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.