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Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love

Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love

4.7 3
by David Sturt

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Great work lives inside all of us.

The question is: Do we make the contributions we're capable of? Is our best work getting out there? Breaking through? Creating a difference the world loves?

We've long been told our ability to succeed depends on our IQ, talent, education level, gender, job title, or



Great work lives inside all of us.

The question is: Do we make the contributions we're capable of? Is our best work getting out there? Breaking through? Creating a difference the world loves?

We've long been told our ability to succeed depends on our IQ, talent, education level, gender, job title, or when and where we were born. Great Work turns that conventional thinking on its head to reveal that innovation can come from anyone, anywhere.

Especially you.

With insights from the largest-ever study of award-winning work, Great Work reveals five practical skills that will help you ideate, innovate, and deliver work that gets noticed and appreciated.

Great Work is filled with stories of real people in real jobs who did what was asked and then added something extra--a personal touch all their own--to deliver better-than-asked-for results. Their stories will inspire you to write your own page in the book of human progress.


"Great Work has me believing anyone can deliver a difference. I predict that 'making a difference people love' will embed itself in our lexicon for decades to come. -- STEPHEN M. R. COVEY, AUTHOR OF THE BESTSELLER THE SPEED OF TRUST

"I recommend it to everyone, from every background, who has dreams of accomplishing great work." -- BARBARA CORCORAN, REAL ESTATE MOGUL, "SHARK" ON ABC'S SHARK TANK

"We all know difference makers who, in small ways, make a profound impact on how we work and live. This book helps us celebrate them." -- TOM POST, MANAGING EDITOR, FORBES MEDIA

"Great Work is a great work. It educates, inspires, and offers specific tools any employee or leader can use." -- DAVE ULRICH, PROFESSOR, ROSS SCHOOL OF BUSINESS, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN; PARTNER, THE RBL GROUP

"It takes passion, risk, and foresight to think beyond the status quo and see problems as opportunities. This book is inspiration for doing exactly that." -- KARIM RASHID, INTERNATIONALLY RENOWNED DESIGNER

"Outstanding! A must read. Great Work will give you a whole new toolkit for success." -- LARRY KING, LEGENDARY INTERNATIONAL RADIO AND TELEVISION BROADCASTER

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McGraw-Hill Education
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McGraw-Hill Education

Copyright © 2014 O.C. Tanner Company
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-181835-3




Anyone can be a difference maker. That said, there is something surprising about the way we think about ourselves when we're in a difference-making mode. Our mindset shifts from seeing ourselves as workers with an assignment to crank out to seeing ourselves as people with a difference to make. This shift is easy to identify in a person we interviewed named Ed.

In the spring of 1986, Ed landed his first grown-up job: selling airtime for a local AM radio station. His new position was anything but glamorous. Ed's colleagues at the station, where he had begun a year earlier emptying trash cans, congratulated him on his "step down" from janitor to sales. By all appearances, Ed was just another eager upstart: young and inexperienced, with no client list to speak of except the phone book his boss had handed him when he was hired, along with the words, "Go get'em."

In our interview with Ed, he shared with us how he did what every John, Dick, Harry, Jane, Jill, and Mary does when he or she first gets a break in sales. He pounded the pavement (or drove it, rather—in a red 1962 VW Beetle with no air conditioning and the heater stuck on high). It was the dead of summer, and the windows were stuck shut. Ed told us, "Day after day, I sweltered in my car and hawked the benefits of radio to prospective clients in treeless strip malls and asphalt-and-stucco industrial complexes. I had a recurring nightmare that I wouldn't meet my quota." Ed sold plumbers and dry cleaners on the virtues of radio advertising rather than using newspaper, billboards, or TV. Months went by, and Ed had no contracts of any value (just a small carpet store or two), while all the senior reps at the station kicked back on the gravy train of well-established client relationships.

Great work didn't seem possible here—not when the old guard had all the big clients and the new guard had no clue. But then Ed attended a sales seminar. And while most of the information there was merely sales shtick, there was a simple story, told by one of the presenters, that transformed the way Ed thought about his seemingly dead-end job.

