Recently people have been discussing ‘kindness’ as a business strategy. I’m so pleased.
Kindness – not a word historically associated with corporations, those bastions of male verve – is now being equated with the bottom line. How times have changed. In the 90s when I gave a keynote titled ‘Sales as a Spiritual Practice’ I would get asked: “Yes, but how would we make money?”
Imagine embracing the desire to be helpful and considerate, compassionate and generous as part of accepted business practice. We all know what happens when it’s ignored. We know how workplace issues grind people down, and how infrequently those below the top tier get asked their opinions. We know we lose more good employees to feelings of disrespect than to pay issues. We know that 70% of buying decisions are made by women.
And yet we continue assuming the bottom line is about minimizing costs and maximizing profit and putting rules before people.
HOW KINDNESS CAN EFFECT OUR BOTTOM LINE
The costs of degrading and ignoring employees and making customers conform to our money-saving practices, the cost of treating customers merely as numbers that get crunched, cost us high turnover, a paucity of fresh ideas and new leaders, a loss of customers and reputation, a loss of revenue, and the need to hire more supervisory managers and do more ‘reputation management’ to handle the fallout.
I intimately know a company with a reputation for treating employees so punitively that only naïve out-of-towners apply for the many available jobs. Without kindness, everything suffers, and in this day and age, clients, customers, staff, have vehicles for their complaints.
Research has shown kindness actually increases our bottom line:
- When employees are asked their opinions, treated respectfully, given jobs that enable them to exhibit excellence regardless of their pay scale, they are more creative, responsible, and loyal. They adopt leadership roles, put in longer hours, and have fewer sick days.
- When we treat our clients kindly we keep them longer, hear about problems (rather than lose them to competitors), are offered new ideas to monetize, and have brand ambassadors to offer free marketing to connections who may become clients.
- When we value people we make more money and have less turnover.
Here are a few of my personal experiences of monetizing kindness:
1. Kindness with customers:
a. When first moving to Portland, I couldn’t locate my correct bus stop. I called the Transit help line and a person answered! And he stayed on the line until I got to my destination! I also had an issue with the local gas company causing very minor damage to my countertop. They called, apologized, and immediately sent me a check for $500 for recompense (It cost $100 to fix.).
Takeaway: the random acts of kindness I found throughout Portland have led me to move there.
b. After not receiving my NYTimes for four Sundays, I made two angry calls. The first woman said I would need to speak with a supervisor on Monday; the second woman not only called my local delivery folks, she called back to tell me when the paper would be delivered, called again to make sure I got it, and then left me her cell number in case the problem occurred again.
Takeaway: I won’t cancel my subscription.
2. Kindness with employees:
a. In the 80s I started up a tech support company in London with 48 tech folks and about a dozen management staff. It was my delight to create an infostructure that respected, and was kind to, my employees. For starters, I gave each of my managers $2000 annually to take a paid week off to attend any course they wanted (photography, cooking) to feel renewed. I also didn’t give them specific vacation days: I said: “You’re an adult. You’re tired? Take time off, so long as you cover your responsibilities and give the rest of us a heads up.” What happened was lovely: I actually had to fight with them to take time off! I also required my managers to take off one day a month to do volunteer work. And at least four times a year I went to the field tech’s job sites (and they were not my direct reports), took them to lunch, and picked their brains on ways we could do better for them and for our clients. Their ideas were terrific. And monthly, I met with them all for a game of darts (which I always lost) in a local pub. I ran into competitors at conferences who said they tried to hire my folks away yet couldn’t pry them from my grip. “What are you doing to those folks?” I was just respecting them.
Takeaway: there was no turnover in 4 years; the tech folks called us from their sites whenever they heard rumors of new business and I was in place by the time the vendor delivered the product. And I had very little turnover, creating a very stable and respected workforce.
b. I hired a full time ‘make nice’ guy whose job it was to visit staff and clients on site to make sure the relationships and programming worked efficiently, nipping problems in the bud. With no fires to fight I had nothing to do but grow my company.
Takeaway: revenue doubled annually; I had a 42% net profit – in an environment with no computers, no websites, no email.
THE HOW OF KINDNESS: LISTENING SKILLS ENHANCE RELATIONSHIPS
I believe the process of listening is one of the skills that enable us to be kind. Not only do we need to set up client Listening Conferences and staff Listening Hours, we must hear what’s being said between the lines using a ‘kindness ear’. My new book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? explains whatever we listen for is one of the determinants of what we hear.
Our biases, as I learned while researching the book, determine what our brains tell us was said, actually deleting anything outside of our own belief/value/need system. So rather than merely listen for problems, we must listen for the patterns in the problems: Lots of turnover? Complaints about small stuff? We’re ignoring something we don’t want to handle.
Bottom line decreasing due to competition? Maybe we’re ignoring what’s really going on and just blaming competitors when we need an all-hands-on-deck brainstorming session. Are we hearing that clients aren’t happy or want additions to our solution? Maybe our solution isn’t robust enough and we need to get a group of clients in to talk to them and find out.
Through the years, with clients and staff, coaches and colleagues, I have found the biggest obstacle to authentic communication is how imperfectly we hear others. Far too often we enter conversations with biases, assumptions, triggers, and filters, all based on our own intent and beliefs, and miss what’s being conveyed that falls outside the range of expectation. Imagine if we approach our conversations with the bias of kindness:
- An employee is perpetually late with work assignments: is there something going on in the department, with other employees, with her work load, that is causing the problem? What could we do to make it easier for her?
- Customer service folks must recognize patterns in complaints and become leaders in resolving problems rather than maintaining the status quo. I recently heard a rep say: “I’ve had lots of complaints about this. But there are no plans to fix it.”
So many folks want to be leaders. Kindness and caring for employees and clients is a good way to start.
THE HEART OF KINDNESS
As individuals we all think we’re kind. Yet in our business lives, sometimes we put rules, expectations, and the bottom line before we put kindness forgetting that happy employees make profitable companies. We’re often kind to clients to keep/get their business, kind to employees over holidays. And the rest of the time, we fear that being kind – supporting real people with real lives and real problems – will diminish our bottom line.
Let me say that being kind – giving employees maternity/paternity enough time off, extending small loans with no interest, designing good working conditions and job titles that are creative and exciting, asking employees regularly what type of training programs they’d benefit from – always brings in more money.
Not to mention when employees are treated kindly they
- treat our clients kindly, giving us a differentiator over competitors who don’t;
- listen, commiserate, have compassion, and seek creative ways to help them;
- are willing to take criticism from clients as part of their Servant Leadership, and to learn from;
- put people/clients over rules and make sure each conversation is a win-win.
In other words, kindness will increase sales.
Let’s speak about this. I believe it’s a necessary conversation. Here’s the question: How can we monetize kindness with staff and clients? It’s possible to make money AND be kind.
Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.