A Wharton professor explains 3 ways nice guys can get ahead at work




Those who are willing to give at work are often the most successful.

In his 2013 book "Give and Take," Wharton professor Adam Grant explains why the willingness to help others is crucial to success in business.


Unfortunately, Grant argues, there are plenty of opportunities for the people he labels "givers" to go astray, sabotaging their own chances of success. Those who give and give without understanding the impact of their behavior, for example, can easily get burned out and see their job performance suffer.

In the book, Grant outlines several strategies for giving effectively, whether you're a teacher, a software engineer, or an entrepreneur. We spoke to Grant about these strategies and the people who have used them successfully.

Below, we highlight three key ways that givers can avoid common pitfalls, simultaneously helping others and getting ahead themselves.

1. Be thoughtful about the impact you're making.

A growing body of research, by Grant and others, suggests that giving too much isn't what leads to burnout. Instead, it's the impression that your actions aren't making a substantial impact.


In order to give effectively, Grant told Business Insider, you have to make sure you're "moving the needle and solving an important problem." Grant said we can all be more "thoughtful" in our work, and think: "Will it make a unique difference?"

On the other hand, if you're simply exerting yourself with nothing to show for your efforts, you could eventually burn out and your job performance will suffer.

In "Give and Take," Grant gives an example of a high-school teacher who was stressed and overwhelmed by the daily demands of her job. But instead of reducing the amount she gave by no longer staying so late at school or working weekends, she decided to give even more.

The teacher threw herself into the establishment of a nonprofit organization to help high-achieving, low-income students prepare for college. In addition to her normal teaching schedule, she started spending several hours every week tutoring those high-achieving students.

Even though the teacher ended up having less time to herself, Grant says, "the net effect was to fill the impact vacuum that she experienced in her teaching job." Through the mentoring program, she was able to see the direct, almost immediate impact of her efforts, and she now approached her original teaching job with the hope that she could make a similar difference for those students.


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Schedule time when you can work without interruption, as well as time when you're available to help others.

2. Schedule time for giving.

Research suggests that "chunking" your helping behaviors is more effective than "sprinkling" them. In other words, do all your favors on a single day or specific afternoon instead of spacing them out throughout the week.

In "Give and Take," Grant cites a study led by Leslie Perlow, which found that scheduling giving behaviors into your day instead of doing them ad-hoc can lead to greater productivity.

For the study, Perlow looked at software engineers at a Fortune 500 company, who were working on developing code for a new product. The engineers, Perlow found, could hardly get any individual work done because they were constantly helping each other solve problems.

So Perlow advised the engineers to institute a new regimen, which involved "quiet times" for getting work done without interruptions and "interaction times" for helping coworkers. After the schedule change, two-thirds of employees reported above-average productivity, and the team ended up launching the product on time.


The takeaway here is that simply helping people whenever they need it could undermine your own success. It's more effective to schedule helping behaviors into your day, so that you know you also have time to do your own work.

3. Give in ways that align with your personal goals and your organization's.

"Focus on forms of giving that don't force you to make tradeoffs between your job and what other people need," Grant told Business Insider.

He cited the example of Kat Cole, president and COO of Cinnabon, who started out as a Hooters waitress and ascended the ranks through giving behavior. Whenever someone was needed to cover a shift for another server or even a chef, Cole would step up to the plate. Eventually, she had served in so many different roles that she was selected to help open Hooters restaurants abroad.

For Cole, being a giver and being willing to help when her organization needed her was a "win-win" strategy, Grant said, because it helped her learn something and advance her career, too.

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