For some time now I have been espousing the power of gifts (giving of your time, doing favors, making connections and sharing your knowledge) as a means to increasing referrals to you. But the key to producing proactive referrals to your practice is not the act of giving, it is the act of giving without the expectation of reciprocity- a key component of the give and take of referrals that I observed exclusively in the behaviors of top rainmakers.
I coined the term, ‘Favorking’, to capture this behavioral theme of demonstrating compassion and genuine interest in others by listening for and giving, without the expectation of reciprocity, small gifts and favors of your experience, connections, knowledge and position. The key difference between $1 million book of business plus rainmakers and those that actively work the relationships in their networks but do not produce significant results is that the rainmakers are ‘givers’ who seem to help others without the slightest hint of expecting their assistance to pay off in the future. They often help people who are in no position to reciprocate. The language and gestures they use are genuinely helpful and they avoid any talk suggestive of a payback. Even when offered, they decline preferring instead to ‘pay it forward’, authentically taking the recipient off the hook from having to find a time and means to re-balance the scorecard.
In contrast, ‘takers’ try to get as much as possible from others while contributing less in return. Takers help only when they expect the personal benefits to exceed their time and attention. Their assistance is calculated and unknowingly transparent resulting in few referrals to their practice.
Most attorneys fall somewhere in the middle. These are “matchers” where the norm is to help those who help them, maintaining an equal balance of give and take. Although matchers benefit from referral collaboration more than takers do, they are inefficient vehicles for exchange, as people trade favors in closed loops. That is, they dip into their existing network of ‘qualified’ referral contacts, limiting themselves to only those that they believe can help them in return.
A new book by Harvard Professor Adam Grant entitled Give and Take supports my hypothesis but goes one step further by demonstrating the financial rewards which companies with “giver” cultures experience over those with “taker” or even “matcher” cultures. In his just released book, he provides evidence from several studies that demonstrates that the frequency with which employees help one another (without the expectation of reciprocity) predicts sales revenues in pharmaceutical units and retail stores; profits, costs, and customer service in banks; creativity in consulting and engineering firms; productivity in paper mills; and revenues, operating efficiency, customer satisfaction, and performance quality in restaurants.
So, am I going too far to extend this theory into referral tactic success? I don’t think so. But I will acknowledge that there are very real cultural and operational obstacles that obstruct the average attorney from adopting this behavior as part of her regular business development routine. These include the entrenched ‘tit for tat’ assumption that many have in regard to referrals, close monitoring of billable hours, competitive ‘eat what you kill’ pay structures, a fear of the time being perceived as ineffective or wasteful and other challenging issues.
And internal referrals suffer from the similar, if not more pronounced, obstacles resulting in reduced cross marketing and mentoring effectiveness in law firms. There may be support for this view as well. According to Cornell economist Robert Frank, many organizations are essentially winner-take all markets, dominated by zero-sum competitions for rewards and promotions. When leaders implement forced-ranking systems to reward individual performance, they stack the deck against giver cultures.
It is undoubtedly a leap of faith to make it your mission to find ways to help others. But, I believe that if you look closely at the best rainmakers you know, you will find that they are living this important distinction of ‘givers’ and act without the expectation of reciprocity. Better yet, try being a giver to the next person you meet, qualified to return the favor or not, and see if doesn’t make you feel good. Believe it or not, acting with kind intent toward others comes back to you in good referral karma.