The Surprising Outcomes of GIVERS and TAKERS

Dear Colleague,

Givers and Takers….we have heard those terms since Kindergarten.  No doubt our teachers and parents encouraged the giving and warned against the taking.   But as we grew up and took jobs, there was more evidence that taking might make more sense.  Why not grab all the chips on the table when you can?  If you can get away with short-changing an employer or an employee, why not?  If you can cut corners with a customer, why not do so?

Depending on our current circumstances, it may appear that being a Taker is the best option for survival and success.   But does being a Taker prove to be the best approach in the world of business?   Let’s look at two companies who, by being Givers, significantly increased their competitive advantage:

Chick-fil-A has closed on Sunday for over 65 years.  They provide their employees a guaranteed day off to rest and spend time with family and friends.  Yet even with forfeiting 3,380 revenue generating days since 1946, the company continues to be profitable year after year and has grown a culture that is both employee and customer-centered. (Chick-fil-A’s Recipe for Customer Service)

The Hampton Hotels started offering a 100% satisfaction guarantee on a guest’s stay in 1989.  Twenty-four years ago Hampton was a very young brand and none of the other, more mature hotels were doing it.  The conventional wisdom held that guests would take advantage and ask for free rooms, even when unwarranted.  Yet this guarantee remains intact today at every Hampton Hotel and over the years nearly every other hotel chain has revamped their policies to include a 100% guarantee. (Hampton Hotels Top Franchise for Three Years)

To add some solid research to why this works not only for Chick-fil-A and Hampton, but for millions of businesses around the world, Adam Grant, the youngest tenured professor at The Wharton School, has written a book that challenges conventional wisdom. Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success looks at the concept of whether it is wise, profitable, and sustainable to put others first or our own needs first.

But first the definitions:  Give, Take, or Match.  Givers offer their assistance without expecting reciprocity.  Takers offer their assistance only when it is certain they will get more back than they give.   Matchersgive and take, matching up what they give with what they get.   While most of us flex among these three, one style will dominate the majority of our professional life as well as our personal life.

Grant and his team at The Wharton School found in their initial research that Givers were at the bottom of the three professions they researched – medicine, engineering, and sales.   These Givers were less productive and less efficient when compared to their peers.   These Givers were often considered doormats and others took advantage of them.  They had few boundaries, couldn’t say “no”, didn’t manage time well, and generally were exhausted and burned out.  They were also poor negotiators when negotiating for themselves. This was not the outcome he or his research team expected.

Grant’s research continued with the findings that Matchers and Takers inhabit the middle slots, so their style and reputations keep them in the game.  But they don’t rise to the top or if they do rise, it is temporary.

So who was at the top?  The Givers were.  They were both at the bottom and the top.  The Givers at the top still fit the description of Givers at the bottom, offering their best without expecting an immediate return.  Similarly they left grace in every business encounter.  When they had the option to take everything on the table, they didn’t.   When they could humiliate, they stayed humble.  So with all the similarities, what was the difference between the Givers at the bottom and the Givers at the top?

The successful Givers at the top added several important characteristics.  They put in appropriate boundaries, became Matchers when they were dealing with die-hard Takers, and most importantly regularly asked for help.  Conversely, the Givers at the bottomof the productivity chart didn’t reach out for input or assistance, didn’t take time to renew their energy, and, subsequently, became overwhelmed and exhausted.

The other thing they noted is that Givers at the top stayed as humble as Givers at the bottom.  They kept egos in check and avoided one-upmanship.  They also worked harder, demonstrated better discernment, absorbed more of the slings and arrows, forgave quicker, asked for forgiveness quicker, and listened more.   And the Givers at the top also exhibited healthy amounts of ambition, drive, and desire.

Grant addresses well-publicized fake Givers – like Enron’s Ken Lay.  They may start foundations, give away money, and “kiss-up” to those who can provide them influence, access, and power.  Yet while they are “kissing-up” they are also “kicking-down”…mistreating those who can’t directly help them in their climb to the top.  Faking it as a Giver, while covertly promoting only their interests, simply doesn’t sustain.

Demonstrating authentic giving has profound implications on how we manage our careers, think about our employees and customers, treat our families, and grow our businesses.  As we pay it forward, there is always a return on the investment.  We may or may not be around to see it, but there is enough evidence to do good anyway.

Susan sig