Culture is one of the biggest topics in business right now, and certainly has a growing role in discussions throughout the social business world. Alas, it’s also one of the hardest things to nail down, as behaviour takes on an almost viral nature, rapidly becoming a part of the organizational fabric.
Whilst most social businesses are looking to foster collaborative and supportive behaviours, perhaps we can learn much from how selfish behaviours thrive in the workplace. After all, it’s sadly the case that selfish behaviour is rather more common than the unselfish kind, so there is plenty of evidence to trawl over.
One such was a study I wrote about last year from the University of Missouri. It suggested that selfishness tends to take on a viral nature within groups, with those that acted selfishly influencing more of their peers than those who had acted altruistically.
“We don’t know what psychological mechanism caused that, but perhaps potential givers did not want to be ‘suckers,’ who gave up their money while someone else got away with giving nothing. Selfish behavior in others may have given individuals an opportunity to escape any moral obligation to share that they might have felt.” the researchers said.
This finding was replicated in a second study published recently by Harvard’s Michael Norton. It found that we have a much greater propensity to pay forward greedy activities than selfless ones.
His experiment worked along similar lines to the first, with participants on the receiving end of either greed, generosity or fairness. It emerged that if the participant received a fair offer, they too would give the next person a fair offer in return.
When they received a generous offer however, they didn’t pass on that generosity, instead splitting that generous gift equally between themselves and the next person. What’s more, when participants had been slighted with a rubbish offer, they in turn did likewise with their subsequent offers.
It’s easy to see therefore how bad behaviour spreads much faster and easier than good behaviour. It underlines the critical importance of trying to build a culture of giving and support within your organization. I’ve written previously about doing things such as hosting a giving day or using reciprocity circles to drive home the importance of helping colleagues.
Those are just a few of the tools you can use though. Here is a more comprehensive look at how you can build a giving culture.
7 ways to encourage a giving culture
- Focus on the task – the last 20/30 years have seen big changes in how tasks are designed. Various process improvement methodologies have evolved to ensure that tasks are performed in an optimum way. If your organisation makes use of such methodologies, make sure you include giving, knowledge sharing and collaboration in them. Ask yourself how the work flow would need to change to encourage more giving behaviour.
- Focus on the people – it is very easy to place undue emphasis on the people element of change, with the false assumption that if you could only change your team, everything would magically fall into place. Whilst getting the right people on board is important, there is a great deal of psychological research showing that our behaviour is influenced as much by the situations we find ourselves in as the kind of people we are. Think about the kind of skills required of your team in order to encourage knowledge sharing.
- Focus on the rewards – whilst rewards sound like a purely positive thing, they can also include punishments. What happens to people in your organisation when they behave the way you want, and of course what happens when they don’t? Remember that rewards don’t have to be monetary. Gamification has shown that it too has a role in reinforcing the right kind of behaviours. You will need to align your monetary and non-monetary rewards however to truly encourage a sharing culture.
- Focus on measurement – measurement is rightly important, and the saying goes that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. What you choose to measure also sends a strong message to employees about what you regard as important. This, coupled with the rewards you offer for good result, send frequent signals to employees about what matters. Use it wisely.
- Focus on information – think also about the kind of information people need in order to share wisely. In this instance employees will need to know both the problems their peers are having, and also the right people to ask if they themselves have a problem. You will also need to install strong and frequent feedback so that employees know how well they’re performing.
- Focus on organisation – most organisations have an org chart that outlines how the company is structured. If you’re trying to encourage people to share knowledge, then it’s very likely that this will mean knowledge flowing across organisational lines. How will this impact upon the make-up of teams within your organisation? Do you have the kind of flexibility that promotes this behaviour?
- Focus on decision making – if that knowledge is flowing, what impact will it have on who and when decisions are made? How will this impact upon the traditional leader/follower make up of teams?