Tag Archives: positive organisational behaviour

Giving, Collaborating and Success

When you think about great teamwork, you’re likely to be thinking about collaboration, support, sharing, helping, co-operation and cohesiveness. But would you also be thinking givers, takers and matchers?

Dr Adam Grant, management professor at Wharton, has just released his book “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success”. I don’t have his book (*yet ) but I have enjoyed reading a number of press articles, particularly the recent Harvard Business Review and McKinsey Quarterly articles. I think you too should read those articles, because although I provide some highlights below, it’s not possible to cover the depth of Grant’s work. And because I don’t have the book (yet) I’m definitely missing some depth. Nevertheless here is some food for thought and something to whet the appetite.

Cultures of Giving

Grant draws together many years of his and others’ research on reciprocity and pro-social motivation. He suggests that corporate cultures sit on a continuum with ‘giver cultures’ and ‘taker cultures’ at the extremes, and matcher cultures around the midpoint.

Matchers help others but expect an equal amount of help in return. They give to people who they think will help them in return.

Takers ask for help and give little or nothing in return. They tend to claim personal credit for success for example saying ‘me’ and ‘I’, rather than ‘we’ and ‘us’. They tend to ‘kiss up and kick down’ and seek to come out ahead.

Givers are guided by pro-social motivation, “the desire to help others, independent of easily foreseeable payback”. Givers “add value without keeping score”, they do not expect immediate gain. The most successful givers care highly for others but also have some self-interest such as attending to their work and other needs. They give in ways that reinforce social ties. They set boundaries to ensure giving has maximum impact and joy, without burning out or compromising their work commitments. They are cautious about giving to takers. Givers are motivated by a sense of service and contribution and are more productive when they think of helping others. Grant found however that givers are not successful if they lack assertiveness, become a doormat, or burn out by excessively giving.

Reaping the Rewards

Dr Grant’s work reveals that businesses benefit from effective ‘giver’ behaviours. Improvements include:

  • Group effectiveness, cohesion, coordination
  • Interpersonal networks
  • Sales performance, revenues
  • Productivity
  • Client satisfaction
  • Creativity
  • Quality
  • Problem solving
  • Staff retention, job satisfaction, sense of belonging, pride
  • Personal success

“The greatest untapped source of motivation, Grant argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves”

Creating a Giving Culture

Grant suggests that people in leadership positions can:

  1. Encourage reciprocity: it’s ok to seek help; it’s good to give; pay it forward
  2. Help givers to set boundaries. Guide them to be perspective takers if they are prone to lacking assertiveness or to being overwhelmed with excessive empathy which can cloud their judgement
  3. Guide giving behaviour in the direction of best impact: helping others whilst protecting one’s own work commitments
  4. Emphasise the intrinsic motivation which occurs when being a giver
  5. Help staff to match their own expertise and resources to others’ needs
  6. Implement reward and recognition systems which favour givers
  7. Role model giving behaviours
  8. Design jobs to connect the role directly to the recipient, client and to a sense of purpose
  9. Screen out takers; minimise the number of taker employees

“By putting these into action, it’s possible to transform win/lose scenarios into win/win gains”

“Organizations will always have a mix of these three basic styles. But there’s reason to believe that in the long run, the greatest success — and the richest meaning — will come to those who, instead of cutting other people down, pursue their personal ambitions in ways that lift others up. From a manager’s perspective, it would be wise to clear the path for more givers to succeed, so that they can bring others along as they climb to the top.”

(*) Note – A big thank you to K, who is one of my email readers and a colleague. K is sending (giving) me a copy of Adam Grant’s book.


Adam Grant is an award-winning teacher, researcher, and tenured management professor at Wharton. He received his Ph.D. and M.S. from the University of Michigan in organizational psychology and his B.A. from Harvard University, magna cum laude with highest honours, Phi Beta Kappa honours, and the John Harvard Scholarship for highest academic achievement. Dr. Grant has been recognised as the single highest-rated professor in the Wharton MBA program, one of BusinessWeek’s favourite professors, and one of the world’s top 40 business professors under 40.

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success (Adam Grant, 2013)

Information about Adam Grant’s book

In the company of givers and takers. Harvard Business Review, April 2013

Givers take all: The hidden dimension of corporate culture. The McKinsey Quarterly, April 2013

Viewpoint: Good Guys Can Win at Work, Adam Grant, April 10, 2013

Fitting In and Standing Out: Shifting Mindsets from Taking to Giving

Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? March 2013

Be a Giver Not a Taker to Succeed at Work. Forbes Magazine, April 2013

Excellence, Values, Virtues and Strengths

One of the great pleasures of my work is seeing the effects on people of conversations which engage strength, possibility, openness and curiosity.

They point out that these reflections bring clarity, insight, renewed optimism and motivation. They are reminded about ‘what’s really important’ to them and they ‘discover new ways to lift their performance and to ‘solve seemingly intractable problems’. These ‘conversations of possibility’ occur in my one-on-one Executive Coaching meetings and in facilitated small group and project team workshops. Clients reflect deeply to explore the implications, possibilities and meanings of moments of professional and personal significance throughout their life. The work we do together using a strengths-based approach to developing enhanced leadership includes questions not normally attended to in a typical working day.

