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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!

Man, this sucks! Sucks compared to what?

Across most of the nation, and much of the world, people are self-quarantining. In some cases, the quarantine is imposed by government order. In either case, some people are complaining, “Man, this sucks!” I’d like to offer a different viewpoint and ask, “Sucks compared to what?”

Nelson Mandela

The late Nelson Mandela, statesman and leader of South Africa’s movement to abolish apartheid, spent 27 years in prison. That’s a long time to be quarantined! Early on some of his imprisonment was isolation in an 8×7 ft cell where he slept on a straw bed on the floor.

Mandela spent much of his time studying, writing and continuing to advance the cause for freedom and equality for blacks in South Africa. Perhaps we should adopt the same stance regarding our free time right now and do things to actively improve ourselves.

Viktor Frankl

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you’ve undoubtedly seen many references to, and quotes from, Viktor Frankl. That’s so because his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is one of the most impacting books I’ve ever read.

Frankl spent three years in Nazi concentration camps. How did he survive the horrors? By focusing his mind. He believed one day he’d be a free man and chose to imagine dinners with his wife, giving lectures on what he learned, and to appreciate the beautiful things in life like flowers and sunsets.

Despite his incarceration he came to the realization that everything could be taken away from him except the freedom to choose where he would place his thoughts. And with that core belief he suddenly realized he was freer than the guards who monitored his every move at the concentration camps. We’d all do well to adopt Frankl’s mindset.

John McCain

Senator John McCain was shot down during the Vietnam War and spend five and a half years as a prisoner. At first, he wasn’t even given any medical treatment for the injuries he sustained. Soon thereafter he was subjected to torture.

McCain had an opportunity for release less than a year into captivity but refused unless all the men he was imprisoned with were released too. That meant nearly five more years of imprisonment.

Consider this; we’re told to simply stay apart for our own well-being and the well-being of our fellow citizens. McCain chose to stay with his fellow soldiers at a great personal cost to himself and those who wanted him home. That’s a hero.

Our “Imprisonment”

Frankl, Mandela and McCain are extremes when it comes to imprisonment but they are hardly alone in the course of history. They could not access any of the comforts so many of us enjoy at this very moment.

  • Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu and other television apps afford us 24x7x365 entertainment of any kind.
  • We have access to news, books, games, email, work and countless other things to occupy our time, educate ourselves and in some cases, continue working.
  • Zoom, Skype, Google Meets and other technologies allow us to communication face to face with each other.
  • We still have access to goods and food delivered to our doorsteps.

Conclusion

For many reasons the global pandemic sucks. The biggest reason is that people are dying who otherwise may have lived much longer lives. Millions are getting sick which, even when they recover, presents its own hardships. And the economic toll – lost jobs and businesses – across the globe is terrible.

But, considering what many people have endured over time, what we’re going through doesn’t suck so much in comparison.

To Do This Week

Take stock of what you have, not what you’re missing, and be thankful. Use your time wisely. Here are a handful of easy things you can do:

  1. If you have family at home use this is a unique opportunity to spend quality time together. Don’t waste it! Jane and I have made it a point to take walks together every day. What are you doing differently?
  2. Get on LinkedIn Learning, Coursea and other online providers to sharpen your skills. Download a book or start listening to podcasts. You have more time so how will you use it?
  3. Use this time to reconnect with people. I’ve reconnected with my friend Marco Germani who lives outside of Rome. Once a week we jump on Zoom and keep each other up to date about what’s going on in our parts of the world. What person would you like to reconnect with?
  4. Give thanks. Despite the self-isolation you can still order food and other goods as noted earlier. Imagine how much harder this would seem without Amazon and other home delivery! What are you thankful for in the midst of this?
  5. Get creative. People are having virtual cocktail parties using technology. I’ve participated in a few and they’re fun. Jane and I give each other silly gifts every day and post of Facebook so our friends can laugh. What’s one creative thing you can do to pass each day?

Compared to earlier this year, things seem like they suck. Stepping back and looking at what others have had to endure, things don’t seem so bad. Make the right comparison and you’ll feel much better about where you are right now.

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 90,000 people around the world!