Peer to Peer Recognition: Givers, Takers and Adam Grant

Are you a giver, a taker, or a matcher? This is the question posed by Adam Grant, one of the world’s top management thinkers and leading expert on how we can find motivation and meaning at work.

For those who haven’t heard of Adam Grant, I’d urge you to watch his Ted Talks video ‘Are you a giver or a taker?’. It’s an inspirational watch that provides a mixture of theory and data to support the idea that keeping ‘takers off the bus’ is key to an organisation’s success. Keeping ‘givers and matchers on the bus’ is equally essential in a modern workplace where contribution is everything.

What does all this have to do with peer to peer recognition you may ask?

I would have to answer, everything. As Grant so eloquently shows, the workplace is made up of different types of givers and takers and not all is as it seems. What stands out, though, is the difficulty some organisations have in spotting their givers, matchers and takers so it’s interesting to remember this is something peer to peer recognition’s already doing. The employees who keep on giving and get nothing in return, the employee who gets everything and gives nothing back, the reciprocal non-initiators. They are there for all to see.

To the innovators in the peer to peer recognition space, understanding human behaviour and the effect it can have on an organisation is far more exciting than who got what reward and when. At its heart, peer to peer recognition software is built around a belief that giving is undervalued in the workplace. Its purpose is to help organisations make a lasting impact on their culture, by enhancing an employee’s work experiences through giving and receiving recognition. With the emphasis on the giving.

So in Workstars land, Adam Grant is hero-worshipped and in true hero worship style, I’ve enjoyed picking out my favourite quotes from his talk:

0.58: Adam Grant’s narcissist test

‘Step one: Take a moment to think about yourself
Step two: If you made it to step two then you are not a narcissist’

We all have moments of giving and taking but what is your default setting? Grant’s not entirely scientific short test is perhaps just a little tongue in cheek but it made me laugh.

5.28: Look after your givers

‘The first thing that’s really critical is to recognise that givers are your most valuable people but if they’re not careful, they burn out. So you have to protect the givers in your midst.’

I really like the point Grant’s making here. His research has shown that givers are the ones who have the greater potential to succeed at both a personal level and at an organisational level ahead of the takers and matchers. But it’s not clear cut. They can end up at the bottom of the heap if they’re putting too much of their energy into everyone else. They need protecting.

5.46: The five-minute favour

‘Find small ways to add large value to other people’s lives.’

Givers don’t have to be revolutionary in their approach to giving and, in fact, it can be counterproductive. Setting boundaries lets people give but protects them from ‘over giving’ to their own detriment. This is a great message for organisations to think about – how can they find ways to help their employees give but keep it in balance? It could be recognising someone’s work, it could be knowledge sharing, it could be connecting a couple of people who might benefit from knowing one another.

7.17: Create a culture of helping

‘Help-seeking is… critical to getting more people to act like givers.’

There are many people who want to give but the problem is between 75 and 90 percent of all giving starts with someone being prepared to ask for help. Yet we generally don’t like asking for help in case we’re thought of as being incompetent or not as clever as we’d like. If people are comfortable asking for help in their company, giving’s going to follow as people respond to those requests.

8.19: Keep takers off the bus

‘Effective hiring and screening and team building isn’t about bringing in the givers; it’s about weeding out the takers.’ 

Who hasn’t come across takers in their working life and if so, you’re probably aware of the trouble they can cause. Grant advocates putting energy into working out who those takers are and making sure they don’t find a home in your company. That’ll mean by default you’ll end up with the givers along with the matchers who’ll reciprocate that giving behaviour.

11.15: Don’t write off the disagreeable givers

‘Disagreeable givers are the most undervalued people in our organisations because they’re the ones who give the critical feedback that no one wants to hear but everyone needs to hear.’

Like Grant and probably most other people you might have expected the agreeable people to be the givers and disagreeable people to be the takers. There’s no correlation between those traits. Agreeableness-disagreeableness is what’s going on superficially, it’s how pleasant are you. Giving and taking’s about what’s going on inside. Someone might come across as quite unfriendly for example – but actually they have someone’s best interests at heart. Think Professor Snape in Harry Potter…

11.32: Beware the faker

‘The other combination we forget about is the deadly one. The agreeable taker… the person who’s nice to your face and then will stab you right in the back.’

How do you identify that someone’s a taker? They might come across as absolutely charming yet are primarily motivated to act in the interests of their own career. If they’ve got as far as the interview, Grant suggests asking them for the names of four people whose careers they’ve fundamentally improved. Takers’ names will all be more influential than they are.

Conversely, givers will probably name at least one or two people who are below them in the hierarchy. As Grant observes in this interview there’s a famous quote attributed to Samuel Johnson. The true measure of a person is how he or she treats someone who can do them no good. That’s a great definition of a giver. They give without expecting it to be repaid.

12.18: Change the definition of success

‘Instead of saying it’s all about winning a competition, people will realise success is really more about contribution…the most meaningful way to succeed is to help other people succeed.’

I may have laughed along with the rest of Grant’s audience when he finished off by raising the concept of ‘pronoia’ – the delusional belief that other people are busy secretly plotting our well-being – but I like the overall point he’s making. He’s right. We should all be finding ways to create a world where givers succeed.

Why not watch the Ted Talk for yourself: