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Grant: Don't Give Until It Hurts
NEW YORK (7/8/13)--Is workplace altruism a sucker's bet? It can be if you help others to the detriment of yourself, said professor and author Adam Grant on the final day of the Credit Union National Association's America's Credit Union Conference (ACUC)  here.
 
Don't be too altruistic in the workplace, warned Adam Grant, Wharton School of Business professor and author of "Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success." Being a doormat is a sure recipe for frustration in the workplace, he told credit unions at the final general session Wednesday at America's Credit Union Conference. ACUC was presented by the Credit Union National Association in New York City June 28-July 3. (CUNA photo)
Grant, a Wharton School of Business professor and the author of "Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success," identified three types of employees:
  • Givers, those rare folks who enjoy helping others without taking credit;
  • Takers, manipulative people who try to get as much as they can from others without giving anything in return; and
  • Matchers, those who'll help others as long as they eventually get something in return.
Most employees, Grant said, fall into the final category.
 
Givers, Grant warned, often can be the worst performers: "They can be the least productive and make the most errors because they're too busy helping their peers." In the long run, however, those who help others succeed often advance themselves because they help create value for their organizations.
 
"If we create an atmosphere where givers thrive," Grant said, "we can lift all boats."
 
Grant told his credit union audience that organizations can create such a culture by:
  • Getting the right people on the bus and, conversely, "keeping the wrong people off the bus";
  • Recognizing, rewarding, and promoting givers;
  • Tracking who in the organization helps others and adds value; and
  • Establishing a culture where people feel free to ask for help.
Asking for helps is "hard for givers, but it must be done sometimes," Grant said. "Successful givers ask for help; failures try to go it alone."
 
Takers tend to have certain traits in common, according to Grant's research. CEOs who are takers tend to say "I" and "me" instead of "we," and they often have salaries far higher than those of their colleagues.
 
These CEOs also can be self-satisfied and vain, often displaying large photographs of themselves, indicating "it's all about me." Disgraced Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, for example, published a full-page photo of his face in the company's 1997 annual report--a telling indication, Grant said, of his onerous intentions.
 
But like Lay, many takers are adept at hiding this trait, the final ACUC keynote speaker said Wednesday. They appear to give, but don't. "If you're a taker, you want people higher up to think you're generous. It's all about kissing up and taking others out."
 
One way givers can help others without being taken advantage of is by doing "five-minute favors," quick, easy tasks such as making an introduction or providing recognition, Grant said. If the recipient doesn't reciprocate, chances are he or she is a taker.
 
"Giving is sometimes seen as a sign of weakness," Grant assessed. "But it can be a strength."
 
CUNA's ACUC was held here June 28 to July 3.  For full coverage of the events use the links to News Now and Credit Union Magazine.
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