June 28, 2013

It Pays to Be a Giver

In the corporate world, what goes around comes around faster than you might think

Are you a giver, a taker or a matcher? Are you a giver, a taker or a matcher?

Seeing, then seizing, the advantages of giving while suppressing the instinct for taking has emerged as a trend in the business world, or at least in the academic and professional literature on success.

Bob Burg’s bestselling Go Giver series of books is an early example of the genre that seeks to reframe business transactions as opportunities to empathize with and help others solve problems, with financial reward a mere “echo of value” that follows naturally from the process of giving.

A new entry in the generosity-is-profitable category is Wharton School of Finance professor Adam Grant’s Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, a new book replete with academic studies buttressing the go-giver argument.

Grant introduces some of these arguments in an article in the summer issue of Strategy + Business, a publication of management consulting firm Booz & Co.

Grant, who teaches organizational behavior and teamwork and leadership classes at the University of Pennsylvania, argues there has been a shift in the contemporary workplace’s organizational dynamics.

In the hierarchical environments of the past, takers could climb to the top on the shoulders of givers. In today’s more team-oriented workplaces, it is givers who tend to thrive while takers find it much harder to prosper.

Givers, Grant writes in the Strategy+Business article, “are the teammates who volunteer for unpopular projects, share their knowledge and skills, and help out by arriving early or staying late.”

The mechanism by which givers earn higher rates of promotion while takers flounder is a third group Grant calls “matchers,” who make up the majority of a company’s employees. Matchers fall in the middle of the giver-taker spectrum but where they do stand out is in keeping score.

Not wanting to see injustice done, they “tax” takers by spreading “negative reputational information,” for example, while providing “bonuses” to givers via “compensation, recognition or recommendations for promotions.”

Grant gives the example of this group dynamic in the case of a Google engineer who received eight promotions in a single year:

“He volunteered his time to train new hires and help members of multiple cross-functional teams learn new technologies, and his peers and managers responded like matchers, granting him additional pay and recognition.”

Grant cites several studies showing that giver behavior accrues to the bottom line in that employees work harder for leaders who put others’ interests first—that is, giver behavior triggers a desire on the part of majority matchers to see self-sacrifice rewarded.

In one of these studies, members of various teams were asked to rate each other on a variety of characteristics, then asked at the end of the project who emerged as leaders.

“The single strongest predictor of leadership was the amount of compassion that members expressed toward others in need. Interestingly, compassionate people were not only viewed as caring; they were also judged as more knowledgeable and intelligent,” Grant writes.

The lesson in all of this for leaders of financial advisory teams may be Grant’s advice to “focus less on  individual skills and talents, and more on the extent to which employees use their skills and talents to lift others up — rather than cutting them down.”

And since only a minority of employees are predisposed toward giving, the Wharton professor advises managers to create practices that “nudge employees in the giver direction” and counsels recognizing “role models who embody an orientation toward others.”

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Check out Sales Paradox: The Way to Get Is to Give on AdvisorOne.

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