In his book “Give and Take,” author Adam Grant makes the case that most successful people are Givers. He warns, however, that “knowing how to build on ‘the strength of giving won’t necessarily ensure success,” and provides techniques so that Givers can prosper without negatively impacting themselves. His underlying assumption is that Givers seek opportunities to help others unselfishly create meaning at work and in their life. They find satisfaction and recognition by sharing information and their expertise with their network. Their Archilles’ heel is their trusting nature, which exposes them.

What can individuals and corporations do to foster a culture of giving? What are five ways Givers can prosper while protecting themselves from issues such as disappointment and burnout?


5 Ways Givers Prosper

1. Identify and Avoid Takers: Promote a Giving Environment.

Givers and corporations need to protect themselves from Takers. Takers have a disastrous impact on teamwork and collaboration. As Adam Grant explains, “Takers are fakers.” Takers communicate by dominating others. Typically, they want all the credit for someone else’s work or ideas. While their communication style, lack of openness and curiosity is not conducive to creativity or innovation, perhaps most damaging of all is that they deter others from contributing or sharing information by spoiling the reason why Givers decide to participate in the first place.

Individuals and corporations need to recognize and avoid Takers. In the book, “You Can’t Lie to Me,” author Janine Driver, a “human lie detector” explains how lying erodes trust. Driver emphasizes the importance of knowing when you’re being lied to in order to “defend yourself against manipulators, differentiate between truth and fiction, and form ‘authentic relationships’ that are based on mutual trust.” This mutual trust will, in turn, create and perpetuate an environment that embraces and encourages Givers’ values. In today’s world, people want to be celebrated…not simply tolerated.

To start with, corporations should do everything they can to weed out Takers during the hiring process. New employees should be nurtured in a workplace where encouragement is the norm, where open communication is rewarded and where helping others is second nature, resulting in a united and collaborative spirit. This tone is set at the top and communicated throughout a corporate culture by promoting what is valued.

2. Increase the Perception Impact: Build in Rewards Along the Way

Sometimes, there is no immediate payoff for Givers in certain professions like teaching or medicine. Or, there could be a disconnect that prohibits a worker from seeing the fruits of their labor. Everyone has seen a famous person thank a teacher who provided encouragement along the way, twenty years after their influence took root. How can a Giver in a “service” profession make sure they don’t burn out from lack of feedback? Givers in these positions must link more directly to the outcomes or as Grant calls it, “increase the perception impact.” Otherwise, they can succumb to feeling like they are operating in a vacuum.

Corporations, too, have a role to play in combating Givers’ burnout by acknowledging the impact of the less visible contributors to the overall success. For example, Grant noticed that engineers often “end up at the bottom of the success ladder.” They give more help that they get, but they score lowest on job performance. The same applies to customer service, yet they perform a crucial role in the organization.

3. Encourage Giving Behavior: Volunteer Programs

Volunteering is a great way to fulfill Givers’ need for meaning in their lives, even after they experience burnout. They usually don’t need to give less, but instead need more thoughtful structured giving. Adam Grant advocates doing two hours of volunteer work a week. If you give less, it is not enough to see much of a result. If you give more, you don’t feel more of a return.

In a novel approach to increase job satisfaction and employee retention, some corporations encourage their employees to volunteer on their paid time. A Washington Post article describes the volunteer activities of employees from PNC bank, the Carlyle Group and Charles Schwab. “Companies see these types of programs as something that will set them apart,” said Michael Stroik, Senior Research Analyst at the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy. An MIT Sloan article titled, “Using Corporate Social Responsibility to Win the War for Talent” quoted Jim Copeland, Jr., former CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, who explains that, “The best professionals in the world want to work in organizations in which they can thrive, and they want to work for companies that exhibit good corporate citizenship.”

4. Give in the Right Context

Peer-to-peer platforms for trading, sharing, hiring and selling are increasingly catering to Givers. Developers from the open-source community have been sharing their work and expertise for many years. Wikipedia, the fifth largest website in terms of traffic, is another example of online collaboration made possible by volunteer contributions. Clay Shirky calls these volunteer hours, which he estimates to be approximately one trillion per year, “cognitive surplus.”

Freecycle demonstrates how a community can reshape normative values about giving. On this site, people give things away to anyone who wants them, and can ask for what they need. Users turn to Freecycle for both selfish and altruistic reasons. Since the exchange of items involves the whole community, Freecycle establishes a new kind of balance, a new norm of giving. It encourages “Matchers and Takers to act like Givers.”

5. Follow Adam Rifkin’s Lead: Build a Strong Network.

Adam Rifkin is a serial entrepreneur who believes “in kindness and restoring our faith in humanity,” and that is the philosophy that he applies to networking. His approach is all-encompassing and covers all types of connections: “weak ties” or acquaintances as well as “dormant ties,” or in other words, the people who are not in his immediate circle. By including dormant ties in his strategy, he increased the reach of his network while allowing it to grow stronger and faster. Because he has an established reputation as a Giver who has no hidden agenda or ulterior motives, everyone he reaches out to is more inclined to help him or the people in his network.

In a Forbes magazine interview, Rifkin discusses the power of relationship building framed as regular and ongoing giving, “If you already have a network, an introduction is the most powerful daily action you can take to build it. In just a few minutes, you can have a dramatic impact on the lives of two people and generate a large amount of goodwill for yourself and the overall community you’re building.”

Adam Rifkin developed a network totaling 10,000 business connections in ten years without burning out. Try five of Adam’s methods:

  • Make Introductions on a daily basis, but no more than three. Rifkin says if he goes beyond three, it “fries his brain.”
  • Build deep relationships to make better introductions. Rifkin makes it a point to know people well in order to increase the success of the potential connection.
  • Introduce people who share values, not because of their accomplishments. Rifkin’s purpose is to connect people beyond a short-term interaction and focuses on nurturing long-term relationships.
  • Reconnect with people from “dormant” relationships and describes dormant relationships as strong relationships that you’ve simply lost touch with.
  • In “Give and Take“, Adam Grant describes dormant ties: “Just like weak ties, dormant ties offer novel information: in the years since you last communicated, they’ve connected with new people and gathered new knowledge. But unlike weak ties, dormant ties also bring the benefits of strong ties. The history and shared experience makes it faster and more comfortable to reconnect, and you can count on them to care more about you than your acquaintances do.”
  • Use social media to receive “pushed updates” about your connections. By using social media, you are constantly “linked in” with your network, so there is no time lag in keeping up with people.

Of all the ways Givers can prosper, the most critical one is by far the ability to build a strong network. Corporations are now experimenting with this concept. Humax has developed the Reciprocity Ring to enable organizations to leverage social capital. It assumes that companies can find the solutions to their own problems while focusing on contributing to others. In a recent Forbes article, Adam Grant makes the case that trust can be built by helping one another, which, in turn amplifies the overall effect of giving: “I find that in the long run, the people who rise the highest are those who add the most value to others. The people who get promoted are those who establish a track record for advancing the interests of the group.”

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