Brief post from Heather's "Marketing and Finance at Microsoft" blog about the value of altruism ("the more you give, the more you get"). This struck a chord, as it echoes a debate I've had with colleagues over the years - what role does altruism play in doing corp dev work? My view is that altruism can be a powerful factor in both business and career success.
By "altruism" in this sense I mean doing things that you technically don't have to that benefit others. While I don't think there's any debate about the value of doing this internally in your company (you should absolutely help out your colleagues), the controversy arises over being altruistic with your trading partners - who are often your competitors. At AT&T Wireless, I dealt with other wireless carriers, large and small. At Clearwire, the cast of trading partners is even larger. At a certain level of abstraction, these trading partners are all competitors, and the instinct can be to do nothing that advantages one's competitors.
I think this attitude is tremendously short-sighted. While you are obviously not going to transfer material shareholder value to your competitors, there are opportunities every day to do things for your trading partners that cost your company little or nothing. For example, in wireless there are always requests to coordinate frequencies at the edges of licenses, do minor frequency swaps, or even just expedite a request for information. While these "favors" may theoretically benefit your competitor, they are firmly in the margins - things that make life easier for your counterparts on the other side; little wins they can establish internally. It's a quid without the pro quo, but it pays off in a major way over time as you establish relationships with your trading partners.
Besides establishing trust and greatly increasing the chances that you will be graced with return altruism when you need it, you get something that can prove even more valuable: A reputation as someone who is practical-minded and can reliably get things done. That can easily be the deciding factor in getting huge deals done down the road. Case in point: Several years ago I did a large deal to acquire cellular operations. Another large carrier was also bidding for these assets. I learned after the fact that the seller had gone with our offer - despite it having a value 5-10% lower than the other carrier - because of our good relations.
Why should good relations matter? We're in a cold-blooded business; shouldn't it just be about the money? Well, in a way it is. If you have good relations with your trading partners and a reputation for reliability, your proposals will be valued more highly than those of your competitors because of the perceived greater likelihood that the deal will actually get done. A lot can happen between initial proposal and closing a deal. If you are perceived as difficult, slow or unreliable, your offers will be discounted accordingly. Altruism (along with being cordial and keeping your word) is a great way to make yourself - and your company - someone your trading partners look forward to dealing with.