Deep down inside of us, we all search for signficance- doing something that makes a difference – something that leaves a legacy. The challenge is for companies to connect with this yearning.

A very interesting study was conducted by Wharton’s Adam Grant at a university fundraising organization which illustrates the point.

A sample of employees read stories from other employees describing what they perceived were the personal benefits of the job, including financial and the skills development. . Another group read stories from the beneficiaries of the fundraising, who described how the scholarships they obtained from the organization had a positive impact on their lives. A third group of employees did not read any stories. Employees were told not to talk about or share what they had read with any other callers.

The results -employees in the Personal Benefit and Control groups secured the same number of pledges and raised the same amount of money as they had before the intervention.

Meanwhile employees in the Task Significance Group earned more than twice the number of weekly pledges and more than twice the amount of weekly donation money (from an average of $1,288 to an average of $3,130).

All Medtronic employees know that ‘every 4 seconds, the life of someone, somewhere in the world is improved by a Medtronic product or therapy. So, every Medtronic employee is in no doubt that what he or she does at work every day makes a real, positive difference.

Wikipedia and the Olympics movement have also tapped into to one of most people’s strongest values – ie to make a difference, to be significant. Thousands of unpaid volunteers have built Wikipedia, arguably one of the greatest collection of knowledge and information ever assembled. Interestingly the leader CEO Jimmy Wales appears to walk the talk when he said in an interview with the Sunday Times that he wasn’t interested in cash “it’s a lot less interesting than having an impact on the world.”

Another example is how Danny Boyle inspired a team of over 70,000 volunteers to create one of the greatest shows on earth ie the Olympics.

Is this the difference that makes the difference in a person’s motivation?