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Embracing the Giving Season: 5 ways leaders can promote a giving culture

Tis the season of office holiday parties and Secret Santa exchanges!  Nothing says “I value you” like an obligatory party and gift giving ceremony. Which made us wonder, why does giving gifts feel so forced at work?  And, is there a better way?  In short, yes: do it more. 

As Adam Grant explains in his book, "Give & Take", workplaces where giving is a regular practice reap astoundingly positive results across all metrics: increased profitability, productivity, customer satisfaction, innovation, quality, employee retention and lower operating costs.

In private and family-owned businesses, this impact is magnified, as is the reverse. When most people think of family businesses, they envision family members taking at the expense of their employees.  The Family has the opposite effect of the “Giver”.  So how can a business turn from a “me vs. you” culture to a giving culture?  The good news for privately held and family businesses is, with fewer people, even one executive/family role model can have a cascading positive effect. Here are 5 ways everyone, especially those in leadership positions, can role-model a successful giver:

1. Make Asking for Help the Norm.

Role-model a giving culture by offering and asking for input, feedback and/or help across functions and levels. Seeing these behaviors consistently from leaders helps remove fears of burdening colleagues or appearing incompetent. As a leader, encourage or, if necessary, require that people seek input from coworkers or other functions before coming to you.

2. Be Human (The Pratfall Effect).

Remember when Jennifer Lawrence tripped at the Oscars and the world loved her for it? That's the Pratfall Effect in action - competent people are more likable when they show their flaws than when they appear perfect. Leaders who openly share concerns, admit mistakes, and ask for help are well-respected, trusted, and surrounded by loyal employees and customers. Of course, a key word here is "competent"; if you are seen as incompetent, admitting mistakes will not help. This is most relevant in family businesses where family members must often overcome the presumption that they are "only there because of their last name."

3. 5-Minute Favors.

Every now and then you hear of pay-it-forward stories, such as someone in a drive-thru paying for the person behind them and it ripples down, much to the Internet's delight. Small acts of kindness add up and can make a big difference. A few suggestions: i. Write an unsolicited LinkedIn recommendation; ii. Give compliments/recognition to your juniors or peers in front of a group; iii. Ask for input or feedback from others, even if you don't think you need it; iv. Invite a junior employee to sit-in on a senior-level meeting; v. Offer to help a colleague who is stretched thin or going through a tough time

4. Celebrate Often.

Most organizations inadvertently incentivize selfish behavior with bonuses and promotions that pit colleagues against each other and reward individual performance. While this is not an easy thing to change, a simple way to start is to celebrate team and group accomplishments regularly. Brainstorm ways to praise individuals while reviewing and rewarding team performance.

5. Don't Just Look for "High Potential". Look for How to Bring it Out of Everyone.

The best leaders don't have a super-skill for spotting the best talent. Rather, they see the potential in everyone and work to bring it out. The first step to doing this is to show genuine interest and confidence in those around you - tell them you believe in them and pay attention to their reactions and behaviors. Use your strengths and experiences to offer advice and coaching. Never forget excellent work or ideas, but occasionally forget bad ones.

Hopefully you'll find some of these tips useful going forward. If nothing else, this book makes an excellent Secret Santa gift!

If you are curious where you fall on the giver scale, you can find a quiz on Adam Grant's website: . Happy Giving to all!


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