How to Motivate Just About Anybody

Possibly the world’s worst job…

Outbound telemarketing

Trying to sell something to people over the phone

Cold calling

It doesn’t have a single thing going for it.

Adam Grant studied a group of students who did it for a living.

Their job was to raise money for a University.  To phone its affluent alumni and persuade them to part with their hard earned cash.  To pay for sponsorships for new (far less affluent) students.

Hard work

Unpleasant work

One task

One short standardised script

And a whopping great rejection rate.

At one desk somebody had put up a hand written sign:

“Doing a good job here is like wetting your pants in a dark suit, you get a warm feeling but nobody notices.”

Staff turnover was 100% in 2 months; Grant was not studying the most motivated group in the world.

How do you motivate the unmotivated?

Grant asked a bunch of experts, consultants and Fortune 500 managers “How would you motivate this group?  What would you do?” Then he tested their advice:

Grant tested them all, and not one of them made a damn of difference.

The 5-minute intervention that boosted productivity by 400%

Then genius struck, Grant realised that inspiration was the key, give a clear sense of purpose to the outbound callers and make them feel that their work was worthwhile.

Now this shouldn’t have been too difficult, after all the work that these outbound callers were doing was hugely worthwhile.  They were collecting money for scholarships, to educate the needy.  A very real cause.

So Grant set up a test and control group and asked the managers to tell the test group how important their work was.

That didn’t work either.

The 5-minute intervention that boosted productivity by 400% (take 2)

Grant tried again, but this time instead of managers he brought in some of the scholarship students who were benefiting from the scholarships.  He got them to explain how important the fund-raising was for them personally.  For 5 short minutes.

The results were astounding…

  • The test group tripled the amount of time they spent on outbound calls
  • They doubled the amount of potential donors they spoke to
  • They increased donations collected from $500 to $2,000 per week

What Grant proved in that call centre (and everywhere else he tried) is that:

If you can show people how their work helps others it does the most astounding things for their morale and motivation.

Helping others makes us feel good.  We are natural-born Samaritans

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Good Samaritan

If you have 30 minutes listen to Adam Grant’s findings here

Image by Ewan-M


  1. Hello James

    You have shared a fundamental truth of the human condition. We will put more into that which occurs as noble than that which does not occur as noble. We will relate to the job at hand very differently depending on the story that goes with the job.

    Whilst a great attempt it made to rub out/extinguish our social sense and cultivate competitiveness in us through school and beyond, this attempt does not work fully (unless you are a profesional economist/banker) because we live in social groups. Put differently, if there is a design to us then it is more likely to be towards being social as opposed to being not-social. We will do the most amazing things for the people who touch our hearts. Just think about the $700k raised for the bus monitor in the USA.


  2. Hi James,
    Looks like was able to build real empathy and give the callers real stories to tell that they believed in. Way better than scripts. Perhaps, call centre directors should pay attention.



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