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How to Inspire Your Team: Change Your Purpose from “Why” to “Who”

How to Inspire Your Team: Change Your Purpose from “Why” to “Who”

Many business leaders think the key to inspiring their team is with a bold and lofty purpose that answers the question, “why do we do the work that we do?” In his new TEDx talk, business thought leader David Burkus argues that “why” matters far less than we think it does. Instead, he says, the simplest yet most potent way to inspire your team is by helping them to find an answer to the question, “who?”

An organizational psychologist and a bestselling author, David is recognized as one of the world’s leading business thinkers. He is a skilled researcher and inspiring communicator whose forward-thinking ideas and books help leaders and teams do their best work ever.

In his most recent TEDx talk, David flips the narrative on purpose. After decades of research, he learned that people are less inspired by a compelling answer to “why” and far more motivated by a clear answer to the question, “who is served by the work that we do?”

David gave several notable examples of “who” at work from the biggest accounting firm in the world, KPMG, to university call centres asking for donations.

University call centres, David said, have a 400% annual turnover rate. This means in any given year the entire team quits every three months. Researchers looking into this phenomenon wanted to see if they could help the student workers in a call centre feel more connected to their work by showing them the difference they were making.

The researchers brought in a student to meet with some of these workers. This student had received scholarship funds raised by that call centre, and the workers got to hear how receiving funds those funds made a positive impact on their life. “They got to meet their answer to the question, ‘who is served by the work that we do?’” David said.

When the researchers followed up a month later, they learned that meeting had a big impact.  The workers who were able to meet this student worked twice as hard — doubling their number of calls, doubling the number of minutes they spent on each call, and upping their weekly revenue from $400 to more than $2000 in donations.

They knew the “why” before this meeting, but now they had met the “who”. This provided them with pro-social motivation, David said, the desire to protect and promote the well-being of others. Pro-social, he continued, is what companies are missing in their existing “why” purpose statements. If you want to motivate teams, then show them who is benefiting from the work that they do.

Watch David’s whole fascinating TEDx talk below and learn why making the switch from “why” to “who” is the key to success in the future of work.

Contact us to learn more about David and how his forward-thinking ideas are changing how companies approach innovation, collaboration, and productivity.