We’ve all been told that it is better to give than to receive. It’s safe to say that most of us ignored this adage when we were young, as we dreamt of racecars and Lego sets – but at a certain point something changed and most of us came to realize the joy of watching someone open a gift that you meticulously created or curated.
And while we all still enjoy the act of gift giving, it’s rare that we engage in giving professionally, and even more rare that we do it without prompting.
I was 21, living in Los Angeles, and working at a summer internship at Fanscape when I was first advised to make seemingly random professional recommendation on LinkedIn. We were lucky to have a management team that worked us hard, but also saw the value in transparency and mentorship through regular interactions between interns and the c-suite. On one such occasion, the co-founder and CIO, Larry Weintraub, spoke candidly about his relationship management strategy and the importance of random acts of professional kindness.
What this conversation boiled down to was that Larry tried to post a LinkedIn recommendation once a month. There were no ulterior motives to these recommendations and Larry did not seek a recommendation in return, but the end result was that often people were so flattered by his words that they returned the favor. At a minimum, Larry succeeded in demonstrating the value of the individual, brightening their day, and opening a line of communication. Currently, his LinkedIn profile boasts 36 recommendations received and 90 recommendations given.
I would challenge anyone reading this article to think of 36 people that would write them a recommendation today. How about 20? Or 10? Unless you’re a social butterfly or a sought-after thought leader, most people find it difficult to compile the 3 or 4 recommendations that some job applications require. Your network is only as strong as your ability to leverage it and, in this day and age, to document it.
Perception is a key element of approval, and the strategy of engaging in random acts of kindness with people in your network improves your personal brand in more ways than one. Besides the obvious benefits of creating a more robust profile as well as a database of praise (both of you and from you), you are actively generating positive conversations on a micro-level that will in turn foster future relationships and career growth. It’s guerilla marketing for your professional network. As author and motivational speaker Bob Nelson says, “Praise is priceless, yet it costs nothing.”
In fact, Nelson, better known by his industry moniker Dr. Bob, is a motivational speaker and best-selling author that has built his career on teaching managers to cultivate a working environment built around employee praise and recognition. In his book, 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees, Dr. Bob explores how the recognition of deserving employees contributes to their motivation and job satisfaction.
While motivating employees may not be the intent of writing LinkedIn recommendations, Nelson did find that four of the top ten categories of motivational activities reported by employees were forms of praise: personal praise, written praise, electronic praise, and public praise. While it is impossible to draw a direct correlation between Dr. Bob’s research and the efficacy of a well-written recommendation, it’s interesting to note that the simple action of writing a recommendation covers all four types of highly valuable praise in one fell swoop. This may help explain, on a core level, why Larry’s approach has been so effective and how you can become immediately effective as well.
At the end of the day, a LinkedIn recommendation here and there will not be the solution to finding professional karmic bliss, but if you’re asking yourself when and how to get started, here’s a simple tip: choose an old coworker you haven’t spoken to in a while. Preferably, choose someone who was a peer, not your superior or a direct report. Choose a person who helped you get through those long Mondays and who sent you those reports and documents that you could never seem to locate on your own. Maybe you haven’t spoken to them in a while and would love to reconnect but just don’t know how. Make your choice, write them a strong review, and make their day – and in doing so, make yours.