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Home » A Simple Way to Inspire Your Team: David Burkus (Transcript) 

A Simple Way to Inspire Your Team: David Burkus (Transcript) 

Here is the full transcript of David Burkus’ talk titled “A Simple Way to Inspire Your Team: David Burkus” at TED conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


In 2014, KPMG’s leadership faced a problem: accounting is boring. Apologies to any accountants in the room, but that really was the issue. The senior leadership of one of the world’s premier accounting firms had been working for a while to improve morale and engagement across the nearly 30,000 employees of the firm. When they started, morale was in the tank.

Only about half of the employees had a favorable opinion of the firm when surveyed, which is to say about half of the employees had an unfavorable opinion of the place they continued to work. They had tried to pull the standard levers: perks, pay increases, more flexibility, more opportunities to advance. But their initial gains had leveled off. And it’s easy to understand why.

Accounting, in particular auditing, can be a boring and thankless job. For most of the day, you’re staring at documents and spreadsheets; you’re sitting in a cubicle provided by a client who doesn’t actually want you there and doesn’t want to answer any more questions either. And so, having run out of traditional ideas, KPMG’s leaders decided to do something different. They decided to put purpose at the core of their engagement effort.

The “We Shape History” Campaign

What they did first was particularly bold: they told stories. They launched what they called the “We Shape History” campaign, a promotional campaign designed to tell the story of how KPMG had been involved in pivotal moments in world history. They told the story of President Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease Act, which sent billions of dollars in aid to the Allies during World War II, and how he tapped KPMG to manage logistics.

They told the story of how KPMG accountants resolved conflicting financial claims, which laid the groundwork for the release of 52 US hostages in Iran in 1981. They told the story of how KPMG certified the election of Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1994. They told stories about how KPMG’s work served a higher purpose, and they hung posters everywhere to remind everyone of those stories. It was bold, and it worked. Sort of. It moved the needle a little bit. What they did next was brilliant.

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