By Colin Christian
Most of us are familiar with the expression “give until it hurts,” but how many of us actually put that edict into practice? Clichés aside, there is value in considering the role giving plays not only in our personal lives, but in our professional lives and places of work as well. Adam Grant, a professor of Management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, tackles this task in his insightful and revealing book, “Give and Take” (2013).
In his book, Grant argues that our behavior falls into three basic categories, or what he refers to as “reciprocity styles”, consisting of giving, matching or taking. “Givers” seek to add more value to others than they take. In contrast, “matchers” seek to level the balance sheet between what they give and what they get, while “takers” seek to claim more value from others than they contribute. Through sharing the personal stories of a range of successful individuals across a range of organizations and fields, Grant provides a thoughtful and engaging dissection of what it means to be a “giver,” and the return on investment giving can yield.
While often viewed in altruistic terms, the act of giving can have a significant impact on organizational success, whether defined by revenue growth in the private sector context or mission fulfillment and service delivery in a public or nonprofit context. Grant notes this is particularly true for service- and team-oriented organizations. Giving within a group can improve individual and team performance as givers lend their expertise, skills and perspective to assist one another in completing a task or delivering a better product. Moreover, giving strengthens the bonds between team members, helping to focus their collective efforts in a shared direction. In doing so, giving lays the foundation for effective collaboration within groups and enhances the ability of an organization to harness collective efforts in pursuit of a shared purpose.
Giving in Practice
Evans is currently supporting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in implementing its NextGen initiative, a wholescale transformation in how the national airspace is managed, leveraging 21st century technologies. One of the primary FAA client organizations we support is responsible for the acquisition and deployment of NextGen systems across the range of FAA facilities responsible for managing air traffic. The complexities of these systems and the multiple stakeholders they impact result in the need for multiple work groups to work closely to ensure the systems are developed in a safe, timely and cost- effective manner. As an added layer of complexity, virtually every NextGen system is dependent on several other NextGen systems or technologies to deliver their respective capabilities and functions. In this type of environment, where close coordination and collaboration across a range of work groups is mission critical, giving can play a substantial role in determining success or failure.
There are a variety of ways organizations encourage giving at all levels of management, including employee recruitment and selection; performance management; training and development; and performance evaluation. Grant suggests several strategies that successful givers have adopted within their organizations, such as organizing a reciprocity ring whereby groups within an organization meet periodically to share requests for assistance from one another. At Evans we are in the midst of our own effort to encourage greater levels of giving and collaboration. This two month initiative, called “The Challenge,” seeks to increase employee engagement and provide new ways for staff to support the firm’s service delivery and business development goals. The essence of “The Challenge” involves encouraging employees to give more to one another and the organization within the spirit of our three pillars of client service: honest innovation, healthy collaboration and honorable relationships. Through this process, we are exploring new and creative ways to contribute to the collective success of the company, while recognizing everyone’s personal contributions and successes along the way.
What Does Giving Mean to You?
Evans is interested in your experience and perspective on giving and what it looks like at organizations where you work, or have worked in the past. In particular:
- What examples of initiatives and/or management practices have you experienced that were successful in creating or maintaining a culture of giving?
- How did employees respond to these initiatives and what were the results?
- What barriers have you experienced to giving within the workplace? Were you or your organization able to implement effective strategies to overcome those challenges?
Please share your experiences!