Who are you actually helping? Put a face to your primary objective!

11. October 2021 - Morten Flørnæss Kerrn, Client Director, Mannaz Share

Research indicates that better results are achieved, and people are more motivated if they understand how their efforts contribute to making a difference. Read about the research findings and get some tips on generating more motivation for everyone’s benefit.

Om Mannaz, kurser og konsulenthus

Don’t look at quantitative evaluations and satisfaction metrics to achieve better results and greater employee engagement. Instead, invite the service users into the organisation. When employees can see the impact of their efforts, it automatically affects motivation, development, and learning.

To focus on the primary objective means focusing on the difference made to the public and the community. When service users are invited into the organisation, employees’ concept of work is transformed from detailed job descriptions, performance indicators, and processes into real-life flesh-and-blood people. You gain a fundamental understanding of the very tangible difference your team makes.

Research indicates the same effect is achievable by engaging employees in conversations about the primary objective. The focus should be on the difference employees believe they make daily, preferably with specific examples and experiences with citizens, and what impact they feel passionate making with their role.

This article will provide you with a solid approach to engage in dialogue with citizens and examples of how it has been implemented in practice.


Communicating with citizens: A solid method

How do you invite citizens into the organisation, and in effect put a face to the efforts being made? Start by prioritising time to communicate across the platforms you already use. This could be the annual employee seminar, the management seminar, health and safety days, local committee meetings or professional forums. Use the plan below at seminars or meetings.

During the process, participants conduct interviews with each other and preferably also with citizens. If possible, schedule some interviews in advance. Interviews with citizens can also be done over the phone.


1. Dividing participants into groups

Give each employee group a question that relates to the primary objective, in terms of the impact made by the team to citizens. For example:

  • Group 1: “What difference do we make to citizens?”
  • Group 2: “What do citizens consider to be the most important aspect of our work?”
  • 3: “What do we contribute to the local community?”
  • Group 4: “Where should we focus on professional development, to create a better process for the public?”


2. Conducting interviews with employees and citizens

The groups’ must then conduct interviews with colleagues from other groups and citizens in line with their research questions. Individual groups don’t need to have strong views about their specific set of research questions. Groups need to plan interview guides and interview citizens and colleagues from other groups about their views on the research questions.


3. Data processing

After the groups have conducted the interviews, it’s time to process the collated information. Ask the groups to develop three ideas based on the interview data, addressing the department’s concerns relevant to the specific ‘research question’.


4. Presentation and summary – have a plan

It’s essential to plan how to process and follow up on this effort with work committees, management, and potentially local teams.

Let the groups present their contributions and let a lively dialogue develop. You can facilitate this by, for example, having the groups present their work to each other, or put up posters so people can circulate as if it were an exhibition.

Through this initiative, employees gain insight about the people they are helping and in which way they are helping, as well as improving engagement and outcomes.


Dialogue with users reduces error rate and increases efficiency


Greater purpose, fewer errors through dialogue at an Italian hospital

A hospital in Italy conducted a large-scale research study on the effect of nurses hearing service users’ feedback on the difference nurses made to someone’s life and health situation. The nurses also communicated with colleagues about the impact the feedback highlighted, and they felt like they were making a real difference to service users.

The research indicated that nurses who participated in guided dialogues with service users subsequently experienced a greater sense of purpose and work motivation. The nurses delivered better quality of care, made notably less mistakes, and worked more efficiently (Bellé 2012).


Improving satisfaction levels at Danish municipality

In Favrskov Municipality’s department for Traffic and Roads, only 66 % of employees felt they thrived at work. One of the first steps to improving satisfaction levels was the creation of a panel including citizens who were invited to participate in conversations about why and how the department supports the public.

The satisfaction levels, when measured again, had risen to 84%. The rise resulted from generating new approaches for collaboration in completing assignments.


Embracing the primary objective after communication with the Zealand Regional Cancer Unit

A further example is provided by a Zealand cancer unit. Employees were asked about who they helped and how they helped them. The nurses agreed that effective treatment and the relief of patients are central to the department’s primary objective and their role as healthcare professionals.

This opened up conversations about efficiency and ‘effective treatment’, as something motivational and relevant, rather than efficiency being linked to senior management initiatives divorced from reality.


Reference sources:
  • Bellé, Nicola; Experimental Evidence on the Relationship between Public Service Motivation and Job Performance, Public Administration Review, 73: 143-153
  • Bellé, Nicola; Leading to Make a Difference: A Field Experiment on the Performance Effects of Transformational
  • Leadership, Perceived Social Impact, and Public Service Motivation; Journal of Public Administration Research, June 2013: 109-136
  • Graff, Heidi; Molkte, Hanne V.; Social Kapital i organisationer [Social capital in organisations], Dansk psykologisk forlag, 2014
  • Christensen, Morten; Seneca, Anders ‘Kend din kerneopgave’ [Know your primary objective], 2012, Gyldendal
An alternative version of the article is published on lederweb.dk
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Morten Flørnæss Kerrn

Morten educates leaders, consultants, and specialists in the management of both people, processes, and projects. Additionally, he specializes in distance management and virtual facilitation. Throughout the years, Morten has been focusing on leaders in the public sector and the development of public organisations. He has a background of emplyment in government agencies and has through the last 8 years worked as an external consultant for municipalities, regions, and government. Morten is also an expert in coaching and process facilitation.

Contact Morten at mfk@mannaz.com or 5139 6052.