As a small boy growing up in Scotland, one of Andrew Carnegie’s hobbies was raising rabbits. Soon after convincing his parents to allow him to keep the pets, young Andrew confronted the many responsibilities that came with that privilege. In particular, he quickly realized the enormous time involved in feeding the prolific animals. The future industrialist realized at once that he needed to recruit some help.
Having rabbits around made the Carnegie backyard a popular gathering place for little Andrew and his friends. Hiring his buddies to help feed the growing brood would undoubtedly make Andrew’s life much easier, but he lacked the funds necessary to pay them. So, employing the keen business sense that would eventually make him one of the wealthiest people of his time, Andrew struck a shrewd deal with his companions.
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In exchange for gathering dandelions and clover for his pets to eat, Andrew promised to name a soon-to-be-born bunny after each helper. In his autobiography, Carnegie jokingly calls this hard bargain, “the poorest return ever made to labor.”
Or was it?
Researchers recognize that the sound of our own names triggers distinctive activity in our brains. In other words, we respond differently when we hear our own names than we do when we hear other people’s monikers. In fact, the reaction is similar to the brain activity present when we form judgments about our personal qualities. Simply put: we like to hear our names, especially in a positive light.
This personal bias provides leaders a special way to inspire people. And in the current business environment, when many organizations are freezing salaries and cutting perks, understanding the positive impact that hearing their names has on people offers you a cost-free method of motivating employees.
No, I’m not suggesting that you name your unborn children after praiseworthy staff members. But the list of things you could name after them is endless.
For example, you might name a timesaving procedure for the worker who discovered it (the Karen Maneuver).
Or, in lieu of setting aside a parking spot reserved with the generic sign “Employee of the Month,” you could temporarily name the driveway leading to the parking lot for the honored worker (Michael Jones Lane). Or briefly name a conference room, highly traveled hallway, or the cafeteria—whatever—after some deserving contributor.
Carnegie continued to acknowledge the power of bestowing naming rights throughout his career. When a philanthropic Carnegie established a pension fund for families of fallen heroes, he put his former employee Charles Taylor in charge. Taylor refused to accept a salary for the charitable endeavor. So, when Taylor urged him to donate to Lehigh University’s building fund, Carnegie secretly contacted the university and promised to pay for a building on the condition they name it “Taylor Hall.” He delighted in watching Taylor’s protest, but insisted his friend’s alma mater name the building after him.
Andrew Carnegie recognized that money is not the only way to inspire workers. So if you’re looking for a proven method for motivating your employees, take a tip from Carnegie. Simply use their names.
George Brymer is author of Vital Integrities and the creator of The Leading from the Heart Workshop®.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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