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Grow Your Business Your Team

What-If Thinking Builds Employee Commitment

Encouraging employees to imagine how your company might have turned out differently won’t necessarily lead to water-cooler grousing. In fact, researchers say, it may well make them more committed to your company. And that can pay off at the bank.

A new study finds that building a more committed workforce can be as simple as asking employees to reflect on their company’s history.

“Institutions that can communicate a compelling historical narrative often inspire a special kind of commitment among employees,” said study team member Adam Galinsky at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “It is this dedication that directly affects a company’s success and is critical to creating a strong corporate legacy .”

Thinking about “what if” scenarios can influence employees’ actions and commitment. When employees are asked to think about an alternate universe where their company had not come into being, they come to see their company’s current circumstances and future trajectory in a more positive light, the researchers found. This “near-loss” mentality increases their commitment toward the company and their overall morale.

The researchers held out up FedEx as an example. The company asks its employees to think about what might have happened if FedEx founder Fred Smith hadn’t flown to a Las Vegas casino in the dead of night in 1973 to help his troubled company meet its payroll.

That story about the company’s beginnings has resulted in deep employee appreciation and the recognition by major magazines of FedEx as one of the best companies to work for, the researchers found.

“Businesses can better position themselves to prosper when they clearly articulate their origin stories to employees,” said Hal Ersner-Hershfield,one of Galinsky’s colleagues at Northwestern University “In order for companies to effectively communicate their narrative, they should ask themselves whether there were key meetings, events or people during an economic crisis, without which the company’s outlook would have taken a turn for the worse.”

Once a business identifies those key turning points, the study authors said, it should make reference to them in its origin story with an emphasis on how things could have turned out differently. The result, their research showed, is a renewed sense of devotion that is an inherent factor in an institution’s overall success and crucial to its ability to prosper.

•    Engaged Employees Help Increase Bottom Line
•    Low-Cost Benefits Can Bring Valuable Employee Loyalty
•    Distracted Workers Cost U.S. Businesses $650 Billion a Year

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on twitter@nedbsmith.