You get what you give.

One good turn deserves another.

Giving is its own reward. 

You've heard all the proverbs (and probably more). In a business context, the idea of the selfless act is relevant to us all. Yes, we compete, often ferociously. Yes, we must make and execute hyper-rational choices that sometimes conflict mightily with the personal feelings we have (one gut-wrenching example: having to lay off good employees for cash flow reasons). But we can build successful businesses--and cement our reputations as good professionals, too. 

So what can you do to strengthen your professional karma and ensure you’re not reborn as the working equivalent of a dung beetle? 

Say hello.

I once heard about a company whose taciturn leader had to be counseled to look up and smile at employees in the hallway, instead of resolutely gazing at the floor, a perma-scowl etched on his face. Talk about myopia and missed opportunities. Say hello. Say thank you. Ask how things are going. I don’t care where you are in the organizational lineup: you are a big part of building and maintaining a culture. And it always starts with communication. You never know if your simple greeting and open smile might be just what someone needs to feel a little more cheerful and productive. The answer a person gives about how she’s doing may open the door to some candid feedback about a project or reveal your top talent’s state of mind. Do something nice--I call employees on their birthdays. Regardless, these are no-cost, easy things to do--with benefits for them and for you. 

Show gratitude.

About once a quarter, I take a small group of employees out to dinner. They come from all areas within the company--sales, business development, engineering, public relations--and it’s a way for me to show my gratitude for their hard work. Even more importantly, it’s a small but meaningful way I can demonstrate my respect for them. They are company up-and-comers and the time we spend together--sharing some pretty diverse perspectives and opinions, trying to generate our next Big Idea--is really valuable to me (and, I hope, to them). You don’t have to take someone to lunch or dinner (though it’s always nice if you can swing it). A handwritten thank you note can do the trick. Try verbal acknowledgment at a company all-hands or department meeting. Shoot a quick email of appreciation, outlining specifics, to someone and copy the boss. Aim for once a week. 

Share experiences.

You don’t need to be the CEO, a director, or even a manager to have something of value to offer another person. Maybe you’re willing to get connected with your alma mater’s internship office and do informational interviews or critique a few resumes. Informally mentor a coworker. Offer to let an interested student shadow you for a day. Listen and give constructive feedback to an entrepreneur getting ready for his first VC pitch. Volunteer for an industry group, even if you can only help with one event. Talk to each summer intern in your department for an hour, over coffee, about their goals, insights into your organization as total newcomers, and your job. Know people who would benefit from an acquaintance with each other? Connect them with a warm note of introduction.

It’s not true that good people finish last. As you make giving back an important and regular part of your professional routine, you’ll see for certain that’s the case. 

What’s your best, real-life example of professional karma?