Helpfulness is the Key to Productivity Improvement
by Tess Julian, CEO of Catalyst Exchange
I rarely hesitate when it comes to talking. My friends and family would be amazed if I didn’t put in my tuppence-worth at the dinner table, and I’m usually quite happy to chat about my work. So I surprised myself at dinner the other night because, when asked directly about my job, I clammed up, dismissed the question and changed the subject.
I didn’t want to answer because I suspected my interlocutor would scoff, and diminish what I did and me. That was just the sort of person he was; I had spent the evening listening to him pooh pooh other people’s opinions and ideas, and I didn’t want to be in the firing line.
It got me thinking about why people don’t share ideas at work. Is that how the majority of employees feel when they have an idea? According to some of the member companies of the Hargraves Institute only 5% of the workforce actually contributes to innovation. It surely can’t be that 95% of the working population is completely bereft of ideas, so it must mean that many of those who do have ideas are reluctant to express them. Imagine how wasteful that is!
That’s why Allan Ryan from the Hargraves Institute has developed the concept of the catalyst, the person in the organisation who listens, engages and helps other employees express and develop their thoughts. A catalyst is the complete opposite of my unfortunate dinner companion of the other night.
Catalysts trade on being helpful and generous, they care about innovation and about people and so put their time into getting them together.
It makes perfect sense to me that catalysts assist others to be more productive and engaged, but it turns out that being helpful also increases the productivity of the catalyst. Adam Grant, a tenured professor at Wharton, has just published a book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, which according to The New York Times Magazine (27 March 2013) challenges traditional thinking:
"Traditionally the thinking has been that employers should appeal to workers’ more obvious forms of self-interest: financial incentives, yes, but also work that is inherently interesting or offers the possibility for career advancement. Grant’s research… starts with a premise that turns the thinking behind those theories on its head. The greatest untapped source of motivation, he argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other people’s lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves."
Through extensive research, Grant has gathered evidence to suggest that being helpful at work is not only good for the productivity of others, but is also a source of motivation and productivity for the helper. Not only that, his research shows that helpfulness is a highly desirable attribute and those who can demonstrate it in the recruitment process win out above those who focus on their other attributes.
This leads me to the conclusion that catalysts at work lift productivity and engagement in at least two significant ways:
- They overcome the barriers that many people experience when trying to express an idea, which means that there will be many more ideas, and, with the help of the catalyst, many more good ideas to improve and innovate;
- A catalyst also contributes more because the mere act of helping others achieve their goals motivates them to be more productive and engaged.
So next time a colleague asks for your help, remember it’s the gift that gives twice… they’ll be more effective and you’ll be more productive.