3 minute read

How generosity makes us better businesspeople

Key performance indicators must include at least 40% social and environmental targets at specialist fine food distributor Cotswold Fayre. And now it has introduced a KPI of 12 hours' volunteering. The result, says chief executive Paul Hargreaves, is a generous workplace – and that is contagious

How generosity and volunteering makes us better businesspeople

Generosity needs to be built into the foundation of every business. So many of us (especially in the western world) are trapped in unhappiness because we haven’t experienced the joy of giving freely. I remember once being given some money by a very generous person to buy as many turkeys as I could to give to impoverished families in London on Christmas Eve. It was a privilege to be able to enjoy the fruits of that generosity, which wasn’t even my own, and it brought tears to my eyes to see the pleasure that it gave to the recipients.

Leaders need to ensure generosity is carried into the workplace. Our company Cotswold Fayre aims to make sure that all our activities and meetings have a ‘people’ and ‘planet’ element, as well as normal business. This applies to our company goals and aims each year, and to ensure we hit our people and planet goals as a company, each individual’s KPIs must include at least 40% social and environmental targets.

This year, we introduced a new rule that all employees have a KPI of 12 hours’ volunteering, which will be paid for by the company – a ‘compulsory’ volunteering scheme (although it’s usually something everyone is very willing to do). They are paid their normal wages for volunteering either as a block of time, or a couple of hours every other month, and we plan to increase the hours every year. Some individuals will do more than this as they have community and charity activity included in their roles – but this new initiative ensures that wide participation in volunteer work is an integral part of the company.

Generosity is not about an internal calculation of working out how we will get the money or time back. Neither is it about whether they deserve it; true generosity is about giving generously in pay, bonuses and holidays

Generosity is not about an internal calculation of working out how we will get the money or time back. Neither is it about whether they deserve it; true generosity is about giving generously in pay, bonuses and holidays. As we understand abundance and generosity, we know we will always receive back when we are generous, and nowhere is this truer than in the workplace. Generosity, like kindness, is contagious, and most human beings will behave generously if they are shown generosity. Occasionally people may take advantage of our generosity, but this does not mean the principle is wrong; it just means that the circle of generosity is broken temporarily. Reverting to miserliness is certainly not the answer.

There are stories within most cultures that encourage us to be generous because those who give generously will receive back more abundantly. Yet how much do we actually believe this? The evidence of today’s western culture suggests many don’t. The challenge for all of us is that it is sometimes difficult for us to let go and trust enough to give to others with no strings attached. Too much of our generosity is transactional or contractual, which is not true generosity.

The Hindu tradition talks of abundance, which is the ultimate place of living with no thought or worry about how giving to others might result in leaving ourselves short. In fact, this tradition would say that those who worry about self-preservation and never give beyond their means will not enjoy the fruits of generosity. Many of us will have met very wealthy people, who despite having more money and possessions than most, seem to worry more about losing what they have than those with much less. Sometimes this anxiety stems from poverty in childhood; for example, when a parent has squandered money, leaving the family short. It is difficult, though not impossible, to break this cycle. Those whose worries stop them from giving to others may need help to enable them to experience the true happiness that flows from being extremely generous.

Many magnanimous souls would much rather leave a legacy in other people’s lives by their generosity while they are alive than leave a large stash of cash to others when they die. I recently went to the funeral of a generous man, one of our company’s suppliers. The building was packed, and everyone was given the opportunity to tell tales of his generosity. It was an incredible event, and the impact this man had on others through his decades of generosity was profound. If more leaders lived their lives like him, we would have a very different world. As Winston Churchill wisely said: "We make a life by what we give."

Paul Hargreaves, pictured below, is a B-Corp Ambassador, speaker and author of The Fourth Bottom Line: Flourishing in the new era of compassionate leadership out now

Paul Hargreaves, author of The Fourth Bottom Line: Flourishing in the new era of compassionate leadership

Published 30 June 2021
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