The Business of Kindness
Lately, while listening to an NPR program, I heard a group of business people discussing kindness.
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 keynotes 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 treatment issues 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.
How Kindness Can Effect Our Bottom Line
The costs of degrading and ignoring employees and making customers conform to our money-saving practices cost us high turnover, a paucity of fresh ideas and new leaders, and the need to hire more supervisory managers to handle the fallout. I know a company here in Austin with a reputation of treating employees so punitively that only naïve out-of-towners apply for the many available jobs.
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.
Here are a few of my personal experiences of monetizing kindness:
1. Kindness with customers:
a. In Portland recently, 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!
- Takeaway: the random acts of kindness I found throughout Portland have led me to prepare 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 ran a tech support company in London with 48 tech folks. Annually, I gave them $2000 to take a week off to renew themselves by attending any course they wanted (photography, cooking). I also required them to take off one day a month to do volunteer work. And at least four times I year went to their 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. As a side note, I often 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 whenever they heard rumors of new business and I was in place by the time the vendor delivered the product.
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.
The How of Kindness: Using Listening Skills Enhance Relationships
I believe the process of listening is one of the skills that will 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. My new book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? explains whatever we listen for determines what we hear. So rather than merely listen for problems, we must listen for the patterns in the problems: Lots of turnover? What are we ignoring that can be resolved? Bottom line decreasing due to competition? What are clients telling us that we haven’t been listening for?
Through the years, with clients and staff, coachees and colleagues, I have found the biggest obstacle to authentic communication is how imperfectly we hear others. Far too often we enter conversations with a bias 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?
- 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.”
How can we monetize kindness with staff and clients? It’s possible to make money AND be kind. Let’s begin the conversation.
About the Author
Sharon Drew Morgen is a visionary, original thinker, and thought leader in change management and decision facilitation. She works as a coach, trainer, speaker, and consultant, and has authored 9 books including the NYTimes Business BestsellerSelling with Integrity. Morgen developed the Buying Facilitation® method (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) in 1985 to facilitate change decisions, notably to help buyers buy and help leaders and coaches affect permanent change. Her newest book What? www.didihearyou.com explains how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She can be reached at [email protected]
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