Fostering Reciprocity is Far More Powerful Than Any Incentive Scheme You Can Devise

Fostering Reciprocity is Far More Powerful Than Any Incentive Scheme You Can Devise

According to Webster’s Dictionary, reciprocity is  established when there’s a “shared feeling on both  sides.” It implies a “mutual or equivalent exchange  or giving back of what has been received.”

In previous posts, I have written about the high levels of disengagement in the work place and what leaders can do to change things—to create more engaging and inspiring places to work. One of the most powerful ways leaders can change the negative dynamic in so many work environments is to foster a sense of reciprocity—the desire to ‘give back’ for what was given. But—to have people give back—you must give. If you don’t give, you don’t get.

In many peoples’ eyes, this sense of giving back is  emotional; it is a duty, an obligation to give back  more than was given.

“I felt privileged to be singled out—to be  moved into key jobs early in my career,” one group  leader reported to me. “They sent me to Harvard and to  our own executive development programs. My  mentors are now running the company. I had the  benefit of great coaches. Of course, others in the  company were singled out, too. But somehow you  were made to feel it was just you, it was personal. It’s now my turn to give back.”

“I came to this place and never in my wildest  dreams did I expect to accomplish what I have,” says another the global head of technology for a large technology company. “But this company just kept throwing opportunities at me, and every time I believe I’ve got to return their investment in me. I’ve got to do this for the company and its people.” He  continued, “The relationship I had with my manager  was really special. He took a lot of personal  interest, he helped me, coached me, started explaining  the company to me, and I didn’t understand  half of what he was saying, but I guess  through osmosis, I absorbed some of that stuff. . . . I observed early on that senior people were willing  to spend a lot of time with me and take a risk. They didn’t have to say it, I sensed this company  was different. . . . They’re going to give this kid out  of school the ‘jewels to the kingdom’? I took that  pretty seriously.”

Over and over again I’ve heard executives describe  the opportunities given them, the risks their  bosses took with them, and the faith and confidence  others had—thereby obligating them, solidifying  a relationship that no incentive scheme  can replicate.

There is a key difference between an  incentive or reward scheme and the kind of emotional, obligatory sense of responsibility that their  reciprocal arrangements bring. Both are effective  and both are probably necessary in organizations  today. But the latter is more enduring and, in the  end, more powerful.

Both are based on an exchange—an exchange  of monetary rewards or opportunities for current  or future performance. Reward schemes can be motivational and have been shown to change behavior, but the recipient believes he or she has earned what  was given.

In these reciprocal arrangements, on the other hand, the recipient feels special, “hand picked,” not yet deserving of the offer bestowed. In these reciprocal relationships, there is a genuine caring about the whole person, the individual. It is less mechanical than reward systems.

Reciprocity instills a strong sense of pride and  desire to give something back to the organization— to foster what was provided for you. One  executive I interviewed talked at length about  his “responsibility to make sure that the company  is optimizing the talent identified to make sure  that we are establishing the future technical or  management leaders.”

The leaders I have spoken with view their jobs as twofold: to meet a set of financial objectives and to build an organization, not just their own unit but the larger whole, that can get the job done. There is a sense of pride on the part of the employees that is created in an organization that has developed its leaders, presented them with challenging opportunities, and invested not only time and money in them but also confidence and trust in their capability to bring the  business to the next level.

All of this leads to a desire to give back to the organization through building and growing the next generation of great leaders, and to a determined spirit that fosters confidence and fortitude throughout the organization.

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