As the story goes, a radio sales rep just like Ed walked into a neighborhood video store to sell some advertising. But the owner of the video store stopped him cold and said, "I'm sorry, but you'll have to come back in six months. I'm moving to a new location, and the move will take every penny I can spare. I can't waste money on radio ads telling customers to come to this store when it won't even be here in just a few weeks."

So the sales rep went back to his radio station dejected.

But something kept nagging at him: a hunch. A voice inside that said, "I can figure this out. There has to be some way radio advertising can help that store owner right now." That got him thinking differently. Or rather, thinking about how to make a difference. New ideas began to percolate, and one, in particular, grabbed hold, felt right, and got him excited. So he returned to the video store owner and said: "Here's an idea: give me your entire moving budget to spend on radio ads. We'll run a promotion offering free videos to customers if they pick the movies up at your current store and return them to your new one." The owner went nuts for the idea. The rep landed the sale, and the two of them went to work.

Did the idea make a difference?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. The overall cost of the radio campaign was a mere pittance compared to the upside. The store's customers were thrilled by the free videos, and they actually got a kick out of helping with the move. The store owner was ecstatic because 90 percent of his inventory was moved by his customers instead of a moving truck—not to mention that he no longer needed to advertise his new location because his most loyal customers had already made a visit. The radio rep landed more than just a sale; he landed a customer who saw him as a trusted marketing advisor. Of course, the station manager was equally elated to have a new longstanding client. Win. Win. Win. And win.


After hearing this success story, Ed returned to his radio station with a new energy about how he could find ways to make a difference. He didn't know exactly what that might mean. But the video-moving story had taught him something significant. "I'd been thinking about my job in such a limited, expected way," says Ed. "I'd agreed to build a client base by cold-calling businesses around town, a technique the senior reps had a monopoly on. I would always be a small fish in their pond because they owned the pond. The question was: Could I find a new way to delight customers? Could I create my own pond?"

So 24-year-old Ed, rookie radio rep, started to look for difference-making opportunities. He wanted to do more than just make a sale. He wanted to become a trusted advisor who helped businesses thrive. Ed quickly came up with a handful of good ideas for ways he could make a difference. But the most inspired, the most unexpected, and on paper the most far-fetched was his idea of going after big-budget clients who up to that point had refused to advertise on radio ever.

He started looking at different industries and making new connections, and what he learned was that there were gigantic ad budgets in food brokerage, that brokers had lucrative co-op deals with their manufacturers, and that the reason these brokers didn't buy radio ads was that they didn't think radio could give them the same measurable results as coupon-driven print ads. Hmm.

What did Ed do with all that information?

He joined the food brokers association. He made friends with brokers all over the city. He talked to prospective clients, not to make a sale initially, but to understand their business, their goals, and their advertising needs. He brainstormed ways in which radio ads could yield measurable results. He built relationships with local ad agencies. He stopped seeing other media, such as coupons and print ads, as competition to be eliminated and began to suggest that the brokers use coupons in combination with radio to get better results. He even suggested small advertising buys on other radio stations to reach customers that his station could not. In time, the days of signing little deals with the likes of Bob's Carpet Barn gave way to lucrative deals with some of the largest advertisers in the city. Ed took food brokers ideas they loved. They agreed to give radio a try. It worked. And many businesses that had long snubbed radio advertising gradually became Ed's loyal clientele, his own pond. The food brokers' sales increased. Their customer awareness improved. Their companies thrived. And their appreciation for Ed grew with every radio ad that hit the airwaves.

Three years later, Ed left the station as the number one sales rep. The veteran sales reps with their longstanding client lists had been beaten by a 27-year-old kid with a phone book who chose to make a difference.


University of Michigan professor Jane Dutton has done extensive research into what makes people like Ed rethink their roles so capably.

Back in 2001, Jane and a colleague, Amy Wrzesniewski from Yale, began to study how people in unglamorous jobs were coping with what they called "devalued work." When they tried to think of supposedly unrewarding jobs to study, they chose hospital janitors. But what they learned from their studies took them completely by surprise and changed the trajectory of their research for the coming decade.

As Jane and Amy interviewed the cleaning staff of a major hospital in the Midwest, they discovered that a certain subset of housekeepers didn't see themselves as part of the janitorial staff at all. They saw themselves as part of the professional staff, as part of the healing team. And that changed everything. These people would get to know the patients and their families and would offer support in small but important ways: a box of Kleenex here, a glass of water there, or a word of encouragement. One housekeeper reported rearranging pictures on the walls of comatose patients, with the hope that a change of scenery might have some positive effect.

