What’s Fluffy about Helping Others Succeed?
Editor’s Note: This is the 6th in a series of articles about The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. See also Kirsten Cronlund’s article, A Powerful Collection: Book Review, Giselle Nicholson’s Innovativeness as Positive Deviance, and Amanda Horne’s articles, Virtuous Organizations, Positive Deviance and Civility.
A senior executive recently commented to me that his most highly motivated moments at work are when he’s contributing to the growth of others. The executive’s greatest strengths are in developing staff, bringing people together to create highly effective teams, and building strong stakeholder relationships. The executive then said “But this is a bit fluffy isn’t it?”
He is not alone. I meet many executives with similar strengths and similar concerns (“a bit soft, isn’t it?”). These reactions can be particularly prevalent when executives work in organizations that value technical capability more highly than people capability.These executives are motivated by what Adam Grant and Justin Berg call pro-social motivation, “a desire to benefit other people and groups.” Pro-social motivation is the subject of the Grant and Berg chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. They point out that employees who are pro-socially motivated take initiative, persist in meaningful tasks, help others, enhance the well-being of others, strengthen cooperation and collaboration, are proactive and creative, perform better at work, are inspired, and have more energy.
This doesn’t sound very fluffy to me. Pro-socially motivated people perform most effectively when their jobs are designed so that the work they do has a direct impact on beneficiaries, whether they be clients, employees, or stakeholders.Giving, Collaborating, and Success
If Adam Grant is a familiar name to you, it’s because he’s received a lot of attention recently, including Pat Schwartz’s recent review of his book, Give and Take. I haven’t read the book yet, but have read some wonderful articles that gave me insight into Grant’s work.
If you haven’t read the book, I’d like to suggest that you too read the articles listed below because although I provide some highlights, it’s not possible to cover the extent of Grant’s work in one short article.
Cultures of Giving
Grant draws together many years of research by himself and others on reciprocity and pro-social motivation. He suggests that corporate cultures sit on a continuum with giver cultures and taker cultures at the extremes and matcher cultures in the middle.
Matchers help others but expect an equal amount of help in return. They give to the people they think will help them in return.
Takers ask for help and give little or nothing in return. They tend to claim personal credit for success. They tend to “kiss up and kick down” and seek to come out ahead.Givers are guided by pro-social motivation, “the desire to help others, independent of easily foreseeable or immediate payback.” Givers “add value without keeping score.” The most successful givers care highly for others but also have preserve self-interest, attending to their own work and personal needs. They give in ways that reinforce social ties. They set boundaries to ensure giving has maximum impact and joy, so that they don’t burn out or compromise their work commitments. They are cautious about giving to takers. Givers are motivated by a sense of service and contribution and are more productive when they think of helping others. Grant found however that givers are not successful if they lack assertiveness, become doormats, or give excessively.
Reaping the Rewards
Dr Grant’s work reveals that businesses benefit from effective giver behaviors in the following areas:
- Group effectiveness, cohesion, coordination
- Interpersonal networks
- Sales performance, revenues
- Client satisfaction
- Problem solving
- Staff retention, job satisfaction, sense of belonging, pride
Creating a Giving Culture
“The greatest untapped source of motivation, Grant argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves” Adam Grant, quoted in a New York Times article
Grant suggests that people in leadership positions can make a difference with the following behaviors:
- Encourage reciprocity: it’s ok to seek help; it’s good to give; pay it forward.
- Help givers to set boundaries. Guide them to be perspective takers if they are prone to lacking assertiveness or to being overwhelmed with excessive empathy which can cloud judgment.
- Guide giving behavior in the direction of best impact: helping others while still protecting one’s own work commitments.
- Emphasize the intrinsic motivation which occurs from being a giver.
- Help staff match their own expertise and resources to others’ needs.
- Implement reward and recognition systems that favor givers.
- Be a role model for giving behaviors.
- Design jobs so that people have contact with recipients or clients, encouraging a sense of purpose.
- Screen out takers; minimize the number of taker employees.
“By putting these into action, it’s possible to transform win/lose scenarios into win/win gains.” Adam Grant, Harvard Business Review
Do you have givers in your organization? Are you a giver, or a potential giver? Do you want to transform your organization? You might want to consider the points above and reflect on this thought from Adam Grant in an interview with Time Magazine:
“Organizations will always have a mix of these three basic styles. But there’s reason to believe that in the long run, the greatest success — and the richest meaning — will come to those who, instead of cutting other people down, pursue their personal ambitions in ways that lift others up. From a manager’s perspective, it would be wise to clear the path for more givers to succeed, so that they can bring others along as they climb to the top.” Adam Grant, Time Ideas
Grant, A. M., & Berg, J. M. (2011). Prosocial motivation at work: When, why, and how making a difference makes a difference. In K. Cameron & G. Spreitzer (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. New York: Oxford University Press.
Grant, A. (2013). Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. Viking Press.
Grant, A. (2013, April). In the company of givers and takers. Harvard Business Review.
Grant, A. (2013, April). Givers take all: The hidden dimension of corporate culture. The McKinsey Quarterly.
Grant, A. (2013, April). Viewpoint: Good Guys Can Win at Work. Time Ideas.
Grant, A. (2013). Fitting In and Standing Out: Shifting Mindsets from Taking to Giving. ChangeThis, 104.03.
Dominus, S. (2013, March). Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?. The New York Times Magazine.
Schawbel, D. (2013, April). Adam Grant: Be a Giver Not a Taker to Succeed at Work. Forbes Magazine.
First from Microsoft clip art. Pictures of Justin Berg and Adam Grant from their Web sites.
The rest via Compfight with Creative Commons license
Helping hands courtesy of Artotem
Customer service courtesy of Phil Dowsing Creative
Amish barn raising courtesy of cindy47452