- Employees are inspired more by stories about their peers than stories about their bosses.
- Employees respond well to stories showing their peers' values.
- As a leader, you must work to understand and inspire your team.
Company leaders often tell stories about themselves in an effort to get new employees on board with their company values and culture. However, a study published in the journal Academy of Management revealed that newcomers who were exposed to inspirational stories of company leaders were no more committed to the organization's values, and no more helpful to co-workers, than those who had not heard the stories.
Instead, employers are better off sharing anecdotes about the rank and file. The research found that new workers are much more likely to be inspired by stories about their peers.
"Stories about high-level organizational members who might be seen as organizational representatives are perhaps not as effective at influencing some important and desired newcomer behaviors as was once supposed," Sean Martin, the study's author and a professor at Boston College's Carroll School of Management, wrote in the study. "Stories that one hears about peers, co-workers or others at one's own organizational level [prove] to be influential means through which organizational values are embedded in newcomers' behaviors."
Martin said positive stories about high-level members may be useful for making the company's values and norms noticeable. [Read related article: Making a Great Impression on Your New Employee]
"But to illustrate the ways that values should guide behavior and encourage others to act in values-driven ways, stories about characters at closer social distance may be more effective," Martin said in a statement.
For the study, Martin analyzed the relationship among four different types of stories to which new employees at a large company were exposed and their subsequent behavior at work. The 290 newcomers were trainees of a large technology company with a reputation as a values-driven organization, where employees work hard and go above and beyond to help clients and one another.
The participants were divided into groups and told stories with one of four themes:
- High-ranking executives who upheld company values
- High-ranking officers who violated company values
- Lower-ranking employees who upheld company values
- Lower-ranking employees who violated company values
Over the next two months, the participants were periodically emailed stories that were shared in their particular group, in an effort to refresh their recollections. After two months, the participants were surveyed on how helpful and devious their group members were.
Martin found that members of the group that heard stories about high-ranking officers with high values, and those who didn't hear any stories at all, received the same helpfulness ratings. However, both of those groups received lower helpfulness scores than the group that heard stories about lower-ranking employees with high values.
"Stories about high-level members were more likely to convey the [company's] formally espoused values, but the values-supporting and values-opposed stories about lower-level members appear to be more impactful on behaviors," Martin wrote.
The research also revealed that members of the group that heard stories about high-ranking executives with high values had the highest deviousness ratings. Examples of being devious included "took property from work without permission," "neglected to follow instructions" and "intentionally worked more slowly than he or she could have worked.
Martin said that hearing inspiring stories about company leaders actually caused employees to judge their peers more critically.
"When newcomers hear stories about high-level characters acting in values-upholding ways, it may lead them to compare their peers to a very high behavioral standard that is difficult to achieve and lead them to evaluate peers' behavior stringently,” Martin wrote.
Based on the study's results, Martin believes that employers would be best served by telling new employees stories about their peers.
"Organizations invest significant resources to socialize newcomers and embed in them the desired aspects of the culture," Martin wrote. "Cultural elements such as narratives might be used more strategically to increase the likelihood that organizational values are embedded in newcomers at the behavioral level."
How do you inspire your employees?
In addition to sharing stories about other members of the company, there are some simple ways to inspire your employees to work hard and remain loyal to your organization.
How do you know when a team needs inspiration?
Your team members may display some signs when they are unmotivated. For example, a decline in productivity could indicate that they need inspiration. Unmotivated employees may also take more time off, come into work late or leave early. Another sign a team member might need inspiration is that their personality seems to change – for example, maybe an employee who had always been agreeable starts pushing back on all of your requests. These could be signs that you need to change some of the ways you motivate them.
What are the best ways to inspire your team?
Everyone wants to be heard, so interact with and listen to your team. You should allow them to get to know you, and you should take the time to get to know them, too. Take a few minutes to find out their interests and hobbies. When employees feel like you care about them, they feel better about their jobs and are more productive.
You should understand your employees' personalities and strengths. Meet your employees where they are; if an employee does not like to talk in front of people, limit how often that happens until you can work with that person to make them more comfortable. Allow your employees to display their strengths while you work on them with their weaknesses.
Clear communication is crucial in inspiring and motivating your team. When your employees feel like you are not being forthright, they may feel dissatisfied. If your instructions are not clear, your team becomes confused and uncertain about the intended outcome. This may lead to frustration or a task that is not completed properly.