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Posted on December 7, 2016

The Unexpected Power of Generosity

Giving and Taking

It’s officially my favorite time of year – when every publication and website releases their “best of the year” lists – best songs, best TV shows, best books. As I’ve been reading all these lists over the past few days, I can’t help but chuckle to myself that my favorite book of the year was published three years ago.

Practically anyone who’s had a conversation with me this year has heard me rave about Adam Grant’s 2013 bestseller, Give and Take. The basic premise is that spending your time giving to and helping others can lead to personal success. In fact, Grant’s research shows that those who are inherently generous with their time, energy and support are more successful than those who are constantly matching or seeking help from others.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s struggled to balance my desire to connect with and help others, with my need to run a successful business. When I first became CEO of Brilliant Ink, I was worried that I was spending too much time doing what I enjoy most: making new connections  and learning about their interests – whether it’s their employee experience programs, their hobbies or their children. I had this nagging feeling that perhaps all these conversations – which often lead to others seeking my advice or me seeking theirs – were distracting me from the important work of “running my business.”

What I’ve come to learn – through Grant’s book, and through my own experience – is that these interactions and relationships are EXACTLY what’s going to make this business successful. Once I gave myself permission to pursue these kinds of connections without worrying if they were all going to result in some immediate, direct benefit for the business, I discovered that 1) I was having a lot of fun doing my job, and 2) connecting with good people is always going to reap benefits – whether they’re immediate or further down the road.

And in fact, shifting my thinking in this way has given me a new way of looking at our work in employee engagement. When you strip away all the different factors that affect how engaged an employee is at work, it really boils down to their desire to make a difference. And while we’ve always known this in essence, Grant’s research proves that when employees feel connected to the ultimate beneficiaries of their work (whether it’s patients using their company’s drug, or consumers using their company’s technology, or people being protected by their company’s insurance plans), they are more productive. Tapping into employees’ innate desire to give back to others can and does drive business success. 

In a world that feels increasingly divided, it’s really comforting to know that connecting with others in an intelligent way can be a sure-fire way to be successful. That’s why I’ll never turn down the opportunity to meet and talk with like-minded people – why I willingly share advice and insights I’ve gained in my work. Ultimately, I do what I do because I believe all employees deserve to have a job that is meaningful and fulfilling. By helping individuals and companies give their people a meaningful experience, I’m fulfilling my own desire as an employee.

Ann Melinger