How managers can support generosity
Adam Grant is a born giver. He spends several evenings per week answering hundreds of e-mails from people asking for his advice. However, Adam is convinced that giving makes him successful, and he is obviously right when you consider that, at the age of 37, he is the youngest tenured and highest-rated management professor at the famous Wharton School and a highly productive academic in organisational psychology.
Adam caused a media stir with his latest book “Give and Take: a revolutionary approach to success”. What he found out from studies and personal case histories could reverse our ideas of success and career. According to him, it’s not the toughest guys who reach the top of the corporate ladder most often but the nice guys, i.e. the ones who are generous and helpful professionals.
Adam divides professionals into givers, matchers and takers, and has proven that these behaviours have an impact on success. A giver does favours without expecting to get something back. He connects people, mentors and gives advice. Takers are just the opposite. They act purely for their own advantage and only help when they have a direct benefit. Most professionals are matchers and behave generously when there is a chance to get something back.
In his research, Adam found out that mainly givers are to be found at the bottom of the career ladder. They are the “doormats” who are low on productivity or burn out. In the middle, takers and matchers are relatively evenly distributed. The top of the ladder, however, is again dominated by givers, who distinguish themselves as leaders. This means that the most generous ones can advance first. How come helping is not the enemy of productivity or a time-consuming distraction from the work we have to do?
In his study, Adam compared the turnover of hundreds of salespeople working for a US chain of opticians. Salespeople who were takers aimed to make as much profit as possible. In contrast, the givers wanted to be helpful. They listened, tried to understand what the customers were looking for and finally made the right offer. At the end of the year, their sales figures were much better.
Givers look at what others need and how they can help. They share their knowledge, their energy and their relationships, and that’s the reason why they are so successful. They build a network of contacts and connections who build bridges to different worlds and ideas. Giving is a cycle and not based on direct reciprocity. In other words, I give and someday I will meet someone who can connect me with a great business partner or a new career option.
In his article “In the company of givers and takers” Adam claims that the success of an organisation depends on the generosity of its employees, and that organisations have an interest in boosting giving behaviour because the true assets which make companies successful, such as collaboration, innovation and top service, are not possible without a willingness to help others. He cites an analysis by Nathan Podsakoff, whose team at the University of Arizona looked at 38 studies on organisational behaviour and found that higher rates of giving led to higher profitability, productivity and customer satisfaction, as well as lower costs and turnover rates.
So why is a giving attitude not yet the rule in organisations? Psychologists have proven that most people like to give and share with close relations like friends, partners and family. Grant points out that while leaders see the benefit of generous behaviour and want it in their teams, employees may have their doubts. The organisational reward system is focused on individual performance and encourages people to care for themselves first. For example, one person is promoted while other good people are not, the most successful sellers get the highest bonuses, and in ranking performance systems one person has to get the best while another the worst. This pits employees against each other and prevents people from supporting their colleagues’ efforts.
So what can managers do to promote more generosity, and how can they avoid giving employees being exploited by takers and neglecting their own responsibilities? Adam’s first piece of advice is that all employees should understand better what generosity is and what it is not. To give in the right way means to think of fellow men but to have a clear vision of our own priorities first. The most successful givers have a high rate of concern for others, but also for themselves, and they act strategically. According to Adam, they give to other givers and matchers so that their work has the maximum desired effect, and are careful about giving to takers. In other words, they give in ways that reinforce their relationships.
So if you want to build a culture of generosity that attracts more givers to your organisation and appeals less to takers, have a look at Adam’s tips to make sure that giving behaviour is not at the expense of those who engage in it:
Is giving the secret of getting ahead?
Adam Grant: Give and Take, a revolutionary approach to success, Viking Adult, April 2013
Adam Grant: In the company of givers and takers, Harvard Business Review, April 2013
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