As their research continued, Jane and Amy coined the term job crafting to explain what they were seeing. Job crafting means essentially this: that people often take their existing job expectations—or job descriptions—and expand them to suit their desire to make a difference. "We often get trapped into thinking about our job as a list of things to do and a list of responsibilities," says Amy. "But what if you set aside that mindset? If you could adjust what you do, whom would you start talking to, what other tasks would you take on, and whom would you work with?"

In other words, job crafters are those who do what's expected (because it's required) and then find a way to add something new to their work.

Something that delights.

Something that benefits both the giver and the receiver.

Jane told us, "So we started looking at everybody from hospital cleaners to engineers to cooks. Across the whole gambit of different kinds of work, we saw people altering the boundaries of their job descriptions in ways that made their jobs more meaningful."

But what does meaningful mean?

Jane explained, "One of the highs for us, from the research, was to see the importance of other-centered activities. People who job-craft don't just reshape their jobs to make life better for themselves, but to serve others in some beneficial way." This focus on the end result was, and is, quite profound. "As an academic," Jane said, "you are taught motivation theory, which tends to be pretty much based on self-interest. But more and more psychologists are saying, at a basic level, that we may care about self-interest, but we're also very much hardwired to connect with and serve others." It's both.

Creating results that benefit both the "me" and the "we" is at the heart of job crafting. Justin Berg, one of Jane's students who helped with many of her studies, told us, "On average, jobs aren't designed very well for experiencing meaning. First off, they are usually highly bureaucratic and one-size-fits-all. Even the way we communicate jobs is sort of boring and dry. It's just a list of responsibilities in a job description. Meaningful work typically comes from the bottom up, from employees who show initiative through job crafting to kind of put their own take on their job and find opportunities for meaning and satisfaction. Usually those opportunities involve doing things that benefit other people."

How do you see yourself? How do I see myself? Are we defined by our job descriptions? Or is there something more? Something bigger?

In a 2010 paper for the journal Organization Science, Justin and some colleagues helped identify several distinct ways in which people craft the jobs they have into more meaningful ones and thereby become more fulfilled and energized. Their findings confirmed what we were seeing in our look at people who had been rewarded for their great work. But one job-crafting technique in particular stood out from all the rest because we'd heard about it in virtually every one of our great work conversations. Justin's team called it reframing.


When Ed began to see himself as a marketing consultant with great ideas, rather than as a lowly radio sales rep, he was reframing. Reframing happens when we make a mental connection with a grander purpose of our job: its social benefit, its worth to society, its potential to make a difference. And then we act on that new perception. Thinking of the good our work can do for others, beyond our daily to-do list, helps us change how we do what we do in ways that add meaning to our work. Such reframing possibilities exist in practically any occupation. All it takes is a little effort to think beyond our to-do list to those who benefit from our work.

Sometimes the best way to see a difference is through the eyes of the person for whom the difference was made. That's why we talked to Mindi about her family's experience with a hospital janitor in Philadelphia.

It's impossible to imagine the feelings of a parent with a critically ill child. The world stops. You would do anything in your power to make things better.

Mindi and Matt knew that feeling. Their son McKay was born with only half a heart. Instead of four chambers, he had just two. To make matters worse, there was no connection between his heart and his lungs. At birth, McKay needed immediate surgery just to stay alive. Eighteen months and a second surgery later, McKay's skin was consistently blue, and he was on oxygen all the time. But he was getting stronger and growing more rapidly than anyone had expected. Then, just before McKay's third and most critical surgery, tragedy struck. The family's trusted surgeon was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer. He walked off the job that very day to spend his few remaining months with his family.

After a countrywide search for a new surgeon, Matt and Mindi flew McKay to Philadelphia. McKay made it through the critical lifesaving surgery remarkably well, but the recovery was tough going. "McKay's tiny chest cavity struggled to purge fluid," Mindi explained. "It was 24-hour intensive care." Mindi tried to comfort McKay and get him to rest. But it seemed that the minute he would finally fall asleep, someone would come in to check the incision, to force-feed medicine, or to draw blood. Sometimes one of the janitors in dark blue scrubs would disturb their peace and quiet just to empty the trash. McKay began to whimper every time he heard a knock at the door.

