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17 April 17

The Word of Gold: just giving may be the most powerful business strategy of all

by Stephen Gold

It will probably not surprise you to learn that a man in a £9 T-shirt, who also happens to be a senior executive at Google with a Rolls Royce collection, has come up with an algorithm for happiness. He is Mo Gawdat, and he has just published Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path To Joy. What he says is persuasive, and also poignant.

The trigger for his research was the death of his 21-year-old son during what should have been routine surgery. Gawdat says that though his and his wife’s grief was indescribable, his algorithm made it possible for them to face it with “a sense of peace – even happiness and joy – because at least we’d had him in our lives”.

Key to his happiness theory is the power of kindness to others, without expectation of reward. He is not the first to notice it. The psychologist Robert Cialdini is a world authority on the nature and drivers of influence. The desire to reciprocate good deeds, he says, is hard-wired into our psyche, and has been fundamental to the success of the human race since we were, literally, scratching each other’s backs on the African savannah. The unconditional good deed brings two principal benefits: the act of giving makes us feel happy, and at the same time makes it highly likely that even though we are not looking for reward, it will come our way. It has underpinned all cultures through the ages. Odysseus relied on the kindness of other humans and mythological creatures to complete his voyage. The imperative to give is extolled by the great religions, and on the flip side, reciprocity may also mean “an eye for an eye”.

The heart of added value

The injunction to be unconditionally kind and helpful to others may primarily be a moral one – it makes the world a better place. But the power of reciprocity means it is also an enlightened business strategy. It is the golden key to successful networking, which, contrary to popular belief, has nothing to do with taking targets out to lunch, or nursing a glass of warm Prosecco at some unspeakable event, while looking around frantically for someone even more lonely and despondent than you. The most successful professionals understand this, and also that they have two markets.

The first is external: the web of existing clients, potential referrers of work and targets. Clients and connections really notice if their lawyers do something valuable for them unprompted and out of the box. Some time ago, I had the opportunity of interviewing the general counsel of a financial services giant, as part of a piece of strategic research for a firm on their panel. We got on to the subject of added value, an elusive concept for clients and firms alike. What, I asked, did added value mean to him? “The chance of a deal,” he replied without hesitation. “I run 50 law firms round the world. I pay them millions a year. None of them ever comes to me with an opportunity. They’re all reactive. They do what they’re asked to do, and they do it well, but no more. As far as they’re concerned, it’s not their job.” His view is widely held by the in-house community. Any firm that stands out as the exception, has a great chance of eating a disproportionate slice of the cake.

The second is internal: colleagues whose clients and connections have the potential to create work for other practice areas. Here we encounter the dreaded topic of cross-referral. In theory, winning more work from clients who are already receiving a good service should be easy. But often there is a yawning gap between theory and practice. The reasons range from sloth, inefficiency and a failure to see the big picture, to appraisal systems which do not reward referring work to others – and sometimes, politics.

Food for thought

I am often asked, “How do I get my partners to introduce me to ‘their’ clients?” Healthy businesses take it as read that every client is a client of the firm, not the individual, and delivering the whole firm is everyone’s responsibility. But if real life is not like that, and culture change seems a long way off, take personal responsibility.

To paraphrase the late John F Kennedy, “Ask not what your colleagues can do for you, but what you can do for your colleagues.”

As professionals, we constantly ask ourselves, “How do I stand out?” Having this mentality has been a good answer since long before Google, but Mo Gawdat has done a significant good deed in reminding us it’s possible to feed our businesses and souls simultaneously. Now, if he could just mention this “giving” business to their tax advisers...

Stephen Gold was the founder and senior partner of Golds, a multi-award-winning law firm which grew from a sole practice to become a UK leader in its sectors. He is now a trusted adviser to leading firms nationwide and internationally. t: 07968 484232; w: stephengold.co.uk; twitter: @theworldofgold

 

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