The refrain “it’s not personal, it’s business” is seemingly everywhere in corporate life. Business students and employees are trained to believe in the importance of the bottom line and that profits, rather than people, are essential to success.
In his new book, Give and Take, organizational psychologist and University of Pennsylvania Wharton professor Adam Grant turns this thinking on its head by declaring that kindness and helpfulness is the missing key to long-term productivity. Though the idea has induced heavy criticism from traditionalists, executives that take the leap to incorporate Grant’s theories could enjoy two very important benefits: increased productivity and enhanced corporate image. In an industry that has suffered tremendously in public opinion, the decision to prioritize philanthropy over profits is worth considering.
As Susan Dominus describes in a profile published in the New York Times, “The greatest untapped source of motivation, [Grant] argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other people’s lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.”
To incorporate these ideas into the corporate workspace, Grant regularly works with companies like Google and Amazon increase employee productivity and satisfaction. The success of these companies is a compelling point in Grant’s favor. By focusing on increasing employee satisfaction through prioritizing “giving,” a company can produce quality work, as well as keep their employees happy.
This idea has generated criticism from some analysts, but Grant stands by them. As Andrew Offenburger of The Huffington Post argues, “It would appear that [Grant] is packaging charity into micro-loans, of sorts, each with an anticipated return-on-investment.”
But Offenburger claims there might be no such return. In response, Grant asserts that the “big picture” of long-term advancement is more important that short-term returns. He challenges these myths by asserting employee satisfaction and productivity are two sides of the same coin. In emphasizing concern for others, the goal of increasing the motivation to work for others is already accomplished.
Though these ideas may seem idealistic, Grant’s credentials and academic prestige lend a degree of credibility to an otherwise unbelievable idea. At 31, he is the youngest tenured professor at Wharton, holds a Ph.D. of organizational psychology and is consistently a favorite of students. More importantly, he capitalizes on an idea that could transform company image.
Even more compelling is the notion that Grant’s theories help transform the concepts that define corporate thinking. Companies with the mentality that profits take precedence over everything should consider his theories.
As Susan Adams of Forbes argues, “[Grant] does a convincing job of proving that givers can achieve much more than cautious, self-protective takers who ‘believe the world is a competitive, dog-eat-dog place,’ where they need to put themselves first, for fear someone else will elbow them aside.”
In this respect, Grant does much more for business owners than just organizational success: he also gives them perspective.
“Think of it this way,” Grant said in his book. “In corporate America, people do sometimes feel that the work they do isn’t meaningful. And contributing to co-workers can be a substitute for that.”
If nothing else, Grant’s theories provide a refreshing reminder of what is important in life. Finding meaning in life and work is not idealistic, Grant argues. In many cases, it is essential to profits, productivity and success.
Who said you can’t mix business with pleasure?
Payal Mukerji is a junior majoring in business administration. Her column “Risky Business” ran Tuesdays.