed intuitive and simple, yet would produce far-reaching effects. He brought in a student who had received a scholarship from the funds raised through the call center. Over the course of a 10 minute break, the callers listened to the student talk about the scholarship’s impact in his life and how it enabled him to work at Teach for America.  

As it turned out, putting the callers in direct contact with the effects of their work had amazing results. As writer Susan Dominus explains, “A month after the testimonial, the workers were spending 142% more time on the phone and bringing in 171% more revenue, even though they were using the same script. In a subsequent study, the revenues soared by more than 400%.”

In the credit union industry, we often advocate the ideals of serving others. Employees are taught to put these values into practice by being good listeners, educating members, and providing top-tier service, yet they may not always have the chance to see all the good that is accomplished through these efforts.

Taking a cue from Grant’s study, a simple way to improve employee results is to connect them directly with the effects of their work. You can share member stories, host social gatherings with both employees and members, or take employees to see startups and other businesses the credit union has financed.

A little encouragement goes a long way. As the article summarizes, “It was almost as if the good feelings had bypassed the callers’ conscious cognitive processes and gone straight to a more subconscious source of motivation. They were more driven to succeed, even if they could not pinpoint the trigger for that drive.”


April 5, 2013



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