Listen to: Virtues in Action by Lily Kelly-Radford and Patrick Cowden
How kindness can transform the workplace for sustainability of the organisation
Across all cultures, since the beginning of time, there has been a sense of organised humanity. We suggest that kindness has always been a universal quality of this, although its manifestation may take various cultural forms.
Kindness in the workplace is our focus and the source of the change, or spark, we want to advance. It is the root of what we want to express. It involves the virtues of empathy – which is most important – along with humility, compassion, love, and respect.
Kindness is the application of all these virtues combined.
Thus, acts of kindness can be considered ‘virtues in action’. And through these, we can see the power of kindness unfold in respect, listening, appreciation, trust, and caring. In short, to truly see and hear others.
A human-to-human business philosophy
Think of kindness as the trigger to elevate each of us and all that we do for one another.
The foundation of our thinking is that leadership, like kindness, is for the benefit of others. Yes, kindness is directed at others, but it also provides numerous benefits for the person who initiates it.
In an organisational setting, the individual engages in these behaviours to benefit the group
and the individual people who comprise it. As leaders develop their organisation’s human potential, this developed potential provides the advancement of organisational goals and ultimately the sustainability and success of any business.
However, the organisation is not just infrastructure – it is the organisation of human beings to accomplish goals. If we believe this then why would we take the humanity out of the organisation or separate the humanity from the people running the organisation?
The notion that only the rational self is more valued than the humanised self has been supported for years. And this has coloured our understanding of leadership behaviour. Leadership is seen solely as the rational being that considers kindness only an occasional approach to engagement. This has created a model of leadership that prevents leaders from using their ‘kindness muscle’ to bring balance – which is sorely needed – to the mission of the organisation.
How to install kindness in the organisational process
As leaders, it is incumbent on us to make the space for kindness to manifest. Leaders should realise that they own the structure, the protocols of the organisation, and thus the organisation itself. They are the ones that can create the psychological space for kindness to become part of the fabric of the organisation.
You can make space for kindness by:
- Allocating meeting space and time to embed acts of kindness into the flow of your business processes, regardless of when and where they may take place.
- Scheduling meetings and appointments with consideration for worktime boundaries and personal needs and obligations.
- Balancing required tasks with their impact on team members’ schedules and lives. Not all tasks warrant deadlines that keep people working after hours. Leaders should control the schedule so harsh deadlines aren’t the norm.
- Emailing with care using discipline to think through what’s being asked of the worker. Most experienced managers batch email into fewer, and less random and careless messages. Make it clear that the work can be handled within respectful work hours and turnaround times. Some of the biggest errors in work and safety were related to sleep deprivation.
- Arranging meetings, deadlines, and required travel in a way that accommodates the schedules of single parents, multigenerational families, and caregivers. This is especially important for global work. Plan with respect for responsibilities.
- Creating a pace that supports and encourages individual health and wellbeing. We’ve all heard bosses boast “we don’t eat lunch here”. Don’t be that person!
- Acting as a host in the workplace, providing assistance for people when they’re in the building, be they vendors, job applicants, or recently hired colleagues.
- Speaking to people with a greeting – asking how they are – before launching into a request or assignment. If someone is struggling, pause and offer to lighten the load.
- Onboarding new hires so they have the support needed for them to be successful. Allowing new people to struggle with unfamiliarity is passive hazing.
By taking steps like these, effective leaders become the catalyst for the power and energy
of kindness and basic human respect. This will spread throughout the organisation – suppliers, partners, customers, employees, families, and communities – and become integral to the brand – and its reputation.
The relationship between kindness and decisions
Much has been written about the predisposing factors for kindness. While some people discuss nature, others refer to nurture as accounting for the variance. Regardless of our attribution about the etiology of kindness, let’s acknowledge that kindness creates a full-fledged vigorous implementation for tasks that individuals engage in. We love to do good for those that do good for us.
There is a measurable relationship between acts of kindness and our ability to see more, understand more, learn more and, therefore, decide and act better than before.
For the recipients of these acts and onlookers, one can observe how nurtured souls go further, sacrifice more, and achieve more. We have also seen how many employees are motivated to achieve more for their team and colleagues and not just for themselves. Being kind and demonstrating goodness can create a culture with higher calling and standard for respect.
If you could download a Kindness app
‘Application’ refers to the applied practice of engaging in kind behaviours and creating a routine. This routine must be installed in an organisation in order to propagate, to become endemic. It’s like installing a new version of operating software that will enhance a device’s functions and improve performance.
Most organisational routines need to start and articulate steps that are repeated each day in order to achieve excellence. As noted earlier, kindness feels good to the giver and receiver, so the routine that started it is easily passed along.
It’s possible to create space for kindness in any increment, from six seconds to sixty minutes.
By doing this we want to ask readers what it would look like if you were to repeat a practice each day. What steps can be created to inspire more kind interactions? Kindness interactions, in turn, lead to stronger connections and deeper relationships which promote work outcomes and organisational committment.
What are some organisational acts of kindness that you could institute near term and long term?
Near term: establish a check-in every morning and consider holding a check out before staff depart. This can be as simple as two minutes per person to see how they’re doing – to ask to listen, to appreciate, and to acknowledgeone another in every encounter we share.
Longer term: rethink onboarding processes so they ensure people new to the organisation or new to a department are properly introduced to the job, the resources, and the people they’ll need to know to be effective. Expecting people to figure these out for themselves probably does more to isolate individuals than to energise them as contributors and team players. Rethink any process that brings people together to co-operate; that’s where the potential of inserting kindness will have the biggest effect. We work better together in those places where kindness and trust are at the highest possible level.
To start imagining routines, consider the metaphor of an operating system and model. If an operating model changes one must also change the operating system. And if we are to institute an operating system for kindness we must consider what the code is. What is the specific line of code that we would write for an organisationto fundamentally practice daily, that would shift the operating system into a new update?
Just like writing a line of code to change a program, you have to build virtues in action into the work processes. Then repeat it over and over, until it becomes culture.
If the old line of code were Leader to Follower (LtF), perhaps the new code might be Person to Person (PtP) to create more kindness. This single shift can encourage those who have historically seen themselves as subordinate in power, to initiate acts of kindness. It would empower employees to initiate kind acts in all directions, not just toward direct reports but including acts that are upwardly and laterally directed. Instead, all employees would take responsibility for this in all they do. It would create a base code that would eliminate the hierarchy which places the burden of responsibility on the identified leader.
Once kindness embeds itself through daily routine into every PtP interaction, we achieve an exponential effect in the quality of organsational impact and speed. More kindness equals more energy, more resilience, more motivation, more engagement, more creativity, more openness, more quality, more speed, more cooperation, more performance, more results, more everything. And, yes, more well-being, joy, and happiness.
Where does this begin? With you
Think of the old saying, “If it is to be, it’s up to me”.
It’s generally assumed that initiatives like this come from those at the top, however the leaders of an organisation only make up approximately one percent of the organisation’s full population. It’s the other 99% that can establish the new kindness code. The leaders are accountable for creating the space for it to happen.
This larger segment of leaders controls the culture – the power rests in the populace and individually, it’s a contribution to the advancement of the organisation. And therefore, to the advancement of all of us. The improvement of the Human Condition: it’s time to get started, one small act of kindness at a time.
Leadership for a better future:
This is one of a series of 13 practical articles on leadership written by the Future Work Forum (FWF) for the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), an accreditation body for business schools globally with a membership of 30,000 management professionals. Our partners have contributed to a special edition of their Global Focus magazine.
About the Future Work Forum:
The FWF exists to explore the working world of tomorrow. It is a think tank and network of highly skilled experts who share a passion to create a better, more humanised workplace, inspiring a new generation of leaders.