workplace generosity

Winning Through Workplace Generosity: An Interview With Dr. Wayne Baker

By Shane Metcalf

Ever wonder how you will achieve the monumental tasks required of you at work? Few people realize that they’re already surrounded by all the resources they need to reach their goals. There are people around you who would be happy to help. All you have to do is ask, but most people simply don’t make the request.

In Episode 17 of the Best-Self Management Podcast, we’ve brought in Dr. Wayne Baker, an expert who has helped people and organizations successfully build cultures where anyone can tap into the giving power of what is actually a massive network of resources:

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Surprisingly, most people are willing and even eager, to help others. The disconnect often occurs because people are reluctant to ask for help when they most need it. Dr. Baker discusses how organizations can best make use of generosity while making sure that everyone’s needs are met and acknowledged. This requires intentionally building a culture of workplace generosity. To that end, Dr. Baker shares tools and strategies that any organization can use to help achieve this.

In this episode we also discuss:

• The innate generosity of human beings & the dangers of dysfunctional generosity 

• How to build a culture of workplace generosity

• How joining a culture of generosity can change someone’s own sense of giving and receiving

• Specific guidance on how to formulate requests at work

• Tools to help automate the question asking process

• Getting past the fear of asking for help, especially with “dormant connections”


Workplace Generosity: The 4 Archetypes

The following is a transcribed and edited portion of the Best-Self Management Podcast, Episode 17, “Intentionally Building A Culture Of Generosity”.

Wayne: Everyone needs an inflow of resources from others to be successful and get the job done: knowledges, idea, referrals, opportunities, network connections, and emotional support. It’s a myth that we work as individuals. I know people try to do that, we call them the Lone Wolves, and they try to keep their heads down and focus on the tasks. But you just can’t be that productive that way.

We found that there are four different types and the most common is not the Lone Wolf, it’s the Overly-Generous Giver. (By the way, you can take this assessment to discern your type.) This person is very generous but rarely or never asks for what they need. This is called dysfunctional generosity and leads to burnout.

Being freely generous without expectations of return is important, and you need to make requests for what you need. The Overly-Generous Giver is very well regarded but their productivity suffers because they’re not getting the inflow.

The opposite of that type is the Selfish Taker. Fortunately, there are not many of those. The best place to be among the four is what I call the Giver/Requester, someone who freely and generously helps other people and also makes requests when they need something. They are very highly regarded because of their workplace generosity and they are the most productive, because they are getting the inflow of resources they need to get the job done.

Read Wayne’s latest book, All You Have To Do Is Ask, for more on these four archetypes.

Generosity Beyond Work

Shane: Most of us want to build a culture of generosity. What does that actually look like? Why would I want it? And in contrast, what’s the alternative?

Wayne: Let’s start there. If you don’t have a culture of generosity, you have a culture of competition—sometimes cutthroat competition where it’s one against all, and your gain is my loss. This culture is based on an incorrect assumption that the way to get the most out of people is to make them compete against each other. What we have found through our research and others, is that it’s really through collaboration and teamwork that great things can be accomplished.

Shane: I would imagine that in a culture of generosity, that generosity also spills over beyond work. One of the common things you hear in companies is that we want people to bring their whole self to work, we want to re-humanize business and care about people beyond their titles and that generosity creates inclusion for the whole person.

Wayne: Absolutely. In some of the studies that we’ve done, we found that when you’re in a generous workplace that creates emotional energy that spills over to the home and other areas of your life. We like to say at the Center for Positive Organizations that there’s no clear line between personal and professional. If you have a positive workplace culture, that’s going to benefit you in terms of family, home-life, and friends, and that is going to spill back over to the workplace as well.

Dr. Wayne Baker is the Robert P. Thome Professor of Business Administration and Professor of Management & Organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and Faculty Director of the Center for Positive Organizations. Dr. Baker is author of All You Have to Do Is Ask (released Jan. 2020) as well as five other books and many scholarly articles. A frequent guest speaker and management consultant, Baker is a cofounder and board member of Give and Take Inc., developers of the collaboration technologies based on principles in All You Have to Do Is Ask.

Shane Metcalf is a keynote speaker on building a world-class workplace and one of the world’s leading pioneers in the space of cultural engineering and positive psychology. His insights have been featured in Inc, Fast Company, Washington Post, and Tech Crunch. As the Co-founder of 15Five, Shane and his team support HR Executives with data-driven continuous performance management. 15Five has won numerous awards for its company culture, including the prestigious Inc Best Workplaces award, and is ranked #3 in the U.S. on GlassDoor. Follow Shane on Twitter and LinkedIn.

To listen to all of our episodes, visit the podcast page.

Image Credit: Perry Grone on Unsplash


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