In Culture

At the beginning of every semester, Ben Zander, author of The Art of Possibility and director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra gives each student an A before they’ve done any work at all. In order to retain the A, all the students have to do is write a letter saying what they will have done by the end of the semester to have earned it. Instead of obsessing over performance and perfection, students think about what they can contribute to the group experience.

This is what we call a “contribution mindset”: a focus on rewarding contributions rather than encouraging competition, greed, comparative grading curves, and avoiding mistakes.

According to Zander, focusing on contribution instead of (or in addition to) externally defined measures of success shifts us away from self-focus and engages us in a relationship with others that allows us to make a difference. The rewards of focusing on contribution are deep and enduring, even if they are less predictable than rewards like money, fame and power.

Zander outlines two major practices when it comes to contribution:

  1. Declare yourself to be a contribution
  2. Throw yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why.

A focus on a contribution mindset can apply in a business setting as well as it does in an academic one. Contribution mindset is a close synonym for giving culture and has similar benefits: strengthening social bonds and increasing productivity.

In fact, the late management guru Peter Drucker has said that the most effective executives focus on contribution. In this book The Effective Executive, he writes,

“The man [or woman!] who focuses on efforts and who stresses his downward authority is a subordinate no matter how exalted his title and rank. But the man who focuses on contribution and who takes responsibility for results, no matter how junior, in in the most literal sense of the phrase, “top management”. He holds himself accountable for the performance of the whole.”

“Focus on contribution” is a resounding mantra in Drucker’s “Managing Oneself.” Drucker is more specific than Zander on how to predict or uncover what contributions we can make and  encourages each of us to ask ourselves this question:

“Based on my strengths, work style, and values, how might I make the greatest contribution to my organization’s efforts?”

According to Drucker, there are three major areas where we can make significant contributions in the workplace:

  • Financial results
  • Building and sustaining values or company culture,
  • Building and developing people in the company.

At Give and Take, we think everyone can be a contribution and that creating a culture where people are generous with time and knowledge is the way to start.

Here are four questions based on the work of Zander and Drucker that can shift your thinking. If you lead a team, this is a great exercise to run in a group setting or in individual one-on-one meetings. You can add a contribution element to annual reviews or just make it a more informal conversation.

  1. In the next 6 to 12 months, what can you contribute that will warrant an excellent review?
  2. How can you throw yourself into work as someone who makes a difference for the company AND for the people in the company?
  3. How can you contribute to creating a culture of generosity in the workplace?
  4. How can you help build and develop other people in the organization, whether or not you have direct reports?

If you’re interested in learning more about how Givitas by Give and Take helps companies build a culture of generosity and contribution, click here to learn more.

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