A Path to Real Change

There’s been lots of talk about a “new normal” when we emerge from the Covid-19 quarantine. Some people long to go back to the way things were just prior to the pandemic. That’s understandable because in the United States unemployment was near all-time lows, the stock market was at record highs and the economic outlook was promising. That doesn’t necessarily mean things were hunky dory for everyone.

Many of the jobs people had didn’t pay a living wage which meant working two or three jobs to make ends meet. It’s a safe bet the multitudes who barely made enough to pay their bills were not beneficiaries of the bull run in the stock market. This is evidenced by the financial hardship so many have encountered during the pandemic because of little or no savings.

You can’t legislate generosity so most employers only do what they’re legally required to do even though they may have the capacity to do more. But, maybe there’s a better way to real change than legislating it.

Reward vs. Reciprocity

Rewards and reciprocity are two well researched ways to influence behavior. But, they are very different ways to approach behavior change.

Rewards are commonplace in business because they’re contractual. Think of the contractual nature of rewards this way, “If you…I will…” For example, your boss tells you if you hit your sales numbers the company will pay you a bonus. If you don’t reach your goal, the company doesn’t owe you anything beyond your normal pay. Once you hit the goal you may not owe the company anything more either. In a sense, negotiated rewards bring closure to relationship.

By contrast, reciprocity isn’t contractual, it’s relational. Reciprocity can be view like this, “I have…will you…?” I have helped you, will you do me a favor? There’s no guarantee you will do the favor I want. I have to trust the rule for reciprocity which says people feel some obligation to give back to those who have first given to them.

You may think you’ll be taken advantage of if you do and do and do for people. It’s true that some people won’t do anything for you in return. Fortunately, most play by the rule. And here’s some good news; quite often when you engage reciprocity you can do much less and still have people very willing to help you when you need it. In other words, small acts of generosity don’t go unnoticed and can produce outsized responses.

A Better New Normal

I came across a story recently that got me thinking about this. Larry Connors, a Dayton, Ohio, real estate CEO, recently earned a whopping $1.6 million in the stock market in just eight days! How fortunate is that, especially during this time when the stock market has dropped more than 20% in just a few short months. Some people have all the luck and the rich just keep getting richer. But there’s a twist to this story of good fortune.

Larry Connors is giving away all $1.6 million to his employees. That’s right, each employee will get a gift of $2,000 – $9,000. Click here to read more.

While the article calls the payout a bonus, I intentionally use the word gift because usually bonuses are based on the reward mentality. They’re negotiated in advance. In this case nothing was negotiated and Connors was under no obligation to pay any of that money to his people. It was an unexpected gift during a time when people needed it most.

When is Enough Enough?

While a rising tide does raise all boats, with the economic tide some boats seem to catch much bigger waves and the income disparity in this country has continued to grow for more than four decades. According to the Economic Policy Institute, since 1978 CEO pay has risen 940%, but the increase for the typical worker was just 12%.

Legislating minimum living wages, capping senior level executive payouts, increasing tax rates and other ideas are always met with stiff resistance. Socialism and wealth redistribution are terms that are kicked around whenever this issue comes up.

But what if more people in positions of wealth, power and privilege willingly took the position of Larry Connors? What if an ever growing number of those folks realized they had more than enough and that helping others share in the pie would be better for everyone over the long run?

Certainly not every senior executive will have such a large windfall over such a short period but it’s so often the case that many get big raises and enormous bonuses that, if distributed more among the average worker at their company would lead to more economic prosperity. After all, sales when it comes to groceries, electronics, cars and other durable goods would increase if more money were in the hands of more consumers.

Why Even Consider It?

What good does it do Larry Connors, or might it do for other business leaders, to consider engaging reciprocity through non-negotiated acts of kindness? The reasons are numerous but below are three that came right to mind for me. I invite you to share a few of your own.

  1. Employee loyalty. Do you really think Larry Connors’ employees will go work anywhere else now? Reciprocity will likely dictate a response in the form of fierce loyalty and lower turnover lowers costs which could result in more competitiveness.
  2. Attracting talent. For many Millennials and Generation Zers money isn’t their top priority. Working for socially conscious companies with good, trustworthy people is. An act of giving when you don’t have to and it’s not expected makes working for such a company a strong attraction for top talent. Top talent usually translates into a competitive advantage.
  3. It’s better to give than receive. If you’re like me, growing up you may have heard it was better to give than receive. I’m not sure kids really believe that but as we grew up we started to realize making the choice to help others does feel really good. Even if nothing comes back your way you can lay your head on your pillow each night knowing you’ve helped people.

To Do This Week

I’m certain most people reading this will not be in the position that Larry Connors was in but it doesn’t mean you can’t do something. Consider the following:

  • Next time you order food, double, triple or quadruple your normal tip. The amount may not be a lot to you but it will probably make your delivery person’s day.
  • If you don’t have much extra to spare then be very generous with your praise. If possible, make sure your praise reaches someone’s boss because it might be the catalyst for a promotion, raise or bonus.
  • Help others by making connections that might benefit both parties in the future.

Each of us is at a unique time in our lives. If we don’t make a commitment to do something different as we move out of quarantine then we’ll find ourselves right back where we started and that would be a shame because it would be like acknowledging that things were good enough. Unfortunately, they weren’t good enough for many people.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was a top 10 selling Amazon book in several insurance categories and top 50 in sales & selling. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world!

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