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Theresa Eriksson
Theresa Eriksson. Photo: private View original picture , opens in new tab/window

Business benefits from helping others

Published: 6 January 2022

Helping others in business, beyond what is required in contracts and other binding agreements, creates positive value for both organisations and individuals. In a new thesis from Luleå University of Technology, Paying it Forward is analysed in the business to business ,B2B,context.

Paying it Forward (PIF) entails giving something of value to a person because one has previously received something of value from another person. Humankind has always engaged in this type of behaviour, for example through ritual giftgiving systems. In a B2B context, it can for example manifest through offering mentorship, sharing information or allowing someone access one's professional network.

Interest in PIF is growing within business and trade research, but previous research has focused on the relationship between businesses and consumers. PIF is relatively unexplored in the B2B context. The overall aim of the thesis is to study how marketing managers can create (and part-take) in working conditions that encourage PIF in the B2B marketing context.

An ecosystem of interdependence

In modern research, a certain type of relationship between companies is often described as an ecosystem. The metaphor highlights that, although the companies are competitors, they are dependent on certain values that are co-created within the framework of these ecosystems and that can only be created in cooperation between the companies. According to the dissertation's author, Theresa Eriksson, market managers can play an important role for such collaborations.

“Marketing is in itself a creation and exchange of value. When a company has employees who are actively engaged in helping others it contributes to strengthening the company's employer brand.”

In the dissertation, seven factors are identified that contribute toward increasing the likelihood that an individual will engage in PIF: 1. Recieving something of value. It is not enough to simply observe others receiving and giving something of value. 2. To be oriented towards exchange relationships. 3. Personal disposition. Being an extroverted individualist strengthens the likelihood while introverted collectivists are less likely to engage in PIF. 4. To feel gratitude or to have been thanked for having previously engaged in PIF. 5. Positive emotions. 6. Trust, openness, a sense of belonging and shared values. 7. A positive attitude and a commitment to the organisation and its culture and norms.

By analysing responses from 171 employees at various companies in the US and Canada, Theresa Eriksson was able to determine that there is a connection between a commitment to the organisation and PIF. The same material was used to test how the variables age, gender and tenure affect the relationship between commitment and PIF.

Younger people more likely to help

It was found that it is more likely that younger employees and men who feel a high commitment to the organisation will engage in PIF than older employees and women. The analysis could not demonstrate that tenure affects the relationship between organisational commitment and PIF.

“It was surprising that older women seem to engage in PIF to a lesser extent than others when they feel committed to the organisation. A possible explanation is a lack of self-confidence, that is, they do not believe that they have anything of value to give and therefore they do not believe that they that the behavior they engage in is PIF. Another explanation is that they do not think they have received anything of value and therefore believe that they give for reasons other than engaging in PIF.”

Based on the conclusions in the earlier parts of the thesis, Theresa Eriksson presents a program of five points for how marketing managers can strengthen the PIF culture and create a PIF mindset in their own company: 1. Believe that PIF works and start applying it. 2. Make sure your employees learn about PIF and understand its value. 3. Pay attention to and reward employees who engage in PIF. 4. Curate how the working group is assembled and provide the tools they need. 5. Understand that PIF is not only about giving but also about being humble enough to receive.

“I have worked in the business world for most of my professional life, often as a manager. When I was younger, I was often told by older colleagues that you don't gain anything by being too nice. But all my experience points in the other direction. Helping each other is better both for the individual and for the business world”, says Theresa Eriksson.



Maria Theresa Eriksson

Maria Theresa Eriksson, Externally employed doctoral student, PhD Student

Organisation: Industrial Marketing, Business Administration and Industrial Engineering, Department of Social Sciences, Technology and Arts