Generosity in the workplace continues to be more effective than selfishness and it’s critical for personal fulfillment.

Generosity in the WorkplaceThat’s the topic of Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. He’s a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and he spoke about why workplace generosity is critical to both employees and employers in an interview with Rik Kirkland, senior managing editor of McKinsey Publishing. You can read an edited transcript, “Wharton’s Adam Grant on the key to professional success,” on McKinsey & Company’s Insights & Publications page, but here is a highlight of important concepts and steps you can take to start building generosity in your workplace today.
Grant starts by noting the rise in project-based work—fewer dedicated jobs and long, stable careers and much more “How do I combine a skill set with a need that you have?”

“And I think that as we see these kinds of shifts in the workplace, we’re going to see ‘giving’ skills become more important, because a lot of getting work done then becomes about working with, for, and through other people.”

What Are Giving Skills?
A “giver” in the workplace:

  • Thrives on interdependent situations, which tend to arise in firms with flat organization structures where ad hoc collaborations require improvisation.
  • Enjoys helping others, so when working on a team, can make the team better and multiply its success.

Screen Out “Takers”
A taker in the workplace:

  • Kisses up and kicks down—flatters powerful people but ill-treats peers and subordinates.
  • Uses the words “I” and “me” more than others do.
  • Blames others for his or her failures.

“The negative impact of a taker typically exceeds the positive impact of a giver by a multiple of two or three to one,” Grant says. “You find that it’s pretty easy for one taker to be the bad apple that spoils the barrel. But when you put one giver in an organization, it’s not like one good egg will always make a dozen.”

To screen takers out in the interview process:

  • Be skeptical of references from bosses.
  • Ask for references from peers or subordinates.
  • Conduct situational interviews rather than focusing on work history, accomplishments, and challenges overcome.

Grant suggests “… Give everybody the same situation and ask [interviewees] to predict what other people would do. Most of us tend to project our own motivations onto other people.”

An interviewee is likely to respond honestly about how he or she would handle the situation him- or herself.

“Integrity-test research, for example, shows that the higher my estimate that other people will be thieves, the greater the odds that I myself am a thief,” says Grant.

What’s a “Matcher”?
Most people fall into this category; workplace matchers:

  • Follow the norm and reciprocate the way they’ve been treated.
  • Act like givers in the presence of givers.
  • When dealing with takers will fight fire with fire.

Grant notes, “If you can eliminate takers from your organization, then you have givers and matchers. The givers will act more generously because they don’t have to be paranoid that takers are out to get them.”

Can We Turn Takers into Givers?
For Grant, that’s the unanswered question.

“We know a lot about how to get takers to give in a particular moment,” he says. “No one wants to be seen as a taker. If you can make behavior visible, takers tend to either match or give a little bit more.”

“We also know that takers tend to be more generous once they identify with an organization or a person. As they become attached to either you or to a group of people, then they start to blur the line between self-interest and concern for others, because, ‘If we’re identified with each other, then helping you or helping this organization is going to reflect positively on me.’”

But when a taker switches to another group or organization, the person is likely to go back to his or her old ways.
It’s beneficial to help employees see meaning and purpose in their jobs. Data show that’s what workers want most, Grant says. In studying call centers, he found that the best way to show employees that their work made a difference was to have customers tell them so.

“We got staggering results in the call-center setting when doing this,” Grant recalls. “We bring in one person who’s benefited from the work that you do—to talk for five minutes about its impact—and we get over a 400% caller-by-caller spike in weekly productivity.”

Try this in your workplace. It just might help you turn takers into matchers or better yet, givers.  And, it’s an important step in building a workplace culture of generosity.
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