The place of generosity in business

Daniel Nixon, Managing Director, Foundation One

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I’ve learned many things over the years working for businesses that took care in various ways of property and facilities. But one thing stands out above everything else.

That one thing is to work from a generosity of spirit.

What does that mean?

It means you are willing to keep offering your knowledge, time, credit, power, information and faith. It means you do things that an efficiency expert might say can be cut out to save time and money.

The efficiency expert is probably right – in the short term. But efficiency tends to send the message, “Let’s get this sorted quick” and, “I’m not that interested in you”.

Ekaterina Walter, an occasional contributor for Forbes, says she is often asked how she achieved success and recognition. Her answer: The secret to success is generosity.

It’s about being willing to give a piece of yourself, or offering an invaluable gift of your time and expertise, or extending your network to someone you care to have a relationship with. It’s about caring enough to making someone else successful first. It’s about connecting people who share passions and aspiration. It’s about empowering those around you through a simple word of encouragement and inspiration at a time when it matters the most. All without expecting something back.

A lot of companies dismiss this simple, but invaluable insight. Strange, really, since this golden rule of business has proven itself over and over again.

If you’ve got that generous mindset, you’ll be happy to offer your clients something they may not expect. If you get a chance to support a client beyond the specifications of the brief, you’ll do it.

But this mindset should be carried everywhere, all the time. So people in your company should also benefit from it.

Tom Peters tells a story about a hospital in the US. An interviewer asked the housekeeper what her job entailed. She responded, "I help to cure cancer”. Somewhere in that hospital, a leader had connected the dots for this individual, and made her feel she was an integral part of the hospital's mission.

The opposite of this comes from a mindset of scarcity or coolness, where every dollar has to be counted and guarded and any warmth given out sparingly. A scarcity mindset also risks condescension and other modes of disrespect.

Generosity may increase some costs a bit, and use a bit more of your time, but if people become loyal to you, and/or refer others to you, you’ll have built a virtuous cycle.

Another way this mindset operates is putting the happiness of clients first. In practice, this means everyone in your business knows that when it comes to deciding the right thing to do, having a happy client is the key consideration.

A computer business complained about users contacting the company only to “moan about a fault and then expect us to solve it immediately”, and complaining about the expectations of the board.

It was suggested the business should look at the language it was using. Rather than referring to “the business”, “the board” and “end-users”, it should be seeing “clients”, or “customers”. “You should be working together . . . , not staring at each other with a mutual lack of sympathy”.

If a client is upset, a generous mindset will help you handle the emotion without getting tangled in it. We Kiwis have a tendency to get defensive if someone is upset, or just to dodge the issue. But if you talk to an upset or cross client the right way, with respect and truly addressing the heart of the problem, she or he may well become your best advocate.

Scott Partis, natural born project co-ordinator

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A while back we advertised for a cadet; someone to perform general office duties while learning the ropes of the business.

We expected we’d get a newbie who’d require a fair amount of hand holding for the first little while – and we were okay with that. But were we mistaken! What we got was a natural born project co-ordinator who grasps responsibilities faster than we can put them his way: in supplies, transport, staff relations, safety and, above all, client service.

His name’s Scott Partis.

What attracted Scott to Foundation One was the opportunity to grow and try different things.

Scott completed a Bachelor of Business Studies at Massey University, majoring in finance, property management and valuation. His is often the first voice clients hear when they’re ringing with things that need solving. Scott invariably either deals with it himself or quickly puts the right person on to it. That adds a great deal to customer satisfaction – people like to talk to someone who listens and can organise a quick solution.

Scott does many other things as well: ordering supplies, making sure vehicle warrants are up to date, liaising with Health and Safety staff, and coordinating work teams. The people-handling skills he gained working in the Gold Class Cinema as a student hold him in good stead. (In fact he enjoyed the challenge of working in an people-focused workplace so much that he continues to work there part-time.)

We love having Scott on our team, and we see big things ahead for him. 

Continual improvement key to Richard's way of working

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Electrical supervisor Richard Geurts is a man who knows what he wants and who finds ways of doing things better.

Eleven years ago, on his first day of sixth form, he went to a large electrical business and asked if they would take him on as an apprentice. They advised him to go back to school for another year.

Instead, Richard started electrical studies at Unitec, four days a week. He went back to the electrical business and worked as a volunteer on Fridays, until the course ended in August. Then he was offered an apprenticeship.

After 11 years in one place, Richard thought it was time to move on. He could see different ways of doing things, but didn’t have the opportunity to try them out.

Richard came to us with a lot of experience, particularly in project management. That has included overseeing the work of sub-contractors in other trades, especially mechanical services and data installations. He says it also reinforced his communication, time management and quality assurance, having to:

• work closely with design engineers, quantity surveyors, architects, and even clients
• manage outcomes if people didn’t turn up or failed to fully finish their work.

Planning is another strength. At one time he was working in a forest without cellphone reception. Advance planning had to be meticulous. It was not too different when he worked on a petrol station in Waiouru, with all the material coming from Auckland. Material had to arrive at the right time, while avoiding having too much stored on site.

Richard recognises that he’ll be learning about large HVAC systems in his new job, as he has worked only with smaller systems. But that’s fine – he likes to extend his experience.

That’s the way he is at home, too. He and his partner have owned their home for five or six years and, he says, he’s always renovating. He does everything, from tiling to building, giving anything a go. When he’s not working and renovating, he enjoys fishing and golf.

 

 

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