6 great TED Talks for employee engagement

BLOG ARTICLE | By Debbie Mitchell

Insights > Employee engagement > Six great TED Talks for employee engagement


BLOG ARTICLE | By Debbie Mitchell | 16th October 2018

I do like a good TED Talk! I don’t like reading weighty tomes, and I am the kind of person who is easily distracted. It takes a lot to grab my attention, and even more to hold it. So I find a good TED Talk a fabulous way to learn or to get inspired. I’ll share a few of the TED talks that have resonated with me around employee engagement, motivation and wellbeing, and explain what I think they tell us about each of those things.


1. A life lesson from a volunteer firefighter

It may seem like a random title to choose (that is the beauty of exploring TED sometimes) but I’m starting with Mark Bezos, just because I love this talk. I don’t want to spoil it for you, because apart from being a great message, he is also a great storyteller – and it’s short (just 4 minutes). Watch this life lesson TED Talk

There’s a simple message here that I think is important for engaging us at work. Sometimes doing the simple, seemingly low-value, work can have the biggest impact on your customers. As leaders, we need to help people make those connections so that they can recognise the purpose of what they are asked to do. I used this recently at a conference to remind the participants that small acts can have a big impact on others, and as Mark says, we can all ‘get in the game’. It allows us to tap into ‘affective’ engagement; giving people the opportunity to feel positive about their role.


2. The puzzle of motivation

This is a genuine puzzle. How can we motivate people for the workplace tasks we are asking them to do? In this talk, Dan Pink explores some of the factors that incentivise us, and importantly what factors don’t actually make a difference.  Watch this puzzle of motivation TED Talk

Pink explains why in some situations larger rewards don’t necessarily improve individual performance, and that in some cases ‘higher incentives led to worse performance’.


3. 5 ways to lead in an era of constant change

People-centred change is an important focus for any organisation experiencing frequent or never-ending change – or is that just all organisations? In this talk, Jim Hemerling identifies five ways to really put employees at the forefront of change programmes. Watch this constant change TED Talk

Hemerling looks at the value of an inspiring purpose, being ‘all in’, building capabilities and continuous learning and inclusive leadership. By focussing on these people-led programmes, organisations are impacting into intellectual and affective engagement, enabling people to consider how to improve things and feeling good about their role and the contributions they can make.


4. How to train employees to have difficult conversations

This is a fast-paced and witty talk. It describes the need to train people well to do the tasks you ask them to do, and the risks of not doing that; making your people look bad, making the company look bad. Instead, Tamekia MizLadi Smith talks about the need to enable people to have compassionate encounters, with purpose. Watch this TED Talk around difficult conversations

It’s worth taking a moment to watch this talk (it’s under 5 minutes), and think about what you are asking your people to do, and how well you have equipped them to do these tasks well, and compassionately. She also mentions the need to bring food to meetings!


5. Forget the pecking order at work

Margaret Heffernen’s talk focusses on the need for using the power of the whole community at work – social capital, as she refers to it. More than just socialising, she highlights outcomes like creativity, efficiency, improvement and collaboration. From coffee machines to vegetable patches, there some thought-provoking ideas and tangible business benefits. Watch this TED Talk about community at work

“Companies don't have ideas; only people do. And what motivates people are the bonds and loyalty and trust they develop between each other. What matters is the mortar, not just the bricks,” she tells us. Social engagement isn’t just a feel-good factor, it’s a business benefit.


6. Got a meeting? Take a walk

Nilofer Merchant suggests a small idea that just might have a big impact on your life and health. Next time you have a one-on-one meeting, make it a walking meeting and let ideas flow while you walk and talk. Watch this walking meeting TED Talk

“Nowadays people are sitting 9.3 hours a day, which is more than we're sleeping, at 7.7 hours.” There are simple ways to shift this balance, and Merchant talks about some of these benefits. On a similar topic, take a look at Marily Oppezzo’s talk, ‘Want to be more creative? Go for a walk’, which explains how getting up and going for a walk might be all it takes to get your creative juices flowing.

I hope you enjoy these talks that I have suggested, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. There are plenty of inspiring, witty, emotional and educational conversations happening on TED, and sometimes all you need is five minutes.