Every day, employees make decisions about whether to act like givers or like takers. When they act like givers, they contribute to others without seeking anything in return. They might offer assistance, share knowledge, or make valuable introductions. When they act like takers, they try to get other people to serve their ends while carefully guarding their own expertise and time.
Organizations have a strong interest in fostering giving behavior. A willingness to help others achieve their goals lies at the heart of effective collaboration, innovation, quality improvement, and service excellence. In workplaces where such behavior becomes the norm, the benefits multiply quickly. Consider a landmark meta-analysis led by Nathan Podsakoff, of the University of Arizona. His team examined 38 studies of organizational behavior, representing more than 3,500 business units and many different industries, and found that the link between employee giving and desirable business outcomes was surprisingly robust. Higher rates of giving were predictive of higher unit profitability, productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction, along with lower costs and turnover rates. When employees act like givers, they facilitate efficient problem solving and coordination and build cohesive, supportive cultures that appeal to customers, suppliers, and top talent alike.
But even as leaders recognize the importance of generous behavior and call for more of it, workers receive mixed messages about the advisability of acting in the interests of others. As the Cornell economist Robert Frank observes, many employees are subject to organizational reward systems that feel zero-sum: In promotion decisions, only one person advances, while the rest are left behind. In forced-ranking performance evaluations, for every employee who earns a five, another must be given a one. In competitive bonus pools, more money to stars means less for the rest. These situations pit employees against one another, encouraging them to undercut rather than support their colleagues’ efforts. Even without a dog-eat-dog scoring system, strict delineation of responsibilities and a focus on individual performance metrics can cause a “not my job” mentality to take hold.
Part of a thought provoking article in Harvard Business Review by Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, available 4/9/13.