Growing the Business, Building the Culture

A few weeks before my birthday every year, I would ask my staff to send me a list of their wish lists that I might be able to help with. Instead of receiving gifts (my love language is not gifts), I wanted to be the one giving them. This also allows me to know about the needs of my people and to learn more about their personal situation. For instance, many have asked me for a washing machine. The most common reason why is their desire to rest on weekends, and their inability to visit church on Sundays because they had to wash clothes (this was prior to Covid). I also found some requests to be timely and touching – – a request for a bed, or at least a mattress, because parents were sleeping on the floor with a “banik” (flat woven mat), a denture because a grandfather already had difficulty eating, or for them to avoid being teased for being “bungi” (toothless), and a request for an electric barber set to replace a father’s old barber set used to earn a living. These were memorable requests, since most wish lists were not for themselves but to benefit a loved one.

In April 2021, I decided to change my approach immediately after attending an online talk of Wharton professor Adam Grant, author of “Give and Take” and hosted by the World of Business Ideas (WOBI) in New York. I discovered I can improve on what I have been practicing the last few years in three ways. The first is that instead of just offering to give, I asked all my staff to either write how we can help, what they are willing to offer, or both, explicitly mentioning that their giving is not dependent on what they will get. The second is that the gift-giving is no longer just from me but anyone can volunteer to offer anything as well. The third is that the reinforcement of sharing goes beyond material things and includes sharing of intangibles, such as knowledge, opinions, and feedback among them. The result is that there were more offers to give than take. I feel victorious in being able to immediately apply the new lessons learned from the webinar, and also build a newly elevated culture of sharing to help those in need. I am touched one employee offered her ten days of leave to another who may need them more, a very good start in normalizing help seeking and help giving as success is more and more dependent on how people interact with others within an organization.  

Adam Grant shared that in his research, there are typically 25% givers and 19% takers, but a greater majority of 56% are matchers who are quite transactional, play it safe and are willing to give only with something reciprocated of equal value. A firm needs both givers and matchers, the latter can help weed out takers, offsetting the over trusting and over generosity of the givers. To improve company culture to have more givers and improve customer satisfaction, he offered four tips: 

1) Weed out takers. In the process, matchers can become givers because they follow the norm. 

2) Takers know to kiss up but they also kick down so the best judge of who takers are, are the subordinates. One way is to innovate HR practices by doing reverse hiring by posting job openings and allow subordinates to choose their leaders. This way, leaders who are takers can improve on themselves when nobody wants to work with them.

3) Change the reward system in not only attaining one’s goals, but also in being committed to support others as well.

4) As most acts of giving start with a request. Encourage and normalize help seeking by leaders.  Companies can even launch regular innovation tournaments to help identify givers.

Another way to evaluate the ‘giver”, “taker” and “matcher” culture segment is in the type of customers a firm deals with. Firms tend not to make money with too many “taker” clients, so it is important to be less dependent on them or make them more dependent on you, a regular evaluation of the type of relationship a firm has with clients would therefore be wise.  

One thing for sure, business leaders cannot afford to limit their focus on merely growing the business, they must also ensure to build the culture they desire internally, this way, both issues in the marketplace, as well as the workplace, will be addressed to create a winning organization.  

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Josiah Go is the Chairman and Chief Innovation Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. Follow his Twitter at @josiahgo. 

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