Adam Grant's revolutionary approach to success: CIPD 2014 closing keynote

The CIPD's 2014 conference closed with Adam Grant, professor and author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, delivering a keynote on how to strengthen organisations with 'givers' rather than 'takers'.

Grant began by noting that paranoia in organisations is widespread. "Wherever you go, people are watching their backs and wondering who's out to get them."The cause, he said (borrowing a term from Jerry Seinfeld), is the existence of 'takers'. "Takers are people who take as much as possible from others and they never want to give anything back unless they have to." He characterised them as the kind of colleague who only ever volunteers for visible projects and always seems to walk away with the lion's share of the credit for collective achievements.On the other end of the scale, he said, are the 'givers'. They enjoy helping others and will go out of their way to do favours for colleagues, often with no strings attached.In the middle are 'matchers', people who value the notion of giving but, recognising that there are takers out there, will typically grant favours only when they can expect some recipricocity.Givers, Grant said, tend to be the worst performers in companies. The thinking is that they spend so much time helping others their own workload falls to the wayside. That said, companies with lots of givers perform better as, while givers' individual performance might suffer, they also perform tasks critical to the smooth running of a company.The poor performance of givers does not mean, however, that takers perform the best. "Takers tend to rise quickly, but they also fall quickly," Grant said. They are often rooted out by matchers who see their behaviour as unfair and other takers who see them as a threat.It's actually, Grant said, the givers who tend to perform best. Givers go to the extremes, matchers and takers cluster in the middle. The reason, Grant said, is that over time givers often build up expertise and networks, so fail in the short-term but succeed in long-term.The easiest place to foster that culture is at the hiring stage. Takers can be toxic and spread paranoia, but screen them out and you'll be left with matchers and givers. Matchers will then follow the lead to become givers.Grant gave a couple of pieces of advice for doing this. Disagreeable takers, he noted, are easy to spot and avoid. It's takers who come across as agreeable that are the problem. They're not undetectable, though."They tend to kiss up and kick down," Grant said. They'll let their guard down around peers and subordinates while ingratiating themselves with higher-ups. So boss recommendations become unreliable, but references from peers are worth paying attention to.Grant also recommended questions that query the reasons for candidates' successes and failures. "Takers are much more likely to hog credit for the things that went well, then they will give you a list of all the things that went wrong in their career and give you a list of 37 people to blame for them."Another tactic is asking candidates to anticipate negative behaviour in thought experiments - they'll often project out based on their own experience and guess high.Grant went on discuss ways of fostering giving behaviour within an existing workforce. He took the example of Adam Rifkin, who was identified by Fortune magazine as the best connector on Linkedin. Rifkin advocates the five minute favour."For Adam, a five minute favour is just a small way of adding huge value to other peoples' lives." The advantage for a taker or matcher is they can easily make time for them to shift a little in the giving direction, while givers can "use them to reduce the cost of their giving, so they don't become too selfless." Rifkin did this (and grew his network) by taking a few minutes a day to make vital introductions every day for the past 12 years, meaning he's made over 12,000 introductions.Grant also recommended organisations changing their reward systems to recognise giving as well as accomplishment. Find out what sort of giving behaviours are critical to your organisation and find a way to reward them.Finally, Grant said, create a culture of asking. 75-90 per cent of helping starts with a request, yet people hesitate to ask. More often than not a request is needed to motivate giving, and that request sees the needs of both the asker and the giver met."Fundamentally this is the kind of organisation I would like to see exist - one where the norm is for people to give so that when you do have a challenge or a problem you can ask anybody, regardless of your relationship," Grant said, bringing the keynote to a close. "I think if we can create more organisations like that, we can change the very meaning of 'success'. That, instead of being a taker thinking they have to sink all other boats, givers can be the rising tide that lifts everyone."For more news and features about Human Resources click here. You can read more of Re:locate's coverage of CIPD 2014 here.

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