More about Give and Take by Adam Grant

Yesterday I commented about Give and Take by Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton who teaches organizational psychology.

When Grant was a graduate student (at the University of Michigan), he was asked to help people at the university’s fund-raising call center raise more money. They call alumni, asking for money. The person who ran the center had tried the usual motivational tactics, such as offering bonuses. They hadn’t worked.

Grant noticed that most of the money being raised went for scholarships. He tried various ways of making the call center employees aware that the money they raised helped students directly. The most effective way turned out to be a 5-minute meeting with a scholarship recipient. This had a staggering effect:

The average caller doubled in calls per hour and minutes on the phone per week . . . Revenue quintipled: callers averaged $412 [per week] before meeting the scholarship recipient and more than $2000 afterward.

A huge effect — and a useful huge effect. And one that is not even hinted at in countless introductory psychology books. Notice that physical conditions of the job and the “physical” payoff (the salary) didn’t change. All that changed was employees’s mental models of their job.

I conclude that people are far more motivated by a desire to help others than you would ever guess from reading psychology textbooks — and, even more, from reading economics textbooks. Grant says nothing about this, at least in the book, but I’d guess that the employees were considerably happier at their jobs as well. You might think that there has been so much research on job design that there were no big effects left to be discovered. You’d be wrong.

3 Responses to “More about Give and Take by Adam Grant”

  1. MikeW Says:

    Well my inner skeptic is saying, is this just another version of the Hawthorne Effect? I.e. their productivity improved simply because they knew someone was trying to improve their productivity.

    He says he tried things that didn’t work, so maybe it’s not the same effect. A key distinction would be if the productivity gains persisted long term. At Hawthorne, it always fell back to baseline eventually.

    Seth: Lots of things didn’t improve productivity. It’s not the Hawthorne effect.

  2. garymar Says:

    Doesn’t an economics education decrease altruistic behaviors?

  3. jason Says:

    motivation is the result of specific mental states. maybe meeting the scholarship recipients made it easier for the cold-callers to invoke the recipient’s desires and ‘borrow’ their motivation? the increase in motivation/effectiveness may come from something as simple as asking and answering the question “what would i do if i were a scholarship recipient? empathy is a powerful tool.

    in any case, interesting.