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Four Ways to Create a Giver Culture

by Chris White

Imagine coming to work each morning feeling cared for and supported as a professional — and as a human being. When you are having a hard time, need information, help with problem, or some good advice, your coworkers are there, freely offering their assistance. If necessary, they tap their networks inside and outside the company to find the resource you need. And, you enthusiastically do the same for them.

This is what many executives aspire toward for their organization. It is the product of having what Michigan Ross Center for Positive Organizations‘ Professor Wayne Baker calls “A Giver Culture.” For some of us, this is our workplace reality. For others, there are research-based ways to get there.

What is a Giver Culture?

A Giver Culture is one where people routinely ask for help, and offer help to others. They give to others generously, without expectations of directly receiving anything in return for their acts of generosity. They ask for what they need. “When people ask for what they need and generously help others,” Baker explains, “they become more engaged at work and more productive. They experience positive emotions and thrive. Giver workplaces are more productive and profitable, experience lower turnover (and costs), and have more loyal customers.”

How to do it?

Getting people to help usually isn’t the problem, Baker says. Rather, getting people to ask for what they need is the bigger challenge. Making requests is the fuel that drives the cycle of giving and receiving. To create a Giver Culture, you have to improve peoples’ skills at asking for help and assistance. To enable this, Baker recommends making specific, detailed requests; being sure to explain why a request is meaningful and important; and letting others know by when you need the help. And, never underestimate others’ willingness and ability to help. You never know what people know or who they know until you ask.

When it comes to giving, two factors are at work: gratitude and reputation. Baker and Bulkley found that people are more generous when they are grateful for the help they have received (commonly known as Paying It Forward), and people are more generous because of reputational concerns (they believe that being a giver will make them look good and get help in the future). While Baker and Bulkley found both gratitude and reputation to have an impact; perhaps surprisingly, the gratitude effect was much stronger than the reputation effect. In other words, feelings of appreciation are much more likely to lead to generous acts than an awareness that others may think more highly of you for your generosity.

What can you do to start building a Giver Culture today?

1. Empathize

As an individual, you can actively listen to others and figure out what they need. Then, you can help meet that need yourself (you have the resource) or you can tap your network and make a referral. If you do this as a giver — without expectations of return — you will start the chain of generosity.

2. Act

There are many ways you can take action to help others. Adam Grant, bestselling author of Give and Take and Originals, advocates setting up a block of time to do some five-minute favors: short acts of generosity. As a bonus: As well as helping others, doing five-minute favors have a measurable impact on your own happiness level! And Grant’s research showed that bundling the helping acts together creates an even bigger impact on your sense of wellbeing than spreading them out. Go ahead — block off thirty minutes now to give yourself a big boost!

3. Ask for what you need

Making requests is a critical part of the process. To make request, you need to figure out what you need and then communicate that need to others. It helps to do it with the right spirit: Make requests without being attached to a particular outcome. Help often comes in unexpected forms from unexpected places!

4. Activate others

Individual actions will help, but to create a Giver Culture, you need to also intervene at the group level. Two ways to do this are the Reciprocity Ring and the Givitas App from Give and Take, Inc. These resources give groups structured platforms to enable people to ask for and offer meaningful help to one another. These tools are intrinsically energizing, and create measurable value for the people involved, and for their organizations.

When an organizational culture has become blocked, a turnaround can seem daunting. By cultivating a Giver Culture — both leading by example and encouraging these four actions — executives can contribute to turning the tide.

Chris White is Principal at Riverbank Consulting Group, and a faculty associate at the Center for Positive Organizations at the Michigan Ross Business School.

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Riverbank Consulting Group

Riverbank Consulting Group

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The Riverbank team is experienced, skilled, and purpose-driven toward helping business leaders build high-performing cultures where people thrive.