Asking for help can make you feel insecure. Asking for help can make you feel vulnerable. Asking for help -- especially inside internally competitive organizations -- can make you feel weak.

Which of course is a problem, since asking for help is a key to success. As Steve Jobs said, "Most people never ask, and that's what separates, sometimes, the people who do things from the people who just dream about them."

Another key to success it giving. Research shows that being a giver at work makes individuals more successful. Building a giving culture makes an organization more successful, improving employee retention, engagement, and efficiency, as well as customer satisfaction.

But how do you bridge the gap between asking for help and giving? That's a problem Givitas, a platform developed by Adam Grant and Wayne and Cheryl Baker, sets out to solve. Givitas makes it easy for people to ask for and provide help at work -- so easy that it takes less than five minutes a day. 

And it turns out, when you make it easy for people to give, they give: A lot.

To find out more, I talked to GIvitas CEO Larry Freed. (I've written about Larry before; he was a founder and CEO of Foresee, a firm sold to Answers Corp. for more than $200 million.)

The idea of the Reciprocity Ring had been around for some time. How did it become Givitas?

Adam's book Give and Take has a lot to do with the concept, and over the years he and Wayne and Cheryl had worked with a number of institutions, MBA programs, executive education programs -- tons of students -- to run through exercises that improved their ability to ask for help. They proved how powerful asking for help is, and in the process taught thousands of people about the value of giving.

And as a result, many people approached them saying, "We need this in our enterprise. Is there a way to scale it?"

So they developed a MVP (minimum viable product), and that's when I jumped in. We raised a round of funding, built a team, and are now coming out of beta. We're enterprise ready -- we created a specific, purpose-built platform for people within an enterprise to seek help and get help. 

That's a huge problem for many companies.

And it's a problem that goes beyond individual issues.

Every enterprise company faces a major challenge: Employee engagement is often extremely poor. Statistics back that up; one Gallup poll says that two-thirds of employees feel they are not engaged. Add to that the changing trends we see in the workplace with more remote workers, big economy workers, people that have different perspectives, all of that leads to a greater need to get employees engaged.

Our goal is to help improve engagement. Bring your dog to work, coffee bars, work at home on Fridays, those are all great... but they're really perks. They don't drive 
engagement.

Engagement comes from being in an environment where you build relationships with the company and the team, where you feel trusted, where you're getting the support you need.

Another problem in larger or dispersed organizations is that information gets lost.

Plus, there's an enormous amount of time wasted in sharing information. One McKinsey
​study shows 19 percent of people in large companies spend their time searching for and gathering information. And many companies say their employees spend even more of their time than that.

Having the ability to quickly find the information you need is a huge challenge.

Givitas helps improve information sharing and helps improve the social capital of the organization. Human capital is skills and talent. Social capital is the relationships you build. So it's a win-win: We help make the culture a more giving community, but we're also helping people solve business problems every day.

In simple terms, how does that work?

Basically we create a ring, a network within your organization within a purpose-built platform that lets people seek help and get help. They don't have to identify the right person. They just go to the network and make a request for help.

We've seen great responses by the networks in the projects we've done so far. Usually there are 3 or 4 offers of help for each request made.

That's because it's easy. You can jump right in and help out. Or if you don't have the expertise, you can just move on. Our goal isn't for people to spend all day on the platform; we just want people to spend five minutes a day either asking for help, or giving help. Get in, get out. To make that even more efficient we communicate with Slack, text, email, Yammer...

And we give the requester the ability to say thanks. And when the requester gets a good answer, they can close the request and everyone can see it, but it's no longer in the list of items where someone still needs help. Everything we do is transparent and in the network.

One interesting thing we've heard is that some companies want to know which of their employees are the best at giving help, because they feel helping others is a key attribute of a successful leader. 

Which of course is true. Great leaders help people.

Back to the early stages. Creating an MVP is a great idea but it's also risky. It's a cliche, but you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Absolutely. So first you have to make sure the technology can scale. MVPs are great ways to prove out concepts, but to be successful you really need to build out the functionality.

Much of the work we did focused on improving the user experience, adding capabilities, adding functionality, making it enterprise-ready, integrating it with Slack and Yammer, giving it the tools an enterprise needs.

That's a lot more than an MVP.

(Laughs.) Yes, but there are a number of collaboration platforms. The problem is they're general-purpose platforms; we wanted ours to be unique.

Two things really drive our product road map. Our goal is to reduce the stigma of asking for help by making it really easy to ask other people for help.

We were all taught to go to your boss with a solution, not a problem. Everything we're taught flies in the face of collaboration and cooperation. Asking for help is a risk because it can be seen as a sign of weakness. 

But you want your team to ask for help -- that shows they're putting the customer, or project, or company ahead of their egos.

Which is great... but sometimes you don't know who to ask for help.

That's the second key: People willing to ask for help may not who know they should ask. If it's the person sitting next to you, it's obvious, but otherwise you have to find the right person. And then you may feel like you're in their debt. So we set out to reduce that problem and that potential stigma.

And it just can't be "electronic." Asking a question on Slack doesn't always work. Asking for help by email is extremely inefficient.

Our driving force is to allow you to be a giver in less than five minutes a day. But it's very difficult to do that with general purpose platform.

What was the hardest part of going from bare bones to enterprise-ready?

Going from MVP to enterprise requires balancing a number of things: User experience, functionality, admin, security. That's the challenge.

You also need to get an enormous amount of feedback from the people who use your product: Not only what they tell you, but what you can observe.

Optimizing the experience never ends. That really is the key. And you have to balance the feedback against your objectives. Your job is to figure out how feedback fits into the bigger picture. That's a real challenge whenever you build a new product.

So you never stop improving functionality and refining the user experience, but you have to balance that with your go-to-market strategy, testing early adopters, making them successful. We have a number of pilots running, we're starting to build out our pipeline, getting great feedback. We're feeling good, but one of the core truths of building a company is that the next stage is always the toughest, no matter where you are in the company's lifecycle.

You're never done.

Of course a company with a truly giving culture would say the same thing: Building a more collaborative company is a process that is never complete.

I love walking into cool open office spaces, but you walk through and everyone is wearing earbuds.

I gained more from "over the cube wall" learning than I could ever have imagined. Collaboration is so important, especially now, since the average length of employment is shorter. Companies really need to harness the collective intelligence of the group and not just that of the one great person on the team.

The more everyone knows, the better. And of course, the easier way to learn is to ask.

And the easiest way to feel like a key member of a team is to help people who need help.

Giving really is a win-win.

Published on: Apr 30, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.