When I lived in Seattle, I'd occasionally run across someone who shared a common contact in our "six degrees" rundown of colleagues and mentors. "Bob Ratliffe?" my new acquaintance would say. "I know Bob. He’s one of my closest friends."
Bob was my boss. At the time, he served as senior vice president of corporate communications for McCaw Cellular (the predecessor to AT&T Wireless). He also sat on several boards for economic development, education and philanthropy. It seemed as if Bob knew everyone, and everyone knew Bob. Many counted themselves among his closest friends.
Over a successful career, Bob's generosity and love of people has helped him build a powerful network of friends. He's always willing to help -- even when it doesn't benefit him in any obvious way. People genuinely like being with him and want to be around him.
Once, when my daughter was going through a difficult medical procedure, Bob called to see how I was doing. As he heard about the situation, he quickly said, "I'm going to get on a plane and come there right now. I'll do anything you need me to do -- shovel your driveway, go to the store -- you name it." I knew he meant it. Had I not told him to stay put, I knew he would have booked the ticket the minute we hung up.
Wharton professor Adam Grant has researched the power of givers and shares his findings in his book Give and Take. On average, Grant found, givers produce 50 percent more revenue than those who are less focused on helping others succeed.
Becoming a giver is one of the best things an entrepreneur can do to ensure his or her success. Here are five ways to jump-start your giving approach.
1. Employ the 5-minute favor.
Grant’s book cites internet entrepreneur Adam Rifkin and his "five-minute favor." Any time Rifkin is asked to do something that will take him less than five minutes, he does it. He believes we all should be willing to commit this small amount of time to help someone else.
Research has shown that social giving has an enormous impact on emotional connection in any interaction. I've tried the approach myself, and it has blessed me immensely -- in both professional and personal relationships.
I now live in Salt Lake City. Between icy roads and a few reckless teenage drivers, I've had several opportunities to explore the many local options for car-body repair. Most are exactly the same. They'll do the job in the general neighborhood of the time and the price they quote, and they leave you hoping you're not being taken advantage of.
Not at Shine Auto Body Repair (now known as Gerber Auto Body). Their people do some extra things that seem simple but actually are surprisingly wonderful. First, you get a loaner car to use while yours is being repaired -- no questions asked. You'll receive a daily text message with photos to describe the progress on your vehicle. Office staff even are available to help you work through that insurance paperwork you're dreading.
This company makes the ordinary extraordinary by giving more than is expected. I've gone back every time I've needed repair services. And I frequently tell others about how it truly “shines” when it comes to its business.
Related: We're All in the Service Business
3. Say 'thank you' every day.
I mean this literally. The positive benefits of grateful living are well documented, but it's difficult to recognize its potential in a work environment until you try it for yourself.
A number of years ago, I was challenged to write a thank-you email, make a thank-you call or send a note to someone every business day for an entire year. I took the challenge. I didn't hit every day, but I completed more than 90 percent of the days. I said thanks to coworkers, bosses, friends, acquaintances, family members and a whole lot more. It was one of the best experiences of my life because it resulted in many unexpected conversations and deepened my existing friendships. I ended up receiving far more than I gave.
4. Try a 'giver' experiment.
There are many ways you can experiment with giving. Here's one that's worked for me: I invite the new, younger members of our team to a giving breakfast a few times a year. The breakfast is free, but I ask each guest to bring something -- personal or professional -- that he or she needs help with.
We start the meal by inviting attendees to share their needs and also offer to help others where they can. I've seen people receive and lend help in a variety of areas, including finding an apartment, managing money, dealing with tough clients, developing better eating habits, falling asleep and connecting again with their love of making music.
At this stage in my career, I'm convinced my personal network is my most most valuable asset. And there's nothing that nurtures a friendship-based network more than being a giver. As Mark Twain said, there's never a wrong time to do the right thing.
Giving is the right thing. Oh -- and Bob Ratliffe? Yeah, I know the guy. He's one of my closest friends.