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Are you a giver or a taker?

Chief Human Resources Officer

Georgette Verdin | Chief Human Resources Officer

There’s something that’s been on my mind for quite a while, probably since December, when I took time to look back at 2020 and reflect on the power of coming together as a community to make it through this challenging year.  The work we are doing is unique — cutting edge. But what’s it going to take for us to continue to be successful, to realize our vision and goals for patients and to continue to work with a certain amount of urgency.

I fell back to a body of work by Adam Grant, who teaches at The Wharton School, re-reading his book Give and Take. The essential premise is that the working world is composed of three types of people: givers, takers and matchers. Based on a serious amount of research and data, he talks about the value of givers in an organization: higher rates of giving were correlated to higher productivity, efficiency and goal achievement, along with lower employee turnover rates. When employees worked as givers, they facilitated efficient problem solving, improved coordination and built cohesive cultures that were highly collaborative and attractive to customer and internal talent alike.

This concept has continued to resonate for me in nurturing our culture of problem solving and collaboration at AVROBIO. These are the key tenets of Grant’s work:

  • Givers populate the highest performers and over a long period. They also can be among the lowest performers in terms of deliverables – ironically, because they are spending a considerable amount of time helping others be great. Organizations largely populated by givers have been some of the most successful: Givers focus on the greater good, understanding the benefit of collaborative achievement.
  • Takers place little trust in others, because they assume people are takers like they are. They harbor doubts about others’ intentions; they see capable people as a threat and are less willing to support or develop them. While some takers may enjoy periods of success and even make valuable contributions, the data (and history) have demonstrated they lose respect and damage their own reputations.
  • Matchers value reciprocity, responding in kind, going out of their way to support, encourage and develop when there’s evidence of a benefit to them. “I’ll do something for you if you do something for me” is the calling card of matchers. It seems like a logical way to deal with each other in the workplace, a tradeoff between unconditional giving and reckless taking.

How much we give or take is shaped by who we interact with. It’s our nature to conform to what we believe is expected of us in group situations. For example, takers are usually more generous in public, because they don’t want to appear miserly to others. Conversely, givers may suppress their generosity at work when they don’t want their kindness to be perceived as a weakness (sometimes this is seen as the disagreeable giver).

Organizations that foster givers are the ones in which the individual and the company thrives.

If you want a sneak preview to what Grant is espousing, listen to his 13-minute Ted Talk: Are You a Giver or Taker?

How do you become a successful giver?

  • Givers achieve the top positions in society because they focus on the greater good.
  • Successful givers cultivate and use their vast networks to benefit others as well as themselves.
  • Givers see potential in everyone they meet, making them formidable at finding and nurturing talent.

How do you avoid being a failed giver?

  • Givers are only successful if they can avoid burnout or being abused by takers.

Are you a giver, taker or matcher? Do you know?