Why Generous People Get Things Done

The WolfIt’s the day after Christmas, but this is no tale about charitable giving. Sorry folks. 🙂

This is a post about why people who are hardwired to generously serve and help others tend to get things done.

I just read Jeffrey Gandz’s 2007 Ivey Business School article on Go To People (via Martin Zwilling’s more recent summary in Forbes).

Gandz says that:

Every organization has a few people — very few people — who are its “Go-To” people….those to whom you can turn when you want a difficult situation sorted out, who will get the job done on time and on budget, and who won’t come up with a dozen reasons why it can’t be done but will discover how to do it.

Translation: The Wolf (from the movie Pulp Fiction). These people are often referred to in business as lieutenants or executors. They are the people who get shit done when the stakes are high and, often, when things need to be fixed urgently. (My startup even has an employee award called “The Wolf” to recognize such acts.)

Gandz offers several attributes that define a Go To Person, which you can go read yourself. But one resonated with me:

They use networks of reciprocation rather than deals.

According to Gandz:

[Go To People] always seem to have people they can turn to for favors! That’s because they have learned the value of reciprocity in the art and science of influencing people. However, these exchanges of favors are usually not elements in conditional negotiations. They seldom take the form: “If you support me, you will get this.” Rather, the reciprocity is usually based on having done someone a favor without requiring anything in return. It is often motivated not by future consideration but by a genuine desire to help someone else. There is no ledger of who-owes-whom but, rather, a subtle appreciation of organizational guanxi. (Network of reciprocal obligations built up over time).

In other words, people who get stuff done tend to have an intrinsic desire to help others. That characteristic inherently builds a bank of good will that such people can tap into when they need support and cooperation in getting things done. It’s not only who you know; it’s who you know and your bank of reciprocal good will.

Organizations of the future are increasingly matrix. Our global economy is increasingly composed of inextricable links. Both run less by command-and-control and more via collaboration.

The mandate: To be successful as a leader or manager, you’d better help others, and hire and associate with people who like helping others!

Of course,  there is an awesome side effect of hiring and associating with people who are hardwired to help others:

Your organization and your world will become a much more pleasant, nurturing place.

So be helpful and generous.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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  1. Hi Max, I work in big corporate but part of the “do more with less” mantra translates into making things work in a matrix organization. The days of progression up the ladder by building a bigger team empire are over. The matrix definitely needs you to encourage and cajole folks into doing stuff – make them realize they are valuable and not just a node on the network. 

    It also requires more recognition for a job well done which is complicated. If there are 10 folks in the matrix that get things done you have to give them all some recognition, without it turning into a committee of mutual appreciation. Complex stuff.

    Thanks for prodding some holiday thinking. Jim

    1. Good point on the complication around recognition and motivation in matrix efforts. Lots of people partly involved — even if collectively critical — means that recognition will be diffused and spread thin. You end up with a whole lot of nothing.

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