By Adam Grant
According to old-school wisdom, the path to business success is looking out for yourself. But what if the key to thriving in the workplace isn’t pushing others down but building others up? Through data-based research and a host of anecdotes, Adam Grant outlines the three different types of people in every organization and explains why “givers,” those who habitually look out for the interests of others, are the key to both individual and corporate success.
The average workplace is made up of takers, matchers and givers. Takers are those who almost exclusively act in ways that advance their own personal agendas. In their interactions with others, they are internally asking the question, “What can you do for me?” Matchers operate on a quid pro quo basis, giving in equal measure as others have given to them. Matchers’ interactions are based on fairness, with interactions based on the idea that “If you do something for me, I’ll do something for you.” The third group, the givers, is made up of people who are characterized by serving those around them. The interaction of givers is based on the question, “What can I do for you?” Grant’s research was based on interviews with 30,000 people across a variety of industries and cultures, and more than half of his respondents – 56 percent – identified themselves as matchers. Nineteen percent of the people in his survey pool called themselves takers, and 25 percent were givers.
Givers at the forefront
When Grant delved into the results of his study, he was surprised to discover that the traditional “shark tank” model of business success was turned on its head. While he found that the lowest performers in business and academic settings tended to be givers, the people at the top of the heap were givers as well. Additionally, even when givers had lower individual results, their presence contributed to greater corporate success and a more inviting workplace culture. Grant discovered that givers had a decided advantage over matchers and takers when it came to building networks, identifying and developing potential in others and communicating effectively.
Givers create more robust and extensive networks because they have established a history of giving to others without expecting anything in return. Consequently, when they do need to reconnect with someone in that network, the other person is more than willing to cooperate. Takers and matchers don’t build similarly strong networks – takers often leave people with bad feelings, and matchers dampen future connections because earlier relationships were built on a debt-debtor dynamic.
Givers are also disproportionately successful in corporate settings because their generous natures equip them to nurture potential in others. People who aren’t consumed with their own advancement are free to see the untapped excellence in the people around them. Givers also tend to excel in group collaboration, because the other members of the group trust that the givers will put the interest of the group ahead of their individual successes.
Another area that leads to organizational victories for givers is communication. Givers tend to be effective salespeople because they convey their interest in the other person in their interactions, they show vulnerability, and others find them easy to relate to. “Powerless communication,” which is the style typically favored by givers, wins over its audiences because the communicator invites the opinions of others, inspires trust in those around him and seeks advice from those who might have something to offer.
Creating a giver-friendly work environment
If givers hold the key to both productivity and a healthy workplace culture, how can managers cultivate an environment in which givers can thrive? Grant offers several practical strategies to make sure the givers in an organization are encouraged in their giving spirit, resulting in an end to giver burnout and an improved culture in the workplace.
If organizational leadership doesn’t support its givers, those givers can easily become discouraged and burn out, convinced that only the sharks in the company will rise to the top. Management can install a simple support system for givers by helping them set boundaries and rewarding the big and small favors employees are seen doing for others. In the same vein, it’s up to managers to create a culture of giving and receiving – an environment in which idea-sharing is valued and team members aren’t afraid to ask for help. The majority of giving starts with a request for help, Grant said, but in a “lone ranger” culture those requests are never made, and givers end up frustrated.
The final key to ensuring a giver-friendly culture is strategic hiring. It isn’t necessary to hire only givers, but Grant has found that a mix of givers and matchers is an optimal environment for success. The most important element in hiring a team isn’t multiplying the givers, but deleting the takers. “The negative impact of a taker in an organization is usually double to triple the positive impact of one giver,” Grant said. Crafting interview questions to ferret out takers and watching the way candidates treat those who are powerless to help advance their careers are two steps companies can take to keep takers outside the gates and foster a culture of giving.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but Grant’s extensive research has confirmed that nice guys and girls really can finish first. Not only are givers rewarded in the workplace with measurable results, they are also an integral part of creating a nurturing, creative, collaborative environment. Giving is contagious, often creating a dynamic in which matchers stop looking for an equal balance of giving and taking and instead start giving without expectation of a return. Even takers can sometimes be changed by the steady example of the givers in their midst. Managers and employees alike can help transform their workplace by sowing the spirit of generosity in their interactions with colleagues and customers alike.