February 21, 2013

Help others be successful

Working for Accenture had its ups and downs, but one great, great up was a simple idea: help others be successful.

Thinking about it after so many years, there are a couple of instances that stem out:

– In my first performance review after moving to the London office, my boss went over the criteria they used to evaluate performance. And there it was: on paper, formal and all: ‘how much did you help others be successful?’ (as measured by how much my boss heard others say ‘yep, Arnaud is great guy, he helped me on this and that’. That was a big ‘aha’ moment for me: sure you help others when they ask for help, but this now was a formal performance evaluation criterion, linked to promotion and all, so you’d better start thinking how you can do it better.

– A second instance was while working on a project for another partner, Mark Lillie. I had this co-worker who knew a lot more about the subject than I did, so I asked for her insight, and she helped quite a bit. A couple of days later, when I shared my progress with Mark, I casually mentioned I had enlisted her help. In a way, I wasn’t proud of it: I thought that it demonstrated a weakness of mine, one that needed to be compensated for by dedicating further company resources but attributing the credit was only fair. Mark’s reaction took me completely by surprise: he congratulated me for doing it. And, after having thought about it, now it makes sense: I discovered I had limitation, I had the humility to admit it, I went to an expert that could help me produce a much better deliverable that I could have. Therefore, the group wins.

– Another indicator that this was a serious practice was the understanding that anyone in our practice could arrange to talk to anyone else in the firm who was an expert on a subject. I’m talking about a lowly business analyst (me) being able to call the global head partner of a practice because they know everything there is to know about a specific subject. No gate keeper. No unnecessary hierarchy.

I haven’t found this culture present in other organizations, certainly not at that level of formality, but I’ve tried to emulate it. In my course, students come with their own project, but a significant part of their grade is based on how much they help others be successful in their unrelated projects. This creates a fantastic environment where everyone is leveraging everyone else’s best skills.

And I’m thinking about this, after all those years, because of a great post by Mark Glouston in today’s Harvard Business Review’s blog. He says “saying thanks not only results in reciprocal generosity — where the thanked person is more likely to help the thanker — but stimulates prosocial behavior in general. In other words, saying “thanks” increases the likelihood your employee will not only help you, but help someone else.” And this feels awfully familiar, not just with thanks but also with help: when you’re receiving assistance you want to give some, to your helper or someone else. How’s that for creating a positive work environment?