Avoid Hiring the ‘Takers’

Are you a giver, a matcher or a taker? I came across a fascinating TED Talk the other day by Adam Grant, a management professor at Penn’s Wharton School and the author of two bestselling books, Originals and Give and Take. The latter book was about how helping others can fuel our own success, and was the focus of Grant’s talk, “Are You a Giver or a Taker?” which he delivered late last year at IBM.  There are three basic types of people in every workplace, he said: givers, takers and matchers.

Grant surveyed more than 30,000 people across industries and throughout the world, and found that most fall somewhere in the middle between givers and takers — he calls them “matchers.”

“If you’re a matcher, you try and keep an even balance of give and take: quid pro quo — ‘I’ll do something for you if you do something for me,'” he said. “And that seems like a safe way to live your life. But is it the most effective and productive way to live your life?”

The answer, said Grant, is ” a very definitive … maybe.”

Interestingly enough, although he found that givers display attributes that would seem to make them ideal employees, in the course of his research Grant found that they actually tended to be the worst performers in the various jobs that he studied. Givers tended to get the least work done, sell the least amount of products and, in medical schools, the students with the lowest grades tended to be the ones who most agreed with statements like “I love helping others.”

The givers are so giving, said Grant, that they tend to neglect their own work.

So, should you avoid hiring givers? Absolutely not, he said. In fact, givers tend to bring tremendous advantages to the organization as a whole, and HR and recruiting leaders should be screening out the takers instead.

“Givers make their organizations better,” said Grant. A huge body of evidence demonstrates that the more often people help others, share their knowledge and serve as mentors, the better organizations do on every success metric, from customer satisfaction to higher profits, he said. Givers spend a lot of time helping others but often end up suffering along the way, from a career perspective, said Grant. Interestingly enough, while many givers are bottom-dwellers in terms of job performance, they’re also disproportionately represented among top performers in terms of productivity, sales results and grades. Organizations should build cultures where givers actually get to succeed, he said.

Takers, by contrast, often rise rapidly within organizations — but they tend to fall rapidly, too, said Grant. Because takers tend to be “kiss-up, kick-down” types — currying favor with the higher-ups while dissing the people below them — they inevitably inspire revenge from the matchers, who make up the majority of most organizations, he said.

Matchers are positively influenced by the behavior of givers, however, and by building a culture in which asking for help from others is encouraged, organizations will not only inspire matchers to emulate givers but also make it easier for the givers themselves to thrive, said Grant. Fostering such an environment will encourage the givers themselves to seek assistance rather than risk burnout by helping everyone else to the detriment of their own well-being, he said.

Meanwhile, avoid the damage that even one taker on a team can wreak by filtering them out during the hiring process, said Grant.

“My favorite way to catch these people in the interview process is to ask them the question, ‘Can you give me the name of four people whose careers you have fundamentally improved?'” he said. “The takers will give you four names, and they will all be more influential than them, because takers are great at kissing up and then kicking down. Givers are more likely to name people who are below them in a hierarchy, who don’t have as much power, who can do them no good. And let’s face it, you all know you can learn a lot about character by watching how someone treats their restaurant server or their Uber driver.”