How to build a committed workforce?

Updated: Apr 28, 2010, 20:30 PM IST

Washington: Asking workers to reflect on their organisation`s history can help build a committed workforce, according to a new American research.

The study, titled "Company, country, connections: Counterfactual origins increase organizational commitment, patriotism and social investment," was conducted by researchers from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

It will be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science.

Author Adam Galinsky, Morris and Alice Kaplan professor of ethics and decision in management, said: "Institutions that can communicate a compelling historical narrative often inspire a special kind of commitment among employees. It is this dedication that directly affects a company’s success and is critical to creating a strong corporate legacy."

Galinsky, along with Kellogg professors Hal Ersner-Hershfield and Brayden King and Haas professor Laura Kray explored how reflecting counterfactually on an institution’s origins - that is, thinking about "what if" scenarios - can have a bearing on employees`` actions and commitment.

Their findings show that when employees are asked to think about an alternative universe where their company did not come into being, they come to see their company``s current circumstance and future trajectory in a more positive light.

This "near-loss" mentality increases their commitment toward the institution and overall morale.

The researchers point to FedEx as an example.

The courier service successfully positions its origin story by leading people to reflect on what would have happened had FedEx founder Fred Smith chosen not to fly to a Las Vegas casino one fateful night in 1973 to help his troubled company meet payroll.

King said: "The result for FedEx is a deep employee appreciation and the recognition by top magazines as one of the best companies to work for.

"The key to generating these sentiments is reminding employees how things could have turned out differently for their company."

Lead author Ersner-Hershfield said: "Businesses can better position themselves to prosper when they clearly articulate their origin stories to employees.

"In order for companies to effectively communicate their narrative, they should ask themselves whether there were key meetings, events or people during the economic crisis, without which the company’s outlook would have taken a turn for the worse. Focusing on how things could have turned out differently fosters a positive view of the current circumstances among employees and thus generates an increased sense of commitment."

Ersner-Hershfield added: "Our study demonstrates that this process is a universal one, applying also to countries and personal connections."

According to Galinsky, these results suggest "that this link is an endemic aspect of the human mind: Ruminating on origin stories and reflecting back on what might have happened rather than what actually took place leads to increased commitment."