It could be said that clients are reflecting on their moments of ‘virtuousness’ or ‘positive deviance’. But I rarely use those words in practice, and those of you with whom I worked might never have heard me use those terms.

Virtuousness and Positive Deviance

The theorists, if they were with us and observing these conversations, would say that people are talking about their moments of ‘positive deviance’ i.e. displays of excellence and of virtuousness which involve acting from values, virtues and strengths. Academics and researchers have shown that when people behave in this way organisations perform better and are more successful, including in times of setbacks and difficulty. The people themselves are able to find better solutions to problems. New insights create generative change.

Organisational virtuousness refers to collective behaviours that extend beyond what is normally expected, and these are depicted in Kim Cameron’s Positive Deviance Continuum. For example negative relationships are ‘harmful, normal relationship behaviour is ‘helpful’, and at the positive extreme of the continuum relationships are noted as ‘honouring’. Cameron noted that (and I am paraphrasing here) most leaders pay almost exclusive attention to the gap between what is going wrong and the mid-point on the continuum, represented by an absence of problems. On the other hand, the gap between the mid-point and the far right (extraordinarily positive performance) receives far less attention. This is the area which motivates change in organisations based on the pursuit of a greater good, a condition of virtuousness, the best that human beings aspire to be.

For more about the academics’ work on virtuousness, positive deviance, and Kim Cameron’s continuum, see these three articles which I wrote over the recent months:

Virtuous Organisations (August 2012)

Positive Deviance (September 2012)

Kim Cameron’s Deviance Continuum (October 2012)

Empowerment and Leadership

Hi Everyone,

In the research article “Using positivity, transformational leadership and empowerment to combat employee negativity” (see full reference at the end of this article), the authors explore the interplay between positive organisational behaviour and transformational leadership and the impact on employee performance. The authors are particularly interested in how empowerment might play a meditating role.

The helpful descriptions of empowerment, transformational leadership and positive organisational behaviour provide timely reminders for leaders, managers and employees. Summarised below are some key points from the article.


The authors refer to the work of Gretchen Spreitzer and describe empowerment as a multidimensional construct which comprises:

  1. Meaning: “value of a work goal or purpose, judged in relation to one’s own ideal or standards”
  2. Competence: “an individual’s belief in his or her capability to perform activities with skill”
  3. Self determination: a sense of having “a choice in initiating and regulating actions”
  4. Impact: “the degree to which an individual can influence strategic, administrative or operating outcomes at work”

Few of you would be surprised about the benefits of being empowerment. The research supports what we have all experienced: “empowerment has been found to be related to effectiveness, less job strain and more job satisfaction, less anger and frustration on the job and greater organisational attachment.” For those of you familiar with the Deci and Ryan’s Self Determination Theory and their concept of intrinsic motivation, you will see close similarities with Spreitzer’s work.

Psycap: Positive Organisational Behaviour

Positive Organisational Behaviour (POB) and Psychological Capital (Psycap) come from the work of Luthans, Youssef and colleagues. They describe one’s positive psychological state in terms of four components:

  1. Confidence / self efficacy: “the confidence to take on and put in the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks”
  2. Hope: “persevering toward goals and, when necessary, redirecting paths to goals in order to succeed”
  3. Optimism: “making a [realistic] positive attribution about succeeding now and in the future”
  4. Resilience: “when beset by problems and adversity, sustaining and bouncing back and even beyond to attain success”

Psycap is described as a ‘common root resource’ and is similar to the work of other researchers who reinforce the importance of self esteem, self efficacy, locus of control and emotional stability as essential personal psychological resources.

Confidence, hope and optimism are described as proactive resources; resilience is a reactive resource. People with high Psycap put more effort into a task, are tenacious, have a realistic expectation of future success, are motivated, adapt well to change, and perform better at work. They experience lower levels cynicism at work in the face of change and are more likely to positively embrace the challenge of change. They are less likely to quit. Not only is this personally beneficial to the employee, it has a positive impact on organisational performance.

Psycap and empowerment

Personal power and autonomy are more possible if employees have high levels of Psycap. “Psycap seems directly related to Spreitzer’s impact component of empowerment….they perceive themselves to have a greater impact on their organisation.”. They can solve problems without waiting for direction, they have a sense of control and autonomy, they have confidence in their abilities. People who feel empowered have lower levels of cynicism and less intention to quit.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders have qualities which include:

  • “showing how the goals and values of the group, followers, leader and organisation are in basic agreement”
  • inspiring commitment to a mission or goal
  • providing individual attention their employees
  • “inspiring people to look beyond their self interest for the good of the group”

People who have a transformational leader have a greater sense of empowerment, improved performance and job satisfaction, lower levels of cynicism at work and are less likely to quit. This results in higher levels of organisational attachment. A win-win for everyone.

Suggestions which can be drawn from the research include:

  1. Help  your employees to be able to directly influence their own levels of empowerment at work by helping them to increase their psychological capital
  2. Help leaders to become more transformational, so as to positively affect employees’ levels of empowerment and performance

Questions to ponder, as you settle into the start of a new working year:

  • What can you do to become more transformational?
  • What is the state of your ‘Psycap’? Where can you improve?
  • How can you help your teams and colleagues to enhance their transformational leadership and their Psycap?