Creating a culture of givers: Q & A with Adam Grant

Give smart

In his New York Times bestseller, Give and Take, Wharton professor Adam Grant divides the world into three kinds of people: givers, takers and matchers.

You’ve probably met them all in your workplace and you probably know which make better collaborators—and better coworkers in general. In a nutshell, givers give even when they don’t expect something in return, takers use with no idea of giving back, and matchers give only with an expectation of reciprocity.

While matchers and takers can and do succeed, and givers have the potential to be doormats, Grant argues that givers who do it right will wind up at the top. That’s in part because helping others makes your work more meaningful and purposeful, which helps you work better and more creatively. Moreover, when you build a reputation as someone who works with others’ best interests in mind, people trust you more easily and you’ll find that opportunities come knocking.

But being a giver isn’t just good for your soul and your own career; givers are good for your company as a whole.

I recently spoke with Grant to find out more.

How do givers help a company succeed?

There’s a great meta-analysis by Nathan Podsakoff that looked at 38 studies of organizational behavior tracked over more than 3500 business units across industries. It turns out there is a strong link between helping behaviors and desirable business outcomes. For example, high rates of giving predicted profitability, productivity and customer satisfaction, as well as lower turnover.

When you have groups of employees willing to give, there is more shared knowledge and innovation. The wealth gets spread, as opposed to an organization with a few givers who can get sucked dry by takers.

Why isn’t it enough to be a matcher?

Matchers give off an “I’ll scratch yours if you scratch mine” vibe, whereas givers make interactions feel meaningful. We can’t always predict who might help us, so if matchers only help someone they believe will help them back, they miss out in the long run.

It’s in a company’s best interest to create a giving culture, because motivation to help others meet their own goals is a key to effective collaboration, quality improvement and service excellence.

How can a company help a successful taker change?

Takers can and do change, but it’s not always easy, and it depends on why they are takers to begin with. Sometimes, takers are former givers who got burned one too many times. They need to be reminded that a person can give in a way that doesn’t compromise their own goals and success.

The taker who believes success is zero-sum must dismantle the assumption that doing well means someone else must fail. That can be done in a few ways. For example, a good leader can identify a role model who demonstrates how a successful person can be a giver. They can also provide incentives and repercussions designed to help them collaborate, whether it’s through a performance evaluation or a promotion tied to interpersonal relationships as well as achievements.

How can a company create a “giving” culture?

Though it varies hugely by industry and organization, matching is the norm in a typical workplace. Still, it’s not difficult to change an environment where people tend to trade favors into one with a pay-it-forward mentality.

To go from a company culture of matchers or takers to one of givers, you must develop norms and values that encourage helping others without strings. Actions speak louder than words, so good leaders should repeatedly engage in giving behaviors like sharing knowledge and giving feedback. They should also invest in those who already engage in giving behaviors.

Post by Jill Coody Smits

Jill Coody Smits is an Austin-based freelance writer and proponent of research-backed communication. Interested in psychology, health, fitness, and human rights. Wife, mother, traveler, reader, dog-lover, unaccomplished athlete.