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COMMENTARY

Growing the business, building the culture

/ 05:01 AM May 07, 2021

A few weeks before my birthday every year, I would ask my staff to send me their wish lists that I might be able to fulfill.

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 situations.

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For instance, many have asked me for a washing machine. The most common reason 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-19).

I also found some requests to be timely and touching—a request for a bed, or at least a mattress, because the parents were sleeping on a “banig” (woven mat); dentures because a grandfather already had difficulty eating, or just wanted to avoid being teased for being “bungi” (toothless); and a request for an electric barber set to replace a father’s old set used to earn a living.

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These were memorable requests since most wishes were not for themselves but for loved ones.

These came to mind again in April this year, when I decided to change my business approach after attending an online talk of Wharton professor Adam Grant, author of “Give and Take,” hosted by the World of Business in New York.

Gift-giving

I discovered I could improve on what I had 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.

The result is that there were more offers to give than take. I felt victorious in being able to immediately apply the new lessons learned from the webinar, and also build a newly elevated culture of sharing help with those in need. I was touched by one employee who offered her 10 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 percent givers and 19 percent takers in an organization, but the majority of 56 percent are matchers who are quite transactional. They play it safe and are willing to give only when something of equal value is reciprocated.

Customer satisfaction

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 increase the number of 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.

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2. Takers know to kiss up but they also kick down so the best judge of who takers are the subordinates. One way is to innovate HR practices by doing reverse hiring, or posting job openings and allowing subordinates to choose their leaders. This way, leaders who are takers can improve 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 to look at the type of customers a firm deals with. Firms tend not to make money when they have 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 is for sure, business leaders cannot afford to limit their focus on merely growing the business, they must also  build the culture they desire internally. This way, issues in the marketplace and the workplace will be addressed to create a winning organization. —CONTRIBUTED

Josiah Go is the chair and chief innovation strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. Follow his Twitter at @josiahgo.

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