"You quickly learn how to tell who's at your hospital room door by the type of knock," Mindi told us. "Doctors and nurses knock softly and enter quietly. But sometimes really loud, banging knocks would come from custodians." Every time a custodian entered the room, McKay's little lip began to quiver and he looked at his parents in a panic. The custodians would rush toward his bed and grab the trash can. They would make all sorts of noise tidying up the room. Then they would leave McKay and his parents wide awake and frazzled. After the first weekend of these interruptions, Matt and Mindi had had enough. They decided to sit vigil by the door to protect their child from intruders.

The next morning, they heard a soft knock. When Matt opened the door, he and Mindi were surprised to see a very soft-spoken man in dark blue scrubs with a cart. They were confused because they had never heard a custodian knock so quietly before.

He said, "Good morning. My name is Moses, and I'm here to help you welcome the day. Can I come in?" After a quick double take, Matt and Mindi said, "Absolutely."

Instead of rushing forward to empty the garbage can, Moses performed a very small—but significant—act: he stood at the foot of the bed and introduced himself to McKay. "Hi, I'm Moses. I'm here to make things better." It meant a lot to Mindi because it was the first time in four days that someone besides her and Matt had spoken to McKay as a child. To everyone else, he was a patient or a project or a problem. But to Moses, McKay was a person. McKay visibly calmed down. His shoulders relaxed. His lip stopped quivering. Then Moses moved softly, gently to the side of the bed. He picked up the garbage can and emptied it into his cart.

As he began to move around the room doing his job, Moses spoke little wisdoms about light and sunshine and making things clean. He said to McKay, "Moses is here to help. Moses is here to make it all better. You're getting stronger by the minute, aren't you? Got to scrub yesterday out of here. Today is a new day." He gently opened the blinds to let just the right amount of light into the room, then drifted out as quietly as he had come.

From then on, Matt and Mindi and McKay looked forward to Moses' visits twice a day. He became a trusted friend and confidant. When Mindi told a doctor that McKay had played for 10 minutes, the doctor might say, "Very good; let's try for 20 minutes tomorrow." But when she shared the same information with Moses, he would say, "So you went to the playroom, huh? Did McKay walk there by himself? That's good! Once kids start playing, it's not long before they get to go home."

Moses just seemed to understand the family's emotions—because of who he was. He seemed so in tune, and he had such a keen power of observation, that they knew they could trust him. "Doctors seem to rely on all these data we can't see or understand," Mindi said, "all these charts and scans and monitors. But as parents, we're just looking at the simple, outward stuff. Can he sit up? Can he walk? Can he eat yet?" Matt and Mindi would see some small change and think it might be an improvement, but they didn't have the experience of watching hundreds of children in critical care, year in and year out, to know for sure. "We desperately needed the personal confirmation of our son's progress that we got from Moses."

Excerpted from GREAT WORK by DAVID STURT. Copyright © 2014 O.C. Tanner Company. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill Education.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

David Sturt is a New York Times bestselling author and an Executive Vice President of the O.C. Tanner Company. His career began in market research, where he analyzed the impact of recognition on people and their work. In the two decades since, he has developed products and services that engage employees, inspire contribution, and reward outstanding results in organizations around the world. He regularly consults with Fortune 1000 leaders and speaks to audiences worldwide. He has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, Human Capital, and is a contributor to Forbes.com.


The mission of the O.C. Tanner Institute is to research and share insights that help organizations inspire and appreciate great work. The institute provides a global forum for exchanging ideas about recognition, engagement, leadership, culture, human values, and sound business principles.

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Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the best business book I have ever read. The stories are relevant to every job type. I never thought I would say this about a business book, but I couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a fabulous read! It gave me a lot of different perspective and knowledge about myself and my potential.  I bought it to help me be the "cutting edge"  at my job, but it has bled over into my life and made such a difference, even in the way I play with my children. This is one book I highly recommend for anyone who loves self-improvement.  This book gives you the confidence to be able to know how to make a difference and to create that mindset! Hope you all enjoy it